Tenebrism

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Within the parameters put in place by the Church, Caravaggesque Tenebrism was one of the most immediate and specific responses to the new requirements. [Caravaggio#PINTOR#1493], one of the first truly rebellious artists, established stylistic traits that created a furore in Counter-Reformation Europe in the 17th century. This school's artists generally worked in [oil on canvas#MATERIALES#1]. They produced large paintings, with just a few life-size figures, sometimes even bigger. If we remember that these paintings were hung at an average height of one and a half to two metres from the floor, a visitor penetrating the darkness of the church would immediately have been captivated by the enormous image on the canvas. The paintings tended to portray a simple scene with few characters centred around one main action. The moment the artist chose to represent had to be a particularly relevant one within the biblical story being narrated. For example in Artemisia Gentilleschi's Judith and Holofernes only three figures can be seen and the action portrayed is the most dramatic: the moment in which the heroine cuts off the Assyrian chief's head. The rest of the story is summed up in the details: the presence of a slave who looks away furtively, implying they are participating in a clandestine act under the protection of darkness; Judith moving away from the blood in disgust showing she is not a straightforward murderer but rather someone carrying out their duty. This is just one example. Apart from what we have already suggested, the fact that this type of art has been classified as realistic resulted from the fact that in order to bring the image closer to the onlooker, the painter used a non idealist style. He did not gloss over the characters' defects, and the figures depicted were very ordinary people with weather-beaten faces and wrinkles. Caravaggio was criticised for painting his saints with dirty feet. The adjective "tenebrist" came from the excellent use these artists made of chiaroscuro. This was a technique that was already used but only ever with great restraint. It consisted of accentuating the contrasts between areas of light and areas of shade. The technique had obtained impressive results in architecture, but Caravaggio was the first to use it to the full in painting. There are neutral backgrounds lost in the darkness, where it is impossible to sense the presence of space or of other characters. In contrast, faces, hands and cloth were violently highlighted with side and diagonal beams of light, that affected the surfaces, flattening volume and creating an internal rhythm of composition based on the play of light. The effect of this play of illumination was spectacular and it was one of the school's keys to success. The subject matter, as has been said, was on the whole religious; they tended to avoid landscapes and instead renewed the concept of the still life. The Caravaggesque style was on the way to becoming an independent genre. The school's main painters were based in Rome, where their greatest clientele was to be found. However, there was also an important centre in Naples, where the Spanish trend dominated thanks to the presence of [Ribera#PINTOR#3118]. In Rome, apart from Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentilleschi, Artemisia's father Orazio was notable for his mastery, as well as the future defectors Guido Reni and Il Guercino: both started off painting in a toned down version of Caravaggism and ended up crossing over to the Carracci, painting in an [Idealist#ESCUELAS#77] style that conformed more closely to the evolution of the public's tastes. Caravaggism had an international impact. The schools most affected were the Sevillian Baroque school, the French caravaggisti and the Utrecht school. However, the style penetrated all the artistic production of the 17th century to some extent and even afterwards, even though these painters were not included directly in the actual Tenebrist school, such as in the cases of Rembrandt and Lievens.


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