A grisaille is a painting which has been executed in monochrome (i.e. one colour) or in a very limited range of colour, but in which the forms are defined by variations of tone.

In Mantegna's 'Samson and Delilah' a grey grisaille is set against a fictive marble backdrop to give the illusion of a sculpture. By contrast, in Rembrandt's 'Ecce Homo', brown predominates; as this painting is a preparation for an etching, tonal variation is of primary importance. Boilly's painting of 'A Girl at a Window' wittily pretends to be a black and white print. (All in the collection of the National Gallery, London).

Grisaille painting was particularly popular for the outsides of the shutters of polyptychs in Northern Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries.

See entry for Monochrome.

Source: National Gallery (London)
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