(grɪʼzaɪ, -ʼzeɪl; , grey, French
pronunciation: /ɡʁi.zaj/) is a term for painting
executed entirely in monochrome
, usually in shades of grey or brown,
particularly used in decoration
represent objects in relief
. Some grisailles,
in fact, include a slightly wider colour range, like the Andrea del Sarto
A grisaille may be executed for its own sake as a decoration, as
for an oil painting
(in preparation for glazing layers
of colour over it), or as a model
for an engraver
to work from. "Rubens and
his school sometimes use monochrome techniques in sketching
compositions for engravers."
Giotto used grisaille in the lower registers of his
frescoes in the Scrovegni
Chapel, and Jan van Eyck
painted grisaille figures on the outsides of the wings of tryptychs, including the Ghent Altarpiece - these were the sides
most commonly on display, as the doors were normally kept
In both cases imitation of sculpture was
In the Low Countries a tradition of grisaille paintings can be
traced from Martin Heemskerck
Jan Brueghel the Elder
, through the
copious output of Adriaen van de
, to the circle of Rembrandt
Jan van Goyen
ceiling frescoes of the Sistine chapel have portions of the design in grisaille.
Court the lower part of the decoration of the great
staircase by Antonio Verrio is in
Full colouring of a subject makes many more
demands of an artist, and working in grisaille was often chosen as
being quicker and cheaper, although the effect was sometimes
deliberately chosen for aesthetic reasons. Grisaille paintings
resemble the drawings
, normally in
monochrome, that artists from the Renaissance on were trained to
produce; like drawings they can also betray the hand of a less
talented assistant more easily than a fully coloured
often been produced in pen and wash
a very limited colour range, and many artists such as Jean Pucelle
and Matthew Paris
specialised in such work.
Renaissance artists such as Mantegna
Polidoro di Caravaggio
used grisaille as a classicising effect, either in imitation of the
effect of a classical sculptured
or of Roman painting
With the 20th Century
's emphasis on
direct, or "alla prima
," painting, the
grisaille technique lost favor with artists of the period. Today,
this historic method has been incorporated into the curriculum of
certain private ateliers
. Mims Studios of North Carolina describes its grisaille training as "an
intermediary stage between working from the plaster cast and working directly from life,
guided by the same intensive pursuit of form."
Window of St. Peter: Stained glass
(white glass, grisaille and silver sulfide) and lead, France, ca.
In enamel and stained glass
The term is also applied to monochrome painting in enamels
, and also to stained glass
. Portions of a window may be
done in grisaille — using, for example, silver stain
or vitreous paint — while other
sections are done in coloured glass.
- Oxford Companion to Art. Ed. Harold Osborne;
Clarendon Press. Oxford, 1970.
- Mims Studios School of Fine Art", mimsstudios.com.
Retrieved February 21, 2009.