October 2020


Eye on Art
A look at the Renaissance painting technique cangiante

by Vincent deLuise, MD

In this column, “Eye on Art,” Vincent deLuise, MD, explores the intersection of medicine and art.

Cangiante is one of the four canonical Renaissance painting techniques, the others being unione, sfumato, and chiaroscuro.
In the cangiante technique, one color abruptly replaces another to create shadow or to highlight an area that would be much duller if the painter simply mixed that color with brown or black to create the shadow or highlight.
Michelangelo was one of the first artists to discover and employ the technique of cangiante.
Several of Michelangelo’s brilliantly crafted frescoes of sibyls and prophets that dominate the spandrels between the arches in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel exemplify the technique.
Notice the abrupt transition from green to yellow in the blouse and robe of Michelangelo’s Delphic Sibyl. This creates texture and shadow. There is also evidence of the cangiante technique in the orange to yellow transition in her outer robe.
A much bolder technique than unione and sfumato, cangiante dramatically accentuates changes in color, as opposed to toning them down.
In this painting technique, the greens appear as “yellow” shadows, whereas yellow is a highlight color over the orange in their juxtaposition.
By shifting to an entirely different hue, Michelangelo enhanced the chromatic value and lightened the tone of these transitional areas. In doing so, he created these unprecedented and brilliant color effects.
Our visual system perceives this abrupt change in color as texture and shadow. The reason for this perception is a result of paint being utilized as an optical color and not as pigment.
The physiology of this optical effect was discussed in the 1800s by Chevreul and separately by Rood. It became an essential aspect of Seurat’s theory of chromoluminarism, which he then employed in his pointillistic paintings, and that was also employed by Van Gogh.
The term cangiante derives from “cangiare,” a Renaissance Italian verb for “cambiare,” “to change” or “to transform,” which stems from the French “changier” and, ultimately, from the Latin “cambiare,” which means “to trade or barter.”


deLuise: vdeluisemd@gmail.com

A look at the Renaissance painting technique cangiante A look at the Renaissance painting technique cangiante
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