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COLO´RES The Greeks and Romans had a very extensive acquaintance with colours as pigments. Book vii. of Vitruvius and several chapters of books xxxiii. xxxiv. and xxxv. of Pliny's Natural History contain much interesting matter upon their nature and composition ; and these works, together with what is contained in book v. of Dioscorides, and some remarks in Theophrastus (de Lapidibus), constitute the chief part of our information upon the subject of ancient pigments. From these sources, through the experiments and observations of Sir Humphry Davy (Phil. Trans. of the Royal Society, 1815) on some remains of ancient colours and paintings in the Golden House of Nero (wrongly called the Baths of Titus), and in other ruins of antiquity, we are enabled to collect a tolerably satisfactory account of the colouring materials employed by the Greek and Roman painters. Recent discoveries at Tiryns and other very early Greek sites have brought to light examples of painting of extreme antiquity, in which nevertheless pigments of fine quality and considerable variety of tint are used.

Brilliant blues and greens occur made of “smalto” or powdered glass, and a large number of ochre earths supply various soft harmonious tints of red and yellow.

It should be observed that both Greek and Roman writers use colour-names in a very different way from that now employed; and thus most classical names for colours are now quite untranslatable. Homer's “wine-like sea” (αἶνοψ) and Horace's “purpureus olor” (Carm. iv. 1, 10) refer, not so much to what we call colour, as to the chromatic strength of the various surfaces, and their more or less strong powers of reflecting light, either in motion or when at rest.

Thus, too, we have no word like Virgil's “flavus,” which can be applied both to a lady's hair and to the foliage of an olive. In a similar way a meaning unlike ours is attached to Greek technical terms in painting: by τόνος they meant, not tone, but the gradations of light and shade; and by ἁρμογὴ the relations of colours. (See Pliny, Plin. Nat. 35.29; and Ruskin, Mod. Painters, part iv. ch. 13.)

The painting of the Greeks is very generally considered to have been inferior to their sculpture: this partially arises from very imperfect information, and a very erroneous notion respecting the resources of the Greek painters in colouring. The error originated apparently with Pliny himself, who, it should be remembered, was neither a scientific archaeologist nor a practical artist. He says (35.50), “Quatuor coloribus solis immortalia illa opera fecere, ex albis Melino, ex silaceis Attico, ex rubris Sinopide Pontica, ex nigris atramento, Apelles, Echion, Melanthius, Nicomachus, clarissimi pictores;” and (35.92), “Legentes meminerint omnia ea quatuor coloribus facta.” This mistake, as Sir H. Davy has supposed, may have arisen from an imperfect recollection of a passage in Cicero (Cic. Brut. 18, 70), which, however, directly contradicts the statement of Pliny:--“In pictura Zeuxim et Polygnotum, et Timanthem, et eorum, qui non sunt usi plusquam quattuor coloribus, formas et lineamenta laudamus: at in Echione, Nicomacho, Protogene, Apelle jam perfecta sunt omnia.” Here Cicero extols the design and drawing of Polygnotus, Zeuxis, and Timanthes, and those who used but four colours; and observes in contradistinction, that in Echion, Nicomachus, Protogenes, and Apelles, all things were perfect. But the remark of Pliny, that Apelles, Echion, Melanthius, and Nicomachus used but four colours, including both black and white to the exclusion of all blue, is evidently an error, independent of its contradiction to Cicero; and the conclusion drawn by some from it and the remark of Cicero, that the early Greek painters were acquainted with but four pigments, is equally without foundation. Pliny himself speaks of two other colours, besides the four in question, which were used by the earliest painters; the testa-trita (35.16) and cinnabaris or vermilion, which he calls also minium (33.115). He mentions also (35.38) the Eretrian earth used by Nicomachus, and the elephantinum, or ivoryblack, used by Apelles (35.42), thus contradicting himself when he asserted that Apelles and Nicomachus used but four colours. The above tradition, and the simplex color of Quintilian (Orat. Instit. 12.10), are our only authorities for defining any limits to the use of colours by the early Greeks, as applied to painting; but we have no authority whatever for supposing that they were limited in any remarkable way in their acquaintance with them. That the painters of the earliest period had not such abundant resources in this department of art as those of the later, is quite consistent with recent discoveries, and does not require demonstration; but to suppose that they were confined to four pigments is quite a gratuitous supposition, and is opposed to both reason and evidence.

