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  Rick Sutcliffe

by ikrom

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An atypical view

"Chiaroscuro" is an old term borrowed for a previously undescribed concept. The newer definition derives directly from the original Latin, clear and obscure. What concept? A device used by artists and writers that incorporates in art or books or movies things in front of you that are not seen for one reason or another, the creator of the thing leaving it to you to become aware of it without it's being overtly pointed out. These "chiaroscuri" are pertinent to the work and often are germane, unlike other devices such as "in jokes". "Chiaroscuro", then, is descriptive of the device, and "chiaroscuri" the device occurrence.

Who of you have noticed many (any?) of these arcane occurrences (chiaroscuri) in which information is given but not elaborated upon, which are there in plain sight for the reader/viewer to discover, usually in a work of fine art, sometimes constituting a mystery, an enigma?

I'll bet there are hundreds of these "chiaroscuri" in the arts, some discovered and popularly known, some discovered and known by only one or a few, and most awaiting discovery.

Take a look at the table below

and it should become clear what I'm talking about.

The table, which will hopefully grow with your contributions, shows examples. The table is divided into three columns, the first categorizing by type of art – fine art, books, movies, TV, miscellaneous; the second describing the occurrence of "chiaroscuro"; the third column, for purposes of this composition, identifies who first discovered the occurrence.

Submissions are accepted or declined upon reasonable research on my part for relevance and validity, and reflecting my own standards of what is in good taste.

Email me with your comments, and your contributions at ikrom1@fastq.com

Table is divided by arts/media category: Fine Art, Books, Movies, Television, Miscellaneous



Noted by:



The Sistine Chapel ceiling paintings - In the Creation of Adam, Adam's left leg seems to have the form of a woman worked into the lower leg.


click on ceiling



In the same panel, the billowing background robe of the Creator is also the outline/silhouette of the cross-section of a human brain (noticed less than a generation ago by an M.D.).

These are subjective chiarosucuri and may not have been intended by the artist. I have to admit that the woman's body from older photos was more pronounced before the painting was cleaned - I merely had heard of it before, then saw it (the panel) in an art book, then on the web.

I include these as chiaroscuri, however, because the interpretations are not unreasonable.

The image of a woman's form heralds the coming of another premier Creation, this time from the body of Adam. Genesis in one passage states only that the woman came from Adam; in another passage that she came from his rib.

The brain silhouette is likewise wholly reasonable since Michelangelo is recognized as having been a master anatomist. Why not include a representation of the human brain, instrument of intellect and reason separating God's premier creatures from all others.

I like to think that there are more chiaroscuri in the chapel ceiling paintings, patiently awaiting sharp eyes to notice them.



Seascape with rocks



Portland Vase and Pi



Picasso's sculpting, "Baboon with Young"






In the novel Rebecca (Daphne duMaurier), did you notice that the 2nd Mrs. DeWinter, who narrates the story about her predecessor, Rebecca and her lingering and oppressive influence, has no first name, even though the story is told in the first person, and she is frequently addressed and referred  to? Leaving off her name is a subtle and intelligent emphasizing of Rebecca's importance, and also de-emphasizes the importance of the new wife as she struggles to assert herself amidst the surrounding memories of Rebecca. Not giving #2 a name was a stroke of genius and added a subliminal dimension of Rebecca's supremacy versus her own timidity and inexperience.

No one that I know who has read the story agrees with me -- they say she *does* have a first name, but they just can't remember it.


I once read a long short-story, A Kiss Before Dying, Ira Levin, that involved a college-age man stalking a female student, although the term "stalking" wasn't used as I recall. A little bit into the story, I realized that his name hadn't been mentioned, even though other characters both referred to him and addressed him.  It made the situation all the spookier. I then began to wonder if he was also one of the characters who was occasionally mentioned by name when his actions were innocent, but not referred to by name when he was being sneaky. It was a very effective device to increase the suspense, because we didn't actually know who he was all the while we were allowed to follow his activities first-hand. I don't know how long the author hoped the readers would remain unaware that a main character hadn't been named, but I was quite proud (and spooked!) when I caught on.




In 2001 A Space Odyssey, "HAL" are the letters "IBM" once removed. There was no mention of IBM anywhere in the movie. (HAL = heuristically programmed algorithmic computer).

The Lost Worlds of 2001, Arthur C. Clarke


and others


GATTACA is a movie having to do with genotyping of individuals for purposes of determining the professional and social path he/she will have to take in this future society. GATTACA is the name of the corporation that performs this typing, follows individuals throughout their lives ensuring there is no deviation from their destinies, and trains those with elite genes for elite functions. What we are not told is that the letters comprising GATTACA (ACGT) are the letter representations of adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, the nucleotides holding together the famous two strands in DNA, which determine individual hereditary characteristics. This is right in the viewer's face. GATTACA. But most would have no inkling of the significance either of the corporate name nor of the letters.



M*A*S*H, the TV series: The overhead PA announcer is never seen as a character in the series, but his voice is omnipresent.


Like what you see? Want to exchange links? Want to contribute original or attributed material? Contact opundo. If we use your material, we'll acknowledge the source. Don't like what you see? Offended? Let me know and I'll get another opinion. If you're right, I'll remove the item.


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