Sfumato is one of the four canonical painting techniques of the Renaissance alongside cangiante, chiaroscuro, and unione.
Leonardo da Vinci once wrote that light and shade should blend ‘without line or borders in the manner of smoke’, giving birth to the term sfumato, meaning ‘seen as if through smoke’, derived from the Italian sfumare (‘to tone down’ or ‘to evaporate like smoke’). By utilising the technique of soft blending of light and shadow in defining three-dimensional objects and spaces – producing soft, imperceptible transitions between colours and tones – they leave a little to our imagination as seen in the infamous Mona Lisa whose facial features become more alive. Although most prominent in the work of Leonardo da Vinci and his followers, it is certainly not exclusive to them.
Text by Keisha KR