Sir H. Davy also analysed the colours of the so-called “Aldobrandini marriage” (now in the Vatican library), all the reds and yellows of which he discovered to be ochres; the blues and greens, to be oxides of copper; the blacks all carbonaceous; the browns, mixtures of ochres and black, and some containing oxide of manganese; the whites were all carbonates of lime. [p. 1.485]

The reds discovered in an earthen vase containing a variety of colours, were red oxide of lead (minium) and two iron ochres of different tints,--a dull red, and a purplish red nearly of the same tint as prussiate of copper; they were all mixed with chalk or carbonate of lime. The yellows were pure ochres with carbonate of lime, and ochre mixed with minium and carbonate of lime. The blues were oxides of copper with carbonate of lime. Sir H. Davy discovered a frit made by means of soda and coloured with oxide of copper, approaching ultramarine in tint, which he supposed to be the frit of Alexandria; its composition, he says, was perfect--“that of embodying the colour in a composition resembling stone, so as to prevent the escape of elastic matter from it, or the decomposing action of the elements: this is a species of artificial lapis-lazuli, the colouring matter of which is naturally inherent in a hard siliceous stone.” The process of making this vitreous pigment or “smalto” is described below.

Of greens there were many shades, all, however, either carbonate or oxide of copper, mixed with carbonate of lime. The browns consisted of ochres calcined, and oxides of iron and of manganese, and compounds of ochres and blacks. Sir H. Davy could not ascertain whether the lake which he discovered was of animal or of vegetable origin; if of animal, he supposed that it was very probably the Tyrian or marine purple. He discovered also a colour which he supposed to be black woad, or hydrated binoxide of manganese; also a black colour composed of chalk, mixed with the ink of the Sepia officinalis or cuttle-fish.

The following list, compiled from the different sources of our information concerning the pigments known to the ancients, will serve to convey an idea of the great resources of the Greek and Roman painters in this department of their art; and which, in the opinion of Sir H. Davy, were fully equal to the resources of the great Italian painters in the sixteenth century :--

RED. The ancient reds were very numerous. Κιννάβαρι, cinnabaris, cinnabar; μίλτος, vermilion, bisulphuret of mercury, called also by Pliny and Vitruvius miniunm.

The κιννάβαρι Ἰνδικόν, cinnabaris Indica, mentioned by Pliny and Dioscorides, was what is usually called dragon's-blood, the resin obtained from various species of the calamus palm.

Μίλτος seems to have had various significations; it was used for cinnabaris, minium, red lead, and rubrica, red ochre. There were various kinds of rubricae,--the Cappadocian, the Egyptian, the Spanish, and the Lemnian; all were, however, red iron oxides, of which the best were the Lemnian, from the isle of Lemnos, and the Cappadocian, called by the Romans rubrica Sinopica, by the Greeks Σινωπίς, from Sinope in Paphlagonia, whence it was first brought. There was also an African rubrica called cicerculum.

Minium, red oxide of lead, red lead, was called by the Romans cerussa usta, and, according to Vitruvius, sandaraca; by the Greeks, μίλτος,and, according to Dioscorides (5.122), σανδαράκη. Pliny tells us that it was discovered through the accidental calcination of some cerussa (white lead) by a fire in the Peiraeeus, and was first used as a pigment by Nicias of Athens, about 330 B.C.

The Roman sandaraca seems to have had various significations, and it is evidently used differently by the Greek and Roman writers. Pliny speaks of different shades of sandaraca, the pale or massicot (yellow oxide of lead), and a mixture of the pale with minium ; it apparently also signified realgar or the red sulphuret of arsenic: there was also a compound colour of equal parts of sandaraca and rubrica calcined, called sandyx, σάνδυξ. Sir H. Davy supposed this colour to approach our crimson in tint; in painting it was frequently glazed with purple, to give it additional lustre.

Pliny speaks of a dark ochre from the isle of Syros, which he calls Syricum; but he says also that it was made by mixing sandyx with rubrica Sinopica.

The fine sealing-wax-like red on the Roman Samian pottery is formed of an oxide of iron, mixed with an alkaline silicate, so as to make a sort of red enamel.

