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  • Writer's pictureAccessible Art History

Art History Terms: Chiaroscuro

Welcome back to the Accessible Art History blog! For this post, I have another installment of the art history terms series! This series is meant to be a resource for anyone who wants to know about the building blocks of the discipline. Today, I’ll be discussing chiaroscuro. This technique was a major development in art and helped to shape the works we know and love today. So, to learn more, keep on reading!



Chiaroscuro is an Italian word that means “light dark”. It is a technique that uses contrasting pigments to create naturalism, drama, and three dimensionality. This created more visual interest for the viewer by creating a sense of depth and mystery.


The use of chiaroscuro can be traced to Ancient Greece! During this time, Apollodorus Skiagraphos, an artist, demonstrated the technique by using cross hatched shadows on his work. Although none of his works survive to the modern period, there are many records that tell us about his ideas.

The major development of chiaroscuro came in the Italian Renaissance. Its biggest proponent was none other than Leonardo da Vinci! He used black and white pigments to add shadow and light. This creates a sense of realism that hadn’t been seen in art for centuries. (Medieval art was less concerned with these elements, moving away from the traditions of classical Greek and Roman art.)

Chiaroscuro is a technique that radically changed the way that art was created. The contrasting pigments create drama, naturalism, and interest to help engage the viewer with the works!



  1. The Stag Hunt Mosaic, late 4th century BCE. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

  2. The Madonna of the Rocks. Leonardo da Vinci. 1495–1508. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.


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