It surprised me that pre-Renaissance artists didn't "see" the light, so to speak. But after doing some further reading on the subject, I’ve learned that chiaroscuro originally wasn’t just about creating form or the illusion of space and depth, but instead it was the first time light created drama. Now a painting wasn’t just a replica of the world; now a painting was worth a 1000 words. A story unfolded before one’s eyes.
Now I could see why this was a big deal. Up until then, paintings weren’t using light and shadow to create form or anything else for that matter. Even perspective wasn’t in use, so the idea of painting showing any kind of depth was hopelessly lacking. Then an explosion happened. Europeans were introduced to some fantastic concepts (thanks to the Islam communities in Spain and Sicily), like math, physics and a whole slew of new ideas. From then onward the world of art and science would never been the same.
The Renaissance painters such as Leonardo da Vinci (1452 –1519) and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (1571 to 1610) used light and dark to express not only form but also added excitement to their paintings.
Let’s look at some paintings that were created in 14th century as opposed to ones that were painted less than three hundred years later. The first set of paintings were done in the 14th century. The Portrait of Jean le Bon, the King of France was completed by an unknown painter in 1360 and the Madonna del’Umita was created by Vitale de Bologna (1309-1360) in 1353.