The reds used by fresco-painters were mainly varieties of ochre-earths, coloured by different oxides of iron. Native iron, in the form of haematite, was largely used by painters on fresh stucco. The very brilliant vermilion, a sulphide of mercury, was used less frequently. It occurs on some of the pottery from Magna Graecia, of the fourth century B.C., and also in some of wax encaustic paintings of Pompeii.

One of the most beautiful pigments known to the ancients was made from the kermes of the Arabs, or Coccus ilicis, a small beetle resembling cochineal, which lives on the ilex oaks of Arcadia and various parts of Asia Minor. This insect, when infused in boiling water, gives a magnificent rich red dye, and was largely used in the fine Persian carpets of the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. It is more splendid in colour and more durable than cochineal.

Some stuffs, found in 1886 in tombs at Ekhmîn in Middle Egypt, have woven patterns in coloured wools on a white linen warp. In some of these, which date from the third century A.D., the fine kermes red is still as brilliant as ever.

Like the murex, and other colours of animal or vegetable origin, this kermes, though in the first instance specially a dyer's pigment, seems also to have been made available for the painter. This was done by using it as a stain for a white earth, thus forming a solid pigment of sufficient body to be used on stucco or panel.

YELLOW. Yellow ochre, hydrated peroxide of iron, the sil of the Romans, the ὤχρα of the Greeks, formed the base of many other yellows mixed with various colours and carbonate of lime. Ochre was procured from different parts; the Attic was considered the best ; it was first used in painting, according to Pliny, by Polygnotus and Micon, at Athens, about 460 B.C., but in reality ochre pigments were used many centuries earlier.

Ἀρσενικόν, auripigmentum, orpiment (yellow sulphuret of arsenic), found especially in the silver mines of Syria, was also an important yellow; but it has not been discovered in any of the ancient paintings. The sandaraca has been already mentioned.

Saffron, and plants such as the Reseda luteola, [p. 1.486]were largely used to produce yellow dyes for textiles; and the same pigments were mixed with white earths for the use of painters.

GREEN. Chrysocolla, χρυσόκολλα, which appears to have been green carbonate of copper or malachite (green verditer), was the green most approved of by the ancients; its depth of tint depended upon the quantity of white carbonate of lime mixed with it.

Pliny mentions various kinds of verdigris (diacetate of copper), aerugo, ἰός, ἰὸς χαλκοῦ, cypria aerugo, and aeruca, and a particular preparation of verdigris called scolecia. Sir H. Davy supposes the ancients to have used also acetate of copper as a pigment. Besides the above were several green earths, all cupreous oxides: Theodotion (Θεοδότιον), so called from being found upon the estate of Theodotus, near Smyrna; Appianum; and the creta viridis, common green earth of Verona.

The finest green pigment was a variety of “smalto,” simply a glass coloured with some salt of copper, and then minutely powdered. This very brilliant colour could resist the action of fresh lime, and so was available for the frescopainter.

It should be noted that the word chrysocolla is used in classical writings with many different meanings. Its original meaning, and the one which gave its name, was borax, used as a flux for soldering by the ancient gold-workers.

Another meaning seems to be the glittering scales of mica, which are found in large quantities among the débris of disintegrated granitic rocks. This appears to be the meaning of the word when Pliny, Plin. Nat. 33.90, speaks of Nero strewing the arena of the Circus Maximus with chrysocolla.

Carbonate of copper, either natural or artificial, was largely used by the ancient dyers; as, for examples, in the Ekhmîn textiles mentioned above. To receive this dye the stuff had previously to be prepared by an alum “mordant,” the use of which for this and other colours was understood by the dyers of Egypt: at a very early period, as is recorded by Pliny.

BLUE, caeruleum, κύανος. The principal blue pigment used by the Greek and Roman painters in early times seems to have been a true “smalto” or enamel colour, made of powdered blue glass, which had been coloured by some salt of copper.

Examples of this exist in the tombs of ancient Egypt, and on the paintings of Tiryns; and lumps of the smalto pigment have been found at Ephesus and at Pompeii.

One method of preparing this colour is described by Vitruvius (7.11): copper filings and a proportion of alkali are to be mixed with finely ground sand (silica), and the frit thus composed mixed with water into a paste, formed into balls, dried, and then fused in an ordinary glass furnace. The blue vitreous mass thus produced was then broken up and finely ground.

