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contumacious
04-17-2019, 01:11 PM
I did a little reading this morning on historically used terms used to describe an underpainting that will have glazing added on top. I am pretty sure that I learned about all of them back in college in the '70s, but I can remember only using the term Grisaille to describe a monotone underpainting - of any hue.

These are the ones I found in a bit of searching. It is uncommon to see all 7 terms mentioned in a single document. Grisaille being the most used.

Grisaille (Gray toned - French) 7,380,000 Google hits
Bistre / Bister (Yellowish-Brown/Black toned - French) 4,160,000/2,020,000 Google Hits
Brunaille (Brown toned - French) 21,600 Google Hits
Chiaroscuro* (Sometimes used to describe a monotone underpainting - Italian) 8 Million Google Hits for just the word. 23,900 combined with underpainting
Verdaccio** (Green toned - Italian) 94,500 Google Hits
Verdaille (Green toned - French) 17,900 Google Hits - the least used of all the terms.


It seems like the word Grisaille is often used interchangeably for a Grisaille, a Bistre, Brunaille or a Verdaille/Verdaccio even though the word Gresaille in french actually means panting in gray, not brown, green or some other color. Verdaille / Verdaccio appear to be French and Italian words for the same thing. Many artists call the monotone underpainting that will later be colored with colored glazes, regardless of the hue, just that - the underpainting - abandoning altogether the old terminology that describes the hue as well as the technique.

I would imagine that there are or were French as well Italian terms for all of those above. I listed both when I could find them. I am curious as to whether there were their specific words that were used to denote a blue, red or some other non green/gray/brown mono-toned underpainting? Was their an Italian word for Grisaille or did they simply adopt the french word the way the English speaking art world did. How about other languages, Russian, German, Farsi, Swedish etc., did they adopt the French and / or Italian words or make up their own?

* See Wikipedia :eek: <-----That is the bare bum emoticon equivalent (nude images in link)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiaroscuro

** Verdaccio was used in connection with a technique in fresco painting as well.

WFMartin
04-17-2019, 06:50 PM
I've not been one to become dependent upon "names" or "terms" in describing the many actions, and effects that are so prevalent in oil painting, although I am aware that some artists may prefer to communicate a bit more precisely than I do. I glaze, and I realize that many artists prefer to define "glazing" as the manipulation of only dark colors, and they use the term, "scumbling" for describing the application of light colors, only, even though they BOTH describe the application of paint in a very thin manner. Personally, I call both of these as "glazing".:lol: I really don't care much what that process is called, ....it works the same, and I use it.

The only true "names" I've used for an underpainting are either "Grisaille", which means "gray", and "Verdaccio", which I believe denotes a green, or green-ish appearance. I use such underpaintings quite routinely, for my work, actually.

I don't know whether there are any precise terms for underpaintings that are done in other colors than these two, but if I decided to do one of these I would merely call it by the color that I used for it. Many artists use a color that is complementary to that of the final work, and that is just known as a complementary underpainting, as far as I am aware.

contumacious
04-17-2019, 08:35 PM
I don't know whether there are any precise terms for underpaintings that are done in other colors than these two....

The only terms I found that were used in the past to describe the hue of the underpainting other than the ones describing green and gray were these two for brown and yellow brown/black tones.

Bistre / Bister (Yellowish-Brown/Black toned - French)

Brunaille (Brown toned - French)

I don't recall ever hearing anyone use those terms in the last 20 years or so and I never have. Brunaille would fit burnt umber or other brown toned underpaintings well, though in my reading I didn't pinpoint any specific pigments they used back in the day to create one. Bistre or Bister on the other hand is the name of an actual pigment, so it is likely that they used that pigment for a Bistre underpainting.

marioz
04-18-2019, 08:50 AM
I think you are mixing things that are certainly related, but not exactly the same.

Most of those terms refer to paintings done using only one color (in different values). They are usually finished paintings, not underpaintings - but of course, you can use them as underpaintings. On the other hand, the underpainting doesn't need to be monochrome. Cennino for example used verdaccio only for the flesh, not for everything. Some people use a red earth underpaint for the sky, but not for the rest of the painting.

