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When Science Meets Art: Analysing Painting Styles Over 800 Years

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

A digital analysis of 8,798 paintings produced over an 800 year historical period shows that artwork has become more colourful and more complex in terms of brightness and contrast since the Medieval period.

Researchers also measured the development of changing styles during the Renaissance era, with increasing brightness and contrast more common in later pieces from artists such as Rembrandt, compared to earlier pieces from artists such as da Vinci.

Hawoong Jeong of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and colleagues classified the paintings into 10 historical periods: Medieval, Early Renaissance, Northern Renaissance, High Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, and Realism.

A painting broken down to its digital parts.

Increasing brightness contrast picked up by the analyses reflect the development of painting techniques during the Renaissance, such as sfumato (expressing gradual fade-out between object and
background, used by Leonardo da Vinci, 1452–1519) and chiaroscuro (strong contrasts between light and dark, used by Rembrandt van Rijin, 1606–1669).

The authors, reporting their results in the journal Scientific Reports, say their use of scientific techniques to analyse paintings provides a bridge between the worlds of art

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