A lump of this “smalto” from Pompeii, when analysed by Sir Humphry Davy, was found to consist of carbonate of soda, 15 parts; silica, 20; and copper, 3.

A natural blue carbonate of copper (verditer) was also much used. Various tints were produced by mixing it with different proportions of carbonate of lime or white earth. This was imported from Scythia, Alexandria, and Cyprus. A variety called coelon was made at Pozzuoli by a man named Vestorius, who had learnt the process in Egypt. Another preparation, made by washing out the particles of deeper blue, was known as lomentum: an inferior quality of this was called tritum.

The finest and most costly blue was ultramarine (sapphirus, κύανος), made from lapislazuli. The stone was first calcined, and then the blue particles separated by washing. Its use was probably very limited, owing to the rarity of fine blue lapis-lazuli.

Cobalt blue was used specially for colouring glass, and for glazes on pottery, as on many of the small mummy-figures from Egypt. Cobalt for this purpose was got from various silver mines, where it occurs in combination with other substances. As a metal, cobalt was not known till modern times.

Indigo, indicum, was chiefly used for dyeing textiles. It is the juice of the Indigofera tinctoria, a plant which does not grow in Europe. The indigo was largely imported in a manufactured state from Egypt and further East, probably from India.

There is no trace of blue in the indigo dye itself, and a piece of stuff after first coming out of the vat is a pale yellow colour, which rapidly becomes blue on exposure to the air, owing to the oxidization which takes place in the indigo. Repeated dippings are required before deep blue is gained, and when carefully dye the colour is very permanent. Examples from Egyptian tombs, dating many centuries B.C., still exist as fresh in tint as if new.

The indigo was adapted to the painters' purposes in the usual way, by using it as a dye to stain chalk or white earth.

PURPLE. The ancients had also several kinds of purple,--purpurissum, ostrum, hysginum, and various compound colours. The most valuable of these was the purpurissum, prepared by mixing the creta argentaria with the purple secretion of the murex (πορφύρα).

The magnificent murex dye, for which the Phoenicians of Tyre and Sidon were so celebrated, was made from several shell-fish, all spiral univalves, the chief of which was the Murex trunculus.

An interesting discovery of the débris of a manufactory for murex purple near Sidon was discovered by M. Gaillardot (Globe, 1874, vol. xxvi., No. 15, p. 237). An immense quantity of shells were found, all broken in the same way, evidently by a sharp-pointed tool used to extract the fish. See also Schmidt, “Die Purpurfarberei . . . in Alterthum,” in the Forschungen aus dem Gebiete des Alterthums, Berlin, 1842, p. 96; and Lacaze-Duthiers, “Mémoire sur la Pourpre,” in the Comptes rendus de l'Acad. des Sciences, Paris, 1860, No. 44. Two very different colours were made from the murex, one a blue-purple and the other a crimson-purple.

The use of manganese as a brownish purple for vitreous purposes was known to the ancient glass-workers of many countries. It is common on the glazed pottery of Egypt.

Hysginum, ὕσγινον (ὕσγη, woad?), according to Vitruvius, is a colour between scarlet and purple. [p. 1.487]

The Roman ostrum was a compound of red ochre and blue oxide of copper.

Vitruvius mentions a purple which was obtained by cooling the ochra usta with wine vinegar.

Rubiae radix, madder-root, gave a very beautiful purple-red, specially used for dyeing.

BROWN, ochra usta, burnt ochre. The browns were ochres calcined, oxides of iron and of manganese, and compounds of ochres and blacks.

BLACK, atramentum, μέλαν. The ancient blacks were mostly carbonaceous. The best for the purposes of painting were elephantinum, ἐλεφάντινον, ivory-black; and tryginum, τρύγινον, vine-black, made of burnt vine twigs. The former was used by Apelles, the latter by Polygnotus and Micon.

The atramentum Indicum, mentioned by Pliny and Vitruvius, was probably the so-called “Indian ink” of China, made of finely-divided carbon. The blacks from sepia and the black woad have been already mentioned.

