Studio Practice – Task 2: Portrait Pt 1

The first task I’ve started to tackle is creating a portrait using classical painting as inspiration.

The aspects to be covered seem quite straightforward & will be to:

  1. Research classic portrait paintings in books, magazines & websites.
  2. Chose one that I would like to interpret in the studio.
  3. Build a set up.
  4. Use preferred light source & studio accessories to illuminate the subject in a creative manner.
  5. Record well-exposed images.
  6. Evaluate my work.

My first port of call for research was the exhibition at the National Gallery called Carravaggio & Beyond. This was showing from 12th October 2016 to 15th January 2017. This is the first major exhibition in the UK that explores Carravaggio’s influence on the art of his contemporaries & followers.

Carravaggio is an artist of whom I’m aware, but I’ve never really had the inclination to look at his work & influences in detail before. I have to admit I do prefer other styles of painting such as Post Impressionism. I’ve always preferred the lightness of touch preferable to the heavy-handed mood of the classics.

However, this visit opened my eyes to how lighting was incorporated within this style of painting. The exhibition showed how European artists were influenced by Carravaggio’s work after his first public commission, The Calling of Saint Matthew, was unveiled in Rome in 1600.

The Calling of Saint Matthew – Carravaggio

These are some of the other paintings by Carravaggio included in this exhibition:


St John the Baptist in the Wilderness – Carravaggio


Bitten By a Lizard – Carravaggio


A Boy Peeling Fruit – Carravaggio


This exhibition also featured the work of these contemporaries who went on to imitate the narrative power, naturalism & dramatic lighting effects of his paintings. These included Italian, French, Flemish, Dutch, and Spanish artists in an international artistic phenomenon known as Carravaggism.


Virtuous Earthly Love (1625) – Rutlio Manetti



The Card Players (c. 1615) – Antiveduto Gramatica



The Dice Players (1650 – 51) – George De La Tour


Christ Before the High Priest (c. 1617) Gerrit Von Honthorst

While researching, two words cropped up to define this particular style: tenebrism & chiaroscuro.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, tenebrism is:

in the history of Western painting, the use of extreme contrasts of light and dark in figurative compositions to heighten their dramatic effect. (The term is derived from the Latin tenebrae, “darkness.”) In tenebrist paintings, the figures are often portrayed against a background of intense darkness, but the figures themselves are illuminated by a bright, searching light that sets off their three-dimensional forms by a harsh but exquisitely controlled chiaroscuro.

The technique was introduced by the Italian painter Carravaggio (1571–1610) and was taken up in the early 17th century by painters influenced by him, including the French painter Georges de la Tour, the Dutch painters Gerrit van Honthorst and Hendrik Terbrugghen and the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbaran.”

Chiaroscuro is a term initially use in art, but can also be applied to other media such as film and photography. According to the National Gallery website chiaroscuro is:

“an Italian term which literally means ‘light-dark’. In paintings the description refers to clear tonal contrasts which are often used to suggest the volume and modelling of the subjects depicted.

Artists who are famed for the use of chiaroscuro include Leonardo da Vinci and Carravaggio. Leonardo employed it to give a vivid impression of the three-dimensionality of his figures, while Caravaggio used such contrasts for the sake of drama. Both artists were also aware of the emotional impact of these effects.”

Ok, there’s my start point. The other aspect I noted was the use of the candle within these images. Interestingly, Carraviggio didn’t actually utilise the actual candle in his own paintings.

The one image at this exhibition which did jump out at me was a portrait entitled A Man Singing By Candlelight by Adam de Coster (about 1586 – 1643) and was painted about 1625-35.



I really like the contrast of light and dark within this image.

One other aspect which caught my eye with regards to the oil paintings is how the light reacts to the oil paint. Also, how the substrate adds texture to the image. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take photos at the exhibition itself, but I captured these shots while on my visit to the National Gallery.

What I would like to do during this project is investigate how to recreate these effects.

Now to research further & find a suitable model.

Criteria Ref: P1, P4.


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