Chiaroscuro, an Italian word for “clear–dark”, is a term in art for a contrast between light and dark. The term is usually applied to bold contrasts affecting a whole composition, but is also more technically used by artists and art historians for the use of effects representing contrasts of light, not necessarily strong, to achieve a sense of volume in modelling three-dimensional objects such as the human body. The term is now also used in describing similar effects in the lighting of cinema and photography.
Rembrandt “The Blinding of Samson”
Chiaroscuro is generally only remarked upon when it is a particularly prominent feature of the work, usually when the artist is using extreme contrasts of light and shade. The term is less often used of art after the late nineteenth century, although the Expressionist and other modern movements make great use of the effect. Classical voice instructors describe the optimal balance of clearness and darkness in the singing voice tone as chiaroscuro: a combination of brightness and “ping” (brilliance and resonance) with warmth and depth.
Vermeer “The Geographer”