Art Word: Grisaille

A grisaille (French for gray) is the name of painting technique, when a painting is executed in monochrome palette or with a very limited range of colours, but in which the forms are defined by variations of tone. Grisaille was particularly popular for the outsides of the shutters of polyptychs in Northern Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was also chosen quite deliberately chosen for aesthetic reasons, in order to create a specific visual effect. Traditionally, when part of a large decorative scheme in fresco or oils, or if incorporated into an altarpiece, a grisaille composition was often modeled to resemble sculpture, either relief or statuary.

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.

Here are several grisaille pieces by Andrea Mantegna.

 

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