The technique of sfumato in painting: characteristics, examples

Sfumato in painting – this is a unique technique invented by the genius Leonardo da Vinci. Still she delights the audience and the admiration of professional artists. Describe what features of this manner of writing, who used it and where today you can see the masterpieces of the sfumato.


the Italian word "sfumato" literally means “vanishing like smoke”. During the Renaissance, this term began to use artists, meaning the shaded image. Later the term became used for the name of the special technique of halftone.

Technical features

it is believed that Leonardo da Vinci, who is considered the founder of sfumato, summed up and perfected, existed at the time of the Italian Renaissance modes of transmission of halftones. The technique is to apply a very thin, translucent layers that do not overlap each other, and only dim or light up the fragments of the canvas. A thin glaze of minimal color differences allow you to create a feeling of haze, fog. Sfumato in painting, Leonardo da Vinci was brought to perfection. Modern research shows that it could cause the layers with thickness of 3-4 microns. The techniques of sfumato used to distinguish compositional centre. Blurred outlines allow us to more clearly and effectively emphasize the most important object on the canvas. Halftones are moving in dense shade without creating visible to the eye of the boundaries of the transitions.
Classic sfumato is created using a special translucent paints, glazes. For working artists use light brush of sable that allow you to do almost invisible brushstrokes. Later appeared technique called "dry brush”, when the main visual canvas of the artist was held feather-light strokes with a small amount of dry ink mixture. And after complete drying of the image he had cleaned up the surplus, to leave literally microscopic layer.

Distinctive features of sfumato

to See the charm of sfumato in painting on the canvases of Leonardo da Vinci. Background in his paintings is devoid of definition, defined lines and strokes. Haze and blur of the background allows to concentrate the viewer's attention on the main subject of the picture. A soft background gives the story atmosphere and depth.
There is a misconception that sfumato-this exceptionally picturesque technique. This is not so. The same Leonardo used the technique perfectly in pencil drawing. Achieving the shading and subtle shading transitions. Also, this technique effectively works in pastels. By varying the degree of pressure on the pastel brush, the artist achieves different degrees of color intensity, and the use of wet chalk allows you to obtain different levels of depth of the image. Also in pastels to create the effect of sfumato used feathering and coloring. This allows you to erase the boundary between color and tonal transitions and to obtain the desired effect of fog and haze.

Masterpieces of Leonardo

There are only a few geniuses who were able to come up with something entirely new in painting, and one of them – Leonardo da Vinci. Reception in painting, sfumato, as well as a spatial perspective, – this is the most important discovery of the artist. When we speak of sfumato, then, of course, recall the main da Vinci's masterpiece – “Mona Lisa". The background of this work is the classic example of “smoky” art. The figure of the Mona Lisa becomes bolder and more expressive thanks to the blurry, dim and atmospheric back such a plan. The mystery of her smile is largely manifested due to the transparency of the background. Also, the technique of sfumato in painting are represented in several works, including “Madonna of the rocks”, “Madonna with child”, “John the Baptist”, “Madonna of the carnation”.


our development of sfumato in painting got in the technique of Unione. It is typical especially for Raphael. In comparison with the classical sfumato in Unione used more bright colors, and contours of the figures are more pronounced. However, it also retains the basic principle of stealth tonal transitions and transparency, which creates the feeling of air on the canvas. This new technique, which incorporates the best features of sfumato and other techniques of Italian painting is represented in such works of Raphael, as “Three graces" and several “Virgins” the Florentine period.


the Emergence of sfumato in painting led to the fact that there are several variations of it. So, Michelangelo creates his version multi-layered manner of writing – cangiante. The technique is built on the transmission of light and shadows, but, unlike sfumato, where the transitions were very smooth, it applies the color contrast. The task of receiving the same – giving the image depth and perspective. A vivid example of this technique is Michelangelo's work ‘Madonna Doni”.


the Emergence of sfumato in painting provoked artists in search of such opportunities in the chart. This has led to the emergence of a multilayer technique, chiaroscuro. It is the consistent print image with multiple boards, allowing you to convey the play of light and shadow to create a three-dimensional composition. The founder of this technique was Italian painter Ugo da Carly. The most famous master who owned the equipment, was a French chart Georges de Latour.

the Followers of da Vinci

From the time of Leonardo's sfumato in jivopisi examples which can be found in different countries, has become a classic technique for creating deep, atmospheric works. Many artists applied and used this technique. The most notable followers of the da Vinci are considered to be Titian, Johan Abeling, Omar Galliani.