Caravaggiology

As mentioned in my last post, I wanted to do the same colour picker analysis of a Caravaggio painting, a painter renown for his deep and dark shadows and the high dynamic range and “realer than real” style of painting.  Here’s the picture I analysed:

And here is an image of colour swatches taken from the face and forehead of the picture:

What we learn from this analysis is that Caravaggio’s lightest skin tones are indeed pinker and lighter than that of the Rembrandt self portrait I looked at in the previous post.  What is also clear is that there is no red.  All of the reddishness of the skin is achieved by the choice of reddish browns.  What is also clear is that the mid tones are not particularly well represented, but that the darkest tones dominate the picture.  There are four variously brownish blacks, with black being the dominant shade.  This choice of colours is quite unlike the Impressionists, who eschewed black.  It also shows that the artist liked to go from quite light tones to different shades of black, over quite a short transition zone.  Technically, this is very hard to achieve.  It would have to have been the case that the darkest tones went down first and almost completely covered the canvas.  At least that is my guess.

Another striking feature of this analysis is how few different colours are actually used.  It is quite difficult to find other shades.  Rembrandt’s palette, by comparison, had a wide range of varying colours and shades in the mid tones.

To see if the same applied to other parts of the painting, I looked at the red garment.  Here are the colour swatches:

Once again, the lightest shade is a reasonably subdued red, as reds go.  They grade through terracotta shades to browner shades of red, finishing up in a reddish, brownish black.  The key to Caravaggio is the different hues of black, the sharp gradients of colour and the intricate brushwork to create high-focus, high contrast images.  The limited colour range and gamut also is a feature.  White is use sparingly, even in colour mixes.  This creates an intense colour unity, over the entire work.

I also took at look at the white cloth and once again, the range is from a linen coloured white, through pinkish browns, to chocolate browns and finally to a lighter shade of brown black.  Here is the swatch:

Finally, I took the black from each colour gradient (skin tones, red garment and white cloth) and compared them to pure digital black generated by the computer (the swatch on the right):

Even the black areas of the painting vary subtly and are really very dark greys (although this could be an artefact of the photography process).  The point is that there is variation in the darkest tones.  They are not all the same hue.

So it looks like Caravaggio is the new black.  Mix these colours on your palette and have a go.  I think the results will be stark and stunning and maybe surprising.

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About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: https://michaeltopic.wordpress.com/. There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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