Grisaille originated in the Medieval Period when it was simply called “painting in black and white”. It was used by the Old Masters of Renaissance and Baroque eras. Giotto used grisaille in some of his frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in the 14th C. In the 15thC, it was used on sections of the Sistine Chapel in Rome and by Italian painter, Antonio Verrio (1639 -1701), on the lower part of the decoration of the Kings Staircase at Hampton Court. Through the centuries, various forms of grisaille were used to imitate the effect of classical sculpture of Roman and Greek art and in 18th C, to imitate classical sculpture in wall and ceiling decoration.

Grisaille work may be found in various art modes.

Painting This technique produces a dramatic effect of light and shade to give a sense of three- dimensionality. Examples are by the 15th-century Flemish painters (Van Eycks’ Ghent Altarpiece).and in the 20th C, Picasso’s Guernica.

A monotone underpainting is used in preparation for an oil painting or as a model for an engraver.

Glass painters Grisaille is the name of a grey, vitreous pigment used in the art of colouring glass for stained glass.

Grisaille was used to produce enamels in 16th C France by the Limoges school of enamellers. Pulverized white vitreous enamel is made into a paste by mixing it with water, turpentine, oil of lavender, or petroleum oil and is then applied to a dark enamel ground, usually coloured black or blue. Lighter areas of the design are thickly painted, while the grey areas are obtained by painting with thinner coats to allow the dark background colour to tone the white enamel pigment. Most noted practitioners of this technique were members of the Pénicaud family.

Beadwork in Victorian England in late 19th C Glass seed beads were used in tones from black through greys to white on designs providing light and shade to create the illusion of sculpture.


© Valerie Cavill, March 2011