In italian we borrow "grisaille" from the french, or we use the word "monòcromo" (monochrome painting).
Chiaroscuro in italian basically means "shading", as opposed to a linear drawing or a flat color painting; in english it may have a different meaning, as the wikipedia page seems to imply.
Verdaccio and bistre, as you said, refer more to a color or pigment than to a technique.

contumacious
04-18-2019, 11:13 AM
I think you are mixing things that are certainly related, but not exactly the same.

Most of those terms refer to paintings done using only one color (in different values). They are usually finished paintings, not underpaintings - but of course, you can use them as underpaintings. On the other hand, the underpainting doesn't need to be monochrome. Cennino for example used verdaccio only for the flesh, not for everything. Some people use a red earth underpaint for the sky, but not for the rest of the painting.

In italian we borrow "grisaille" from the french, or we use the word "monòcromo" (monochrome painting).
Chiaroscuro in italian basically means "shading", as opposed to a linear drawing or a flat color painting; in english it may have a different meaning, as the wikipedia page seems to imply.
Verdaccio and bistre, as you said, refer more to a color or pigment than to a technique.

Thanks for the input. I did notice that the Verdaccio was usually used on flesh. I found the technique very interesting. Keep in mind that none of the above is from my own thinking, only from statements given by others on the web. There is obviously conflicting information on many of the art terms we use, not just these. It seems like most English speaking artists use Grisaille to refer to any color of underpainting. It also appears that Verdaille and Verdaccio are used interchangeably to refer to a green toned underpainting, not so often to refer just to the color. Rarely did I see where any of the terms above were used to describe a stand alone drawing / painting that was not glazed over. I do understand that the terms don't necessarily have to refer to such but in usage they usually do. I was surprised to learn that Chiaroscuro has been used the same as Grisaille, to describe an underpainting technique since that is then glazed over. I had always thought of it as a type of finished painting style.

It is interesting to see how the various terms overlap in common usage over time, and in many cases they are not used correctly based on the original definitions. As WFMartin mentioned there is a lot of variation on how different people use the terms Glaze and Scumble. Most art teachers I interacted with taught that a Glaze was transparent and a Scumble was opaque, neither having anything to do with the darkness or the lightness of the layer. The only term out of all the ones in the original post that I have ever used myself is Grisaille and I suppose I have technically used it incorrectly to mean any color of underpainting that is then glazed over, when it could / should? be used for a gray colored underpainting or a gray toned painting with no glazing on top.

I can see some merit with everyone sticking to the same definitions when describing painting techniques, particularly in teaching situations, but that is never going to happen. If I want to call Scumbling "Puppies and Rainbows" the Art Police will not come and write me up.

AllisonR
04-18-2019, 04:51 PM
I agree with marioz. In my opinion Grisaille is the value underpainting, usually done in greys, but can also be browns or any other color. Verdaccio is on top of grisaille, or sometimes instead of, but only in flesh areas, and here color is important - it is a weak green. The actual verdaccio recipe is
1 part terre verde (real terre verde from OH is very weak, like weak tea, nearly transparent, so if you use a strongly pigmented terre verde, use much less)
1/2 part yellow ochre
1/4 part lead white
1/8 part k
tiny speck of vermillion. The original Italien recipe, from 1500s, which I can’t find right now, was a bit less accurate, stating 1 walnut sized part of terre verde to half a walnut part of yellow ochre to a pea size of white…..

Chiaroscuro has nothing to do with grisaille - Chiaroscuro is about the dramatic use of lights and darks in a painting, a la Carravaggio.

You did not mention imprimatura, which is the first wash of color on the canvas - so you are not starting out with a bright white canvas, but instead a midtone. This comes before grisaille.

contumacious
04-18-2019, 06:16 PM
I agree with marioz. In my opinion Grisaille is the value underpainting, usually done in greys, but can also be browns or any other color. Verdaccio is on top of grisaille, or sometimes instead of, but only in flesh areas, and here color is important - it is a weak green. The actual verdaccio recipe is
1 part terre verde (real terre verde from OH is very weak, like weak tea, nearly transparent, so if you use a strongly pigmented terre verde, use much less)
1/2 part yellow ochre
1/4 part lead white
1/8 part k
tiny speck of vermillion. The original Italien recipe, from 1500s, which I can’t find right now, was a bit less accurate, stating 1 walnut sized part of terre verde to half a walnut part of yellow ochre to a pea size of white…..