The black used by dyers, Atramentum sutorium, appears to have been identical with chalcantum, a sulphate of copper dye, which was obtained in large quantities from the copper mines of Spain. This dye was liable to destroy the fibre of textiles, and in ancient examples from Egypt and elsewhere the threads which had been dyed black have usually rotted away. The same effect was also produced by the black dyes formed of some salt of iron mixed with tannin made from gall-nuts or oak-bark--what we now use as writing ink.

The magnificent black enamel, used for the ground of Greek vases of the best period, appears, from analysis, to be a true vitreous enamel, rendered black by the magnetic oxide of iron.

WHITE. The ordinary Greek white was melinum, μηλία, less correctly μηλιάς, an earth from the isle of Melos, a sort of “pipe-clay.” For fresco-painting the best was the African paraetonium, παραιτόνιον, a hydrated silicate of magnesia, so called from the well-known place in Marmarica, where it was found; it also was imported in large quantities from Crete and the Cyrenaica.

The Creta annularia appears to have been an aluminous earth from Eretria, so called because it entered into the composition of the glass “paste” used for imitation gems in rings.

Carbonate of lead or white lead, cerussa, ψιμύθιον, does not appear to have been used by mural painters, probably because it is very liable to blacken, if exposed to any but very pure air.

An impure cerussa is found in a native state at many places, but the best was made artificially by placing sheets of lead in jars with a little vinegar at the bottom. The surface of the metal slowly becomes converted into carbonate or acetate of lead under the influence of the acid vapour of the vinegar, and can then be scaled off, ground and purified by repeated washing. The vapour of vinegar was used in the same way to produce blue pigment from plates of metallic copper, which rapidly acquire a coating of verdigris.

Many other earthy whites were used by the potter and the mural painter; as, for example, chalk, gypsum, and common lime. These mineral whites were also very largely used in combination with other colours to produce tints of different degrees of strength. In many cases the painter used a pure colour for his deepest shadows, and got gradation of half tones by mixing with the pure pigment various proportions of lime or chalk-white, the pure white being finally used to touch in the high lights. This method is common among the paintings of Rome and Pompeii.

A fine mixture of chalk or pipe-clay together with powdered silica was used by the Attic potters to produce the beautiful creamy white of the fourth-century polychromatic lecythi, probably the atticum of Pliny, 35.50. Some of the Athenian terra-cotta statuettes are coated with a similar mixture, to which some alkaline flux has been added, so that a vitreous, white enamelled surface was produced by the heat of the kiln. This remarkable fabrique, though a different composition was used, resembles in effect the white enamel of the Della Robbias of Florence in the fifteenth century.

Another frequent use of earth-whites, to form a vehicle or body for vegetable pigments, has been more than once mentioned above.

Pliny divides the colours into colores floridi and colores austeri (35.30). The colores. floridi were those which, in his time, were supplied by the employer to the painter, on account of their expense, and to secure their being genuine; they were minium, Armenium, cinnabaris, chrysocolla, Indicum, and purpurissum: the rest were the austeri.

Both Pliny (35.30) and Vitruvius (7.7) divide the colours into natural and artificial. The natural are those obtained immediately from the earth, which, according to Pliny, are Sinopis, rubrica, paraetonium, melinum, Eretria, and auripigmentum: to these Vitruvius adds ochra, sandaraca, minium (vermilion), and chrysocolla, being of metallic origin. The others are called artificial, on account of requiring some particular preparation to render them fit for use.

For the modes of using colours and the various media employed, see PICTURA

Bibliography.--Sir Humphry Davy, “Colours used by the Ancients,” in the Transactions of the Royal Society, 1815; Montabert, Traité complet de Peinture, Paris, 1829-55; Geoffroy, “Des Couleurs dans l'Antiquité,” printed in the Mém. de Soc. d'Anthropologie, 2.2, 1879; Blümner, Technologie der Gewerbe und Künste bei Griechen und Römer, i. Berlin, 1875; Hittorf, L'Architecture polychrome des Grecs, Paris, 1851; Jahn, Die Malerei der Alten, Berlin, 1836; Wiegmann, Die Malerei der Alten, Hannover, 1836; Helbig, Wandgemälde der Städte campaniens, Berlin, 1875, and the introduction by Otto Donner; Penrose, Principles of Athenian Architecture, London, 1858; Palmeri, Ricerche sopra 12 Colori trovati a Pompei, Naples, 1877.)

[R.N.W] [J.H.M]

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