Pigments and their availability in early modern Europe (1400-1800)

Anne Haack Christensen, Claire Betelu, Romain Thomas

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Abstract

Although the palette of the European artist of the early modern period is now fairly well known through the cross-referencing of written sources and the results of physico-chemical analyses, a great deal of research still remains to be done concerning the availability of pigments in Early modern Europe.
The last years have seen the publication of important volumes on the trade in painters’ materials (Kirby et al. 2010, Christensen et al. 2019), as well as a number of occasionnal publications. As for now, the role of certain European hubs for the production of and/or the trade in pigments has been acknowledged : Venice and Antwerp in the 16th c. are probably the best known examples (Krischel 2011, Vermeylen 2010), or London in the 18th c. (Simon 2019). In those places, figures specialised in the pigments retail trade have emerged in the historical research (e.g. vendecolori in Venice (Matthew and Berrie 2010, Delancey 2011)). As far as artificial pigments production is concerned, Vermilion has been highlighted for Antwerp (Vermeylen 2010), and Lead white for Venice (Berrie & Matthew 2011). In this latter case though, research still needs to be done on the use of the terminology ‘bianco da Venezia’ that could certainly also refer to the production process and hence the quality of the pigment, and not always to its place of manufacturing. A few short syntheses over the trade in pigments have been attempted, either concerning a time period (e.g. 16th c. (Matthew 2011)), a regional market (e.g. Spain (Herrero-Cortell 2019)) or a specific pigment (e.g. Cochineal (chapter in Roque 2021, in Trichaud-Buti & Buti 2021). Recent work in materials science on isotope ratios of certain chemical elements (e.g. Lead) has opened up a new field of research. These analyses help understand the ore location for painters materials but also the workshop practices related to the availabity and supply of pigments, and contribute to a historical understanding of the activity of painters. Other researches have examined prices (Kirby 2000, Spears 2010, Veliz 2010).
All the same, we still miss a precise overview on the availability of pigments at a relatively fine scale in Europe, and over the whole early modern period (1400-1800). This means more research has to be done on the European production of pigments (e.g. deposits of ore for the pigment manufacturing, centers of artificial pigment production), the trade and its actors as far as wholesale and retail trades are concerned, but also the different qualities of pigments available at a given moment and in a given place, their prices in relationship with the economic situation and the local currencies. Proposals could address also the question of the availability of pigments as a function of time or place ; or the terminology used to designate pigments in relationship with location, quality, manufacturing process, etc. Short syntheses or case-studies in the field of humanities and material sciences would provide food for thought. This could lead to the refining of a 4D cartography of pigments in early modern Europe.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2024
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024
EventCIHA 2024 Congress: Matter Materiality - Palais des congrès de Lyon, Lyon, France
Duration: 23 Jun 202428 Jun 2024

Conference

ConferenceCIHA 2024 Congress
LocationPalais des congrès de Lyon
Country/TerritoryFrance
CityLyon
Period23/06/202428/06/2024

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