Chiaroscuro has nothing to do with grisaille - Chiaroscuro is about the dramatic use of lights and darks in a painting, a la Carravaggio.

You did not mention imprimatura, which is the first wash of color on the canvas - so you are not starting out with a bright white canvas, but instead a midtone. This comes before grisaille.

I agree with what you are saying, but the fact remains that the terms listed in my first post are used and have been used in the past by some artists and those discussing art, the way I described them as well as the way you define them, and perhaps others with other differing perceptions. Definitions change with usage over time. This is what has happened with these terms from what I can see. There are words used in the English language with current definitions that are not even remotely related to what the definition was in the past. That is the nature of language, including the words used to describe art stuff. There is no infallible source art "dictionary" out there. Since there are not firm rules or laws governing art terminology, it is impossible to say which definition is "right" and which is "wrong". We can only look at the usage in various times in history and how they are used today. It is probably safest, if you care about it - to use the most commonly accepted definition even if it doesn't match the original definition. I find it all very interesting.

RomanB
04-18-2019, 07:10 PM
As far as I understand, Verdaccio in its old meaning is analogous to "sanqir" of Byzantine tradition, the first monotonous layer of skin color, applyed without any gradations. It was made of yellow ochre mixed with some dark pigment, and dark yellow colours are perceived as olive-green. But green pigments were involved only rarely.

marioz
04-19-2019, 03:33 AM
Yes, the meanings of words change in different times and places, so we should be rather tolerant about the different uses. I think it's interesting to check the meanings in ancient sources.

Regarding verdaccio, here is what Cennino wrote in XIV-XV century Italy (I'm not claiming that Cennino is "the truth"). Cennino, Chapter 67:
Take as much as a bean of dark-ochre [...] put it into your vase, and take a little black the size of a lentil, mix it with the ochre; take a little bianco sangiovanni (lime-white) as much as the third of a bean, and as much light cinabrese as will lie on the point of a penknife; mix all these colours [...] put on this colour, [...] which is called in Florence verdaccio
But read what he wrote in chap. 147, about painting flesh in tempera:
Having drawn and coloured draperies, trees, buildings, and mountains, you should next colour flesh, which you should begin in the following manner. Take a little verde-terra, and a little well-tempered biacca, and go twice over the face, hands, feet, and all the naked parts.[...] Then, as you did in painting on walls, you must prepare three gradations of flesh-colour, one lighter than the other, laying every tint in its right place in the face, taking care not to cover over the whole of the verdaccio, but shading partially on it with the darkest flesh-colour, making it very liquid, and softening off the colour in the tenderest manner. On a panel more coats of colour are required than on a wall, yet not so many but that the green tint under the flesh-colour should be just visible through it.
Please notice: "Take a little verde-terra" and soon after "taking care not to cover over the whole of the verdaccio". Now, verdaccio is the pejorative of verde (green), and could be translated as "bad green", "dirty green". So it's a generic term for "dull green", it doesn't matter if you make verdaccio with ochre and black, or with verde-terra.
Also, RomanB is right, verdaccio was painted flat, not shaded.

Regarding chiaroscuro, it was certainly used before Caravaggio or any other painter showing "dramatic use of lights and darks". I checked Vasari's "Lives of the most excellent painters etc", he used chiaroscuro in the same meaning of "monochrome painting" or grisaille. I can't find an english traslation, so I give you one in my bad english. Vasari, Chapter 25 in introductory section "About painting":
Painters say that chiaroscuro is a kind of painting, which is more similar to drawing than to coloring (painting); which has been done imitating marble or bronze [...] statues. [...] Painting stories in the faces of palaces and houses [...] making them look as made of marble or stone
and also, in the life of Fra Filippo Lippi:
he painted in verde-terra in the cloister [...] some stories in chiaroscuro
Again, I'm not claiming that this is the right meaning of chiaroscuro, but it is a legitimate one.