Venetian Grinds: The Secret Behind Italian Renaissance Painters' Brilliant Palettes
Goho, Alexandra, Science News
While sifting through 15th- and-16th century documents at the state archives in Venice, Louisa Matthew came across an ancient inventory from a Venetian seller of artist's pigments. The dusty sheet of paper, dated 1534, was buried in a volume of inventories of deceased persons' estates.
As Matthew, an art historian at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., scanned the more-than-l00 items on the list, she realized that it was exactly what she had dreamed of finding. "I remember thinking, 'Did someone plant this here?'" she says. 'And why hadn't anyone noticed this before?" This inventory of artists' materials could hold the answer to a question that had long vexed conservation scientists: How did Venetian Renaissance painters create the strong, clear, and bright colors that make objects and figures in their paintings appear to glow?
The diversity of items on the list amazed Matthew. It included not only painters' pigments such as azurite, vermilion, and orpiment, but also raw materials used in a variety of crafts. "So, it wasn't just the painters who were buying from the color seller," she says. Glassmakers and dye-makers were also frequenting the shop. If the color shop was a nexus for all these different craftspersons, she reasoned, "maybe they were sharing ideas"--and materials too.
That last speculation spurred Matthew's colleague Barbara Berrie, a conservation scientist at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to reexamine the Venetian paintings that she had been studying for the past few years. Previous analyses of microscopic paint samples taken from a handful of works had revealed many aspects of the artists' …
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Publication information: Article title: Venetian Grinds: The Secret Behind Italian Renaissance Painters' Brilliant Palettes. Contributors: Goho, Alexandra - Author. Magazine title: Science News. Volume: 167. Issue: 11 Publication date: March 12, 2005. Page number: 168+. © 2009 Science Service, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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