The last time I was taken aback by a documented myriad of colours was a few years ago when we were visiting the Museum of Meissen Art in Germany (you can read my post about this museum here).
There was a huge wall covered in porcelain tiles with hundreds of different hues of yellow, red, green and blue… I was mesmerized! Every colour had a name and a number.
It’s impossible for us to remember a particular hue (although I’m sure that there are people out there who could do it; certainly not me – I had to choose some paint to go with my bedroom wallpaper, but didn’t have an example of the wallpaper with me at the time and, of course, ended up with two very different blues!), but once you have documented your colours it’s really easy to tell someone else what you’re looking for, all you have to do is use the same colour system.
That’s how two Meissen porcelain figurines have exactly the same colours although they’ve been made lets say not even in the same century (some figurines can be seen here).
Well, these days it’s easy – every company making paint has its colour palette and they know how much of primary pigments to put into white base to get for e.g. Atomic Tangerine or Bangladesh Green. But what was it like a few hundred years ago? Was colour mixing left to simple trial and error?
Apparently there’s a book that has every possible colour in it and it was written in the 17th century!
This book, that could be the first ever colour manual, was largely forgotten. It was kept in the Bibliothèque Méjanes in Aix-en-Provence, France until Medieval book historian Erik Kwakkel translated part of the introduction and posted selections from the book on his blog.
The book’s called Traité des couleurs servant à la peinture à l’eau. Its author Herr Boogert (or a Dutch artist know as A. Boogert) in 1692 decided to put together a guide for mixing watercolours. He ended up with an exemplar of 800 handwritten (and painted) pages!
He began his book with a bit about the use of colour in painting, also explained how to create certain hues and change the tone by adding one, two, or three parts of water.
This book had to be an educational guide for aspiring artists, yet only a few artists at the time ever got a chance to see this one-of-a-kind book. These days it’s to available to everyone – please click here to view this book in high resolution.