Artists’ Pigments

The sole reason I toured Albrecht Dürer's house in Nürnberg, Germany, was because I had read there was a display of his paint and where it came from.  Now Dürer lived 170 years before Maria Sybilla Merian did, but things were slow to change back in those days; I figured the source of paints would still be the same.  I had already spent two and a half years researching the old paint recipes to find a few which would be usable in the classroom during the study of art in the Middle Ages.  (I was bored with the time period and needed a way to "liven it up" 'cause it's a sure bet that if the teacher's already bored, the students will be triply bored, and the last thing we need is bored kids in the classroom.)

I was delighted to see that what I had read was confirmed here.

pigments used by artists at Dürer Museum

The blue pigment in the picture on top is azurite; the powdered form was kept on the half shell, it's source is the azurite rock behind.  The red pigment was new to me–it is called Drachenblut, or Dragon's Blood.  It comes from a red resin from the fruit of a palm tree found in Asia.

pigments used by artists

The center picture shows a pigment made from roots of the Rubia plant–also new to me–on the left.  On the right is a dish of cochineal bugs which, when crushed, make a purply-red pigment.  (And, yes, the dried bugs do stink if you get your nose too close to them!)

pigments used by artists

The bottom picture shows the beautiful bright red pigment derived from Cinnabar rocks from Spain.

One added note:  most rocks lose their color when crushed and cannot be used to make paint.  Those that do retain their color make very lovely paint, indeed.

3 thoughts on “Artists’ Pigments

  1. [this is good]

    It is kinda coinsidence that you have shown me the cochineal bugs, because recently I had been wondering what that insect dye looked like… and nice to know it smells! (~ ~);

  2. Yes…I of course made sure to mention the smell factor to my students, whereupon they would stick their noses as close to the bugs as possible.

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