Definition of chiaroscuro in English:



  • 1[mass noun] The treatment of light and shade in drawing and painting.

    • ‘The brusque application of plaster disrupts the logic of the painting's chiaroscuro.’
    • ‘The image's effect lies in its extraordinary brilliance of colour, and chiaroscuro; with an imaginative concept and a contemporary feeling forcefully united.’
    • ‘Each vignette, usually showing one or two figures, is a little anthology of effects, combining contour drawing, crosshatching, chiaroscuro, graphic boldness and delicate detailing.’
    • ‘Partly because of his interest in chiaroscuro, Leonardo was not very interested in color.’
    • ‘Then he saw the light - in the form of Caravaggio's dramatic chiaroscuro - and became one of that master's most resourceful followers.’
    1. 1.1An effect of contrasted light and shadow.
      ‘the chiaroscuro of cobbled streets’
      • ‘Inhabiting these buildings are the depth, the reflections, the veils, the chiaroscuros, and an attenuated clarity that are created by the shade.’
      • ‘I also distrust the general air onstage of High Significance, which owes far too much to the handsome chiaroscuro of the lighting and the future-chic costumes.’
      • ‘The column screens and niches around the room create a mysterious and alluring chiaroscuro effect.’


Mid 17th century: from Italian, from chiaro clear, bright (from Latin clarus) + oscuro dark, obscure (from Latin obscurus).