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Open Access Mining for Color: New Blues, Yellows, and Translucent Paint


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Mining for Color: New Blues, Yellows, and Translucent Paint


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In the sixteenth century, the Erzgebirge mountains were mined for mineral ores of cobalt and antimony that were used to make the blue pigment smalt, a potash glass, and yellow pigments based on lead-antimony oxides, respectively. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, these pigments had found a permanent place on the easel painter’s palette, smalt used in place of ultramarine and the antimonial compounds enlivening the yellows of the spectrum. Mining efforts also located sources for naphtha, and improvements in distillation would have allowed it (and other solvents) to be fractioned and purified for use as a solvent and diluent for oil paint. The mention of naphtha in treatises and color-sellers’ inventories attests to its use in color making. Thinning paint allowed artists to use glazes of paint to lively, luminous, coloristic effect and made blending easier. These three discoveries contributed to the saturated colors characteristic of seventeenth-century painting and offered artists latitude in the ways they pursued their goal of imitative painting.


Affiliations: 1: National Gallery of Art
b-berrie@nga.gov


In the sixteenth century, the Erzgebirge mountains were mined for mineral ores of cobalt and antimony that were used to make the blue pigment smalt, a potash glass, and yellow pigments based on lead-antimony oxides, respectively. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, these pigments had found a permanent place on the easel painter’s palette, smalt used in place of ultramarine and the antimonial compounds enlivening the yellows of the spectrum. Mining efforts also located sources for naphtha, and improvements in distillation would have allowed it (and other solvents) to be fractioned and purified for use as a solvent and diluent for oil paint. The mention of naphtha in treatises and color-sellers’ inventories attests to its use in color making. Thinning paint allowed artists to use glazes of paint to lively, luminous, coloristic effect and made blending easier. These three discoveries contributed to the saturated colors characteristic of seventeenth-century painting and offered artists latitude in the ways they pursued their goal of imitative painting.


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/content/journals/10.1163/15733823-02046p02
2015-12-07
2018-04-26

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