Grisaille is the term of art history, which means a technique of painting in gray or grayish monochrome. Though the painting technique has been used in European manuscripts, stained glasses, panel paintings, and murals since the late Middle Ages, it is the 17th century that this concept was formed. Whether it is because of its negative perception of gray, Grisaille has not been noticed for a long time and has been excluded from academic research.
Throughout history, Grisaille was used in precious miniatures and illuminations for royal families or stained glasses of the Cistercian order that emphasized abstinence and moderation, and in panel paintings, it was used to distinguish itself from the main narrative of central panel. It was not only used for drawing and preliminary work, but also painted as an autonomous work, and was introduced to demonstrate the excellence of painting techniques that can have a sculptural-looking effect.
The concept of Grisaille is also found in the theory of image historian Aby Warburg(1866-1929). He first wrote the concept of Grisaille in his 1907 paper and left notes until the end of his life. He also applied the concept of Grisaille to the unfinished project <Image Atlas Mnemosyne>, for which he collected and placed the image data he studied throughout his lifetime. As Warburg's fragmentary writings reveal, Grisaille connects to the concepts of collective memory, distance, thought-space, psychology of equilibrium, and moderation, and relates to his fundamental attitude toward image.
Warburg's concept of Grisaille allows us to see the rich expressive value of gray beyond the traditional stereotype of scarcity and absence. Furthermore, as a critical term, Grisaille could be applied to analysis of contemporary visual culture such as painting, print, photography, and film.