The Roman term for Red Lead pigment, a popular paint colour used in medieval
book illustration and calligraphy. A
rather dull red prone to darkening, it has not been used by modern painters
for many decades.
An imitation gold pigment (also known as Aurium Musicum and Purpurinus),
it was used extensively by Renaissance painters and book illuminators.
Also called Egyptian brown, this warm dark-brown colourant was obtained
from the ground remains of Egyptian mummies, a ghoulish practice which
was eventually banned. Now obsolete.
Also called Antimony Yellow and Juane Brilliant, Naples Yellow is a pale
but warm yellow pigment derived from Lead Antimoniate. Its use as a painting-pigment
can be traced back to around 1400 BCE, making it one of the oldest synthetic
pigments. It possesses very good hiding power and good stability. Now
obsolete, due to its toxicity. See Giallorino (above).
Neutral Grey Tint
A prepared artist's colour made up from lampblack, Winsor blue and a little
alizarin crimson. Popular for monochrome work or rendered drawings.
Ochres (Red/Yellow Ochre)
The most ancient of all natural colourants, ochre is naturally tinted
clay containing ferric oxide, and produces an earthy pigment varying in
colour from cream and light yellow to brown or red. Used widely in prehistoric
rock art, notably in cave murals at Lascaux and Chauvet, and also at Blombos
cave. Ochres vary considerably in transparency - some are opaque, while
others are used as transparent glazes. Can be safely mixed with other
A rich lemon or canary yellow with reasonable covering power and moderate
chemical stability, Orpiment is a very ancient natural pigment first used
in the Middle East and Asia around 3100 BCE. It was imported into Venice
from Turkey during the Renaissance - yet another reason why Venice led
the way in artist pigments and colourism. It could not be combined with
lead or copper pigments such as lead white, lead-tin yellow, or verdigris,
as the mixture is prone to darkening. A synthetic version of Orpiment,
called Kings Yellow, was eventually produced but proved highly toxic due
to its high level of arsenic. Both were rendered obsolete by Cadmium Yellow.
Named after the 18th century watercolourist William Payne, this very dark
blue-grey colourant combines ultramarine and black, or Ultramarine and
Sienna. It was used by artists as a pigment, and also as a mixer instead
For details of colour palettes and for details of pigments, dyes and colours
associated with different
eras in the history of art, see: Prehistoric
Colour Palette (Hues used by Stone Age cave painters);
Egyptian Colour Palette (Hues
used in Ancient Egypt); Classical
Colour Palette (Pigments used by painters in Ancient Greece and Rome);
Renaissance Colour Palette
(Colourts used by oil-painters and fresco artists in Florence, Rome and
Venice); Eighteenth Century
Colour Palette (Hues used by Rococo and other artists). Nineteenth
Century Colour Palette (Pigments used by Impressionists and other
19th century artists).
Also known as Persian Gulf Red, this is a deep reddish orange earthy iron
pigment from the Persian Gulf, made from a silicate of iron and alumina,
combined with magnesia. It is also known as artificial vermillion. See
also Venetian Red (below).
A very powerful blue lake, produced from copper phthalocyanine. In its
prime state it is so strong that there is no sign of blue, almost black
with a coppery sheen. Introduced into England in 1935, replacing Prussian
blue for many artists. Trade names include Monastral, Winsor, Thalo and
The word pink was used for yellow when referring to a yellow pigment certainly
up to the end of the 17th century and it is likely well into the 18th.
The pink (yellow) was made by a skill in cooking. Several ingredients
were used including: unripe buckthorn berries, weld, broom. Norgate in
his treatise mentions 'callsind eg shels and whitt Roses makes rare pinck
that never starves'.
An expensive lemon yellow pigment obtained from platinum. Now obsolete,
it was replaced by the Chrome yellows - Strontium Yellow, Barium Yellow,
and Zinc Yellow.
