chiar·​oscu·​ro kē-ˌär-ə-ˈskyu̇r-(ˌ)ō How to pronounce chiaroscuro (audio)
plural chiaroscuros
: pictorial representation in terms of light and shade without regard to color
: the arrangement or treatment of light and dark parts in a pictorial work of art
The artist uses chiaroscuro to create the perception of depth in a two-dimensional work.
: the interplay or contrast of dissimilar qualities (as of mood or character)
: a 16th century woodcut technique involving the use of several blocks to print different tones of the same color
also : a print made by this technique
: the interplay of light and shadow on or as if on a surface
a spotlight revealing a chiaroscuro of ridges and craters on a mountainside
: the quality of being veiled or partly in shadow

Examples of chiaroscuro in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Kerby showed me a video of the sleeper gliding by in dramatic chiaroscuro and closely approaching both subs, one after the other, while excited scientists shouted in the background. Susan Casey, Smithsonian Magazine, 9 Aug. 2023 The movie’s slow panning shots, acidic color grading, and aggressive chiaroscuro form an interactive filter that anyone can adopt. Kyle Chayka, The New Yorker, 1 Sep. 2023 Trump’s right side, partially draped in shadow, creates a touch of chiaroscuro, light reckoning with the dark. Karen Heller, Washington Post, 25 Aug. 2023 The ragged yet nevertheless powerful revival that opened on Sunday in Pittsfield, Mass., succeeds best with the darker side of that chiaroscuro. Jesse Green, New York Times, 24 Aug. 2023 These goddesses were psychic chiaroscuros: powerful and wounded, their blood running hot with ambition, animated by dark attachments and shameless hungers. Leslie Jamison, The New Yorker, 29 July 2023 Their works share a melancholy woven from chiaroscuro — the play of light and shadow. Cate McQuaid,, 11 July 2023 The chiaroscuro in Rembrandt’s painting of Titus evokes that ambivalence. Sebastian Smee, Washington Post, 17 June 2023 Beneath the rib vault of the exquisite cloister, sculpted marble columns and round apertures paint a stunning natural chiaroscuro. Washington Post, 29 Oct. 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'chiaroscuro.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Italian, from chiaro clear, light + oscuro obscure, dark

First Known Use

1686, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of chiaroscuro was in 1686

Dictionary Entries Near chiaroscuro

Cite this Entry

“Chiaroscuro.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Sep. 2023.

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