For Those of You Entering the Profession With a Lofty Spirit…


I am about to share with you some of the advice of my new favorite author from the 15th century, Cennino d’Andrea Cennini.  For those of us who think ourselves so modern we will find that not much has changed in the world of art materials, and indeed, very much knowledge of a scientific nature was had by those painters of so long ago.  Modern pragmatists all know that people throughout all of time in all places have used the materials which they could find in their environments, human body not excluded ! (To this very day human urine is used as a mordant for dye in fabrics coming from Asia).  Cennini writes as he speaks, and makes no bones about it…much of his writing is as amusing as it is informative.  So here you have it, the abridged “Libro dell’ Arte” for pigments”:

ON THE CHARACTER OF A RED  CALLED DRAGONSBLOOD.  CHAPTER XLIII  “This color is used occasionally on parchment, for illuminating.  But leave it alone, and do not have too much respect for it; for it is not of a constitution to do you much credit.

ON THE CHARACTER OF A RED CALLED LAC. CHAPTER XLIIII  “…take care to recognize the good kind, because there are several types of it….There are those who grind it with urine; but it becomes unpleasant, for it promptly goes bad.”

ON THE CHARACTER OF A YELLOW CALLED ORPIMENT.  CHAPTER XLVII                    “It is made by alchemy and is really poisonous….There is no keeping company with it….Beware of soiling your mouth with it, lest you suffer personal injury.”

ON THE CHARACTER OF A COLOR WHICH IS CALLED REALGAR. CHAPTER XLVIII.  “This color is really poisonous.  We do not use it, except sometimes on panel..It wants to be ground a great deal with clear water.  And look out for yourself.

ON THE CHARACTER OF A COLOR CALLED TERRE-VERTE. CHAPTER LI                        “The more you work it up. the better it will be. As if you temper it as I shall show you the bole for gilding, you may gild with terre-verte.  And know that the ancients never used to gild on panel except with the green.

And, because it is August, although it has nothing to do with pigments, here is a bonus for you:

HOW GOOD AND PERFECT OIL IS MADE BY COOKING IN THE SUN. CHAPTER LXXXXII  “Take your linseed oil…put it in a bronze or copper pan…and keep it in the sun when August comes.  If you keep it there until it is reduced to a half, this will be most perfect for painting.”

If this has whet your appetite for more, the full text of the book can be found here:

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About Olga Dytyniak

artist, librarian poet, byzantine icon painter, perennial student. Join me on
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