It is Caravaggio who invented "chiaroscuro" cast in the role of a work's principal dramatic agent. Other Italian painters who preceded him also attempted to portray night.
Caravaggio, The Night Prince
In painting darkness and light, Caravaggio never worked mechanically. He had no
interest in producing something new merely for the sake of novelty. His idea was
to invent a new language, not in the cause of naturalism but in that of mysticism.
Caravaggio renounced the epiphanies, the saintly icons multiplied by hundreds by
the Mannerists; he was fed up with ascensions of the Virgin surrounded by angels
and pink swirls.
Caravaggio was a mystic, a believer whose faith was deep-rooted. His idea was to give Divine Will another mission, another instrument: light as the instrument of God's will. There is no light without shadow, no shadow without light. Caravaggio extricates man from shadow to bring him to light, and this light traces His message in the night. Caravaggio cannot be considered a realist painter, no matter how plebeian his models. The underlying aim is supernatural, spiritual. What lends life to anonymous creatures is the hand of God, as represented by a shaft of light that falls on the Chosen One.
This painter's orchestration of his compositions transforms the play of light and dark into a vital dynamic agent. The human body thus loses the basic role attributed to it by the Renaissance: in Caravaggio's work, light serves as a signifier. It traces reality, underscores and exalts it, serving principally to create dialogue between the figures, a dialogue of gazes. Light defines the relationship between the figures portrayed. The light sought out is a light born out of nowhere, a revelation of divine origin. Beyond the genre scenes and the chiaroscuro technique, the resulting oeuvre is imbued with mysticism. This light of divine origin traces reality, but also helps us to understand such reality. Nonetheless, this oeuvre cannot be labelled realist: indeed, he was attacked by art critics because "He does not know how to observe reality". For Caravaggio, the mission was to create a miracle, to reveal the hand of God.