The term derives from the Italian (and also Spanish) word for ‘dark’ – tenebroso. It is associated most strongly with the paintings of Caravaggio and his followers, and later, Rembrandt and other painters of the Dutch golden century. It was at first used in a pejorative sense to criticise the use of large areas of total darkness rather than shadow. However, in the nineteenth century the Symbolists and others again used the technique to produce a dramatic effects.

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Charles Angrand