Known also as Berlin Blue, Bronze Blue, Chinese Blue, Iron Blue, Milori
Blue, Parisian Blue, Paste Blue, and Steel Blue, this dark-blue was the
first modern, man-made pigment. It was developed accidentally by the Berlin
chemist Diesbach in about 1704, and became available to artists' palettes
from 1724, Prussian Blue has excellent tinting strength but is only fairly
permanent to light and air. A popular alternative at the time to Indigo
dye, Smalt, and Tyrian purple, all of which tend to fade, and the extremely
costly ultramarine, the first famous painters to use it included Pieter
van der Werff and Antoine Watteau. Outside Europe, the pigment was taken
up by Japanese painters and woodblock print artists. Prussian Blue turns
slightly dark purple when dispersed in oil paint.
Obsolete yellow obtained from the bark of the black quercitron oak from
America. It was introduced to Europe by Edward Bancroft, a Doctor of Medicine
and Fellow of the Royal Society, in 1775. It appeared in Ackermann's treatise
in 1801 masquerading as: 'Ackermann's Yellow, another new Colour, lately
discovered, is a beautiful warm rich Yellow, almost the tint of Gallstone,
works very pleasant, and is very useful in Landscapes, Flowers, Shells,
A red-orange pigment chemically related to the yellow orpiment, the mineral
ore Realgar is an ancient pigment used in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Asia
Minor until the 19th century. Now obsolete.
Red Iron Oxide Artist Pigments
Ever since Paleolithic artists began painting cave murals, Red Iron oxide
ore has been a common source for a wide variety of artist hues. Locations
of its extraction are evident in some of the pigment names used, such
as Venetian Red, Sinopia, Venice Red, Turkey Red, Indian Red, Spanish
Red, Pompeian Red, and Persian Red. A variant of the latter (Persian Gulf
Red) is still reputed to be the best grade for the natural pigment. Nowadays,
most Red Iron Oxide colours are manufactured synthetically.
Commonly known as Carthame, this fugitive red lake derives from the flowers
of the Safflower plant. Now obsolete.
Another fugitive yellow dye created from the flowers of an Indian plant,
Saffron pigments were used from Antiquity until the 19th century. Still
in use by traditional craftspeople on the Indian sub-continent and in
A Greco-Roman term used to describe a number of lead and arsenic yellows,
as well as Cinnabar and even red earths.
Derived from the unripe berries of the Buckthorn shrub. It is highly fugitive,
as is a sister-pigment, Iris Green which comes from the sap of the Iris
Flower. During the Middle Ages, Sap Green was reduced to a heavy syrup
and sold in liquid form. Today's synthetic Sap Greens are lakes obtained
from coal tar.
Alternative name for Smalt (see below).
Also known as Schloss Green, this yellowish-green pigment was invented
in 1775 by Carl Wilhelm Scheele and was used by artists in the 18th and
19th centuries. It is related to the later Emerald Green. By 1900, these
greens (both being highly toxic and prone to darkening) were made obsolete
by zinc oxide and cobalt green, also known as zinc green.
Originally an 18th century replacement for the brown pigment Bistre, this
natural organic colourant is made from the ink sacs of the cuttlefish.
Originally used by artists in ink
painting, illustration and calligraphy, the name Sepia is now used
in connection with modern oil paints derived from Burnt Umber, Van Dyke
Brown and Carbon Black.
A native clay that contains iron and manganese. In the raw state it has
the appearance of dark and rich yellow ochre. Burnt sienna is made by
calcining or roasting the raw sienna in a furnace. The two, raw and burnt
siennas are amongst the most stable pigments on the painter's palette.
An ancient name for native red iron oxides, it takes its name from the
town of Sinope in Asia Minor. Cennini says in Il Libro dell' Arte
of its unsuitability for fresco and tempera. Well watered down it was
much employed by artists for laying in the under-drawing for fresco work
on the arriccio.
Made from ground blue-coloured glass, Smalt was the earliest of the cobalt
pigments. It emerged as a European replacement for Egyptian Blue, which
was derived from copper. Despite its weak tinting power it remained popular
until the development of synthetic Ultramarine and Cobalt Blue in the
19th century. Production continued intermittently until 1950.
A fugitive Yellow lake derived from the Saffron plant.