[gri-zahy, -zeyl; Fr. gree-zah-yuh]
grisaille, a monochrome painting and drawing technique executed in tones of gray. Such works were often produced in the Renaissance to simulate sculpture, as in Uccello's equestrian portrait of Sir John Hawkswood (Cathedral of Florence). Painters of stained glass frequently used grisaille. In the 17th cent. grisaille was prized for interior decoration.
Grisaille (grĭ-zī', -zāl'; French: gris, 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 to represent objects in relief. Italian examples may be described as work in grisaglia or chiaroscuro, although this term has other meanings as well. Some grisailles in fact include a slightly wider colour range, like the Andrea del Sarto illustrated. The photographic equivalent would be a Sepia Tone.

A grisaille may be executed for its own sake as a decoration, as the first layer of an oil painting (in preparation for glazing layers of colour over it), or as a model for an engraver to work from.

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 closed. In both cases imitation of sculpture was intended.

In the Low Countries a tradition of grisaille paintings can be traced from Martin Heemskerck, Jan Brueghel the Elder and Hendrik Goltzius, through the copious output of Adriaen van de Venne, to the circle of Rembrandt, and Jan van Goyen.

The ceiling frescoes of the Sistine chapel have portions of the design in grisaille. At Hampton Court the lower part of the decoration of the great staircase by Antonio Verrio is in grisaille. 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 painting.

Illuminated manuscripts had often been produced in pen and wash with a very limited colour range, and many artists such as Jean Pucelle and Matthew Paris specialised in such work. Renaissance artists such as Mantegna and Polidoro di Caravaggio often used grisaille as a classicising effect, either in imitation of the effect of a classical sculptured relief, or of Roman painting.

In enamel and stained glass

The term is also applied to monochrome painting in enamels, and also to stained glass; a fine example of grisaille glass is in the window known as the "Five Sisters", at the end of the north transept in York cathedral. 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.


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