Sfumato comes from the Italian word "sfumare", meaning "to evaporate like smoke" or "fade out." In painting this refers to the process of layering thin glazes of translucent paint such that there are no visible brush strokes between transitions of tones and no visible lines separating light and dark.
This imperceptible gradation between tones and colors makes the painting look more realistic. It is as though you are seeing your subject on an overcast day when there is a less of a contrast between light and shadow and tones merge gently into one another. Sfumato is also used to create subtle atmospheric and smoky effects, and soft realistic facial features.
Leonardo Da Vinci was a master of the technique of sfumato, as can be seen in the portrait, Mona Lisa (1503-6). Sfumato contributed to her realism and mystery. About Leonardo's technique the PBS/WGBH website says, "Leonardo was fascinated by the way light falls on curved surfaces. The gauzy veil, Mona Lisa's hair, the luminescence of her skin – all are created with layers of transparent color, each only a few molecules thick, making the lady's face appear to glow, and giving the painting an ethereal, almost magical quality."(1)
Chiaroscuro, coming from the Italian for "light/dark" or French for "clair-obscur," is a technique in which an artist intentionally uses a strong contrast of light and dark to create the dramatic illusion of three-dimensional form. A single directional light source shining on the main subject creates highlights and shadows, giving it a feeling of solidity and psychological intensity, and also creating a focal point. Leonardo Da Vinci pioneered this technique, Caravaggio developed it and used it powerfully, and Rembrandt mastered it. They all used it to great effect to give their figures solidity and mass, profound psychological depth, and their paintings great drama.
Rembrandt, in particular, was known for his use of chiaroscuro and is known as "the master of light and shadow." Whereas chiaroscuro can be harsh, Rembrandt used a looser brushstroke that lends a softness to his paintings and a sense of introspection to his self-portraits. The values of the shadows in the figure are comparable to the values of the background. This helps the viewer see the figure as merging with the background, or gently emerging from the darkness. See Self-portrait, 1659 and Self-portrait, 1660.
Tenebrism, stemming from the Italian word "tenebroso" meaning dark or murky, is an extreme use of chiaroscuro in figurative compositions, such that the contrasts between light and dark are heightened, dark shadows are used to obscure parts of the composition, and figural forms are emerging from a background of deep shadows and intense, completely black, darkness. Other terms used to describe tenebrism are dramatic illumination, night pictures, or painting in "the dark manner." There is usually a single light source illuminating a figure in what is overall a very dark painting. It is as though there is a spotlight on the subject. This contrast serves to emphasize the lighter area and the effect is highly dramatic, as in Judith Beheading Holofernes,1598, shown above. Tenebrism was introduced by Caravaggio during the Baroque period. Other examples areThe Conversion of Saint Paul (The Conversion on the Way to Damascus), 1600-01 and David with the Head of Goliath, 1610.
While the masters of the Renaissance may have invented these techniques - sfumato, chiaroscuro, and tenebrism - and used them brilliantly, they are certainly not outdated. Understanding these techniques and how to use them can help you bring dramatic space and three-dimensional form into your paintings.
Grisaille (/ɡrᵻˈzaɪ/ or /ɡrᵻˈzeɪl/; French: gris [ɡʁizaj] 'grey') is a term for a painting executed entirely in shades of grey or of another neutral greyish colour. It is particularly used in large decorative schemes in imitation of sculpture. Many grisailles in fact include a slightly wider colour range, like the Andrea del Sarto fresco illustrated. Paintings executed in brown are referred to as brunaille, and paintings executed in green are called verdaille.
A grisaille may be executed for its own sake, as underpainting for an oil painting (in preparation for glazing layers of colour over it), or as a model for an engraver to work from. "Rubens and his school sometimes use monochrome techniques in sketching compositions for engravers." Full colouring of a subject makes many more demands of an artist, and working in grisaille was often chosen as being quicker and cheaper, although the effect was sometimes deliberately chosen for aesthetic reasons. Grisaille paintings resemble the drawings, normally in monochrome, that artists from the Renaissance on were trained to produce; like drawings they can also betray the hand of a less talented assistant more easily than a fully coloured painting.