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An element in art, chiaroscuro (Italian for lightdark) is defined as a very high contrast between light and dark.

The term is best used with reference to a technique which finds its best expressions in xylography and in china (ink) drawing (especially for prints). The technique requires a skilled knowledge of the perspective, the physical effects of light on surfaces, the shadows. Chiaroscuro defines objects without a contouring line, but only by the contrast between the colours of the object and of the background.

Despite a frequent confusion, chiaroscuro technique is different from German camaieu, in which the graphical effect is prevalent on the plastic effect (obtained with chiaroscuro to recall basrelief and painting "feeling"), and which more often uses coloured paper.

Chiaroscuro is most often found in Baroque art. It was Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1573-1610) who developed the technique of chiaroscuro.