Light, color and vision
Color interactions: Simultaneous contrast
Peripheral vision
Luminance and equiluminance
Related pages: Michelangelo  ·  Chiaroscuro  ·  Lost shadows    « »
    Michelangelo’s exaggerated contrast


Just a few years after Leonardo achieved tonal unity, Michelangelo tried a different approach. His colors are brilliant and contrasted, where Leonardo’s are subdued and unified. His contours are are crisp and set off against a contrasting background, whereas Leonardo’s blend and avoid silhouette.

"Doni Holy Family," Michelangelo Buonarroti, c. 1503


He mixed his colors with both black and white to maximize the contrast range for all the colors he used. This means the lighter parts of each color (even the black of Joseph’s tunic) are almost white, and unrealistically desaturated.
The only color that has a high enough luminance in pure form is the yellow of Joseph’s cloak, so Michelangelo did not have to desaturate the yellow to get a high value. Therefore the yellow robe has a different quality from all the others, whose hues vary substantially in saturation, and therefore look somewhat metallic. But by using such a wide range of luminances, Michelangelo certainly achieves vivid depth from shading.

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