One of the often neglected components of art is what it is made from: paint. Where did artists get their colours from, and how have changes in the repertoire of colours over the ages affected the way that artists paint?
Today, when there are masses of colours available off the shelf in art shops, we tend to take them from granted. It’s easy to forget that these colours had to be invented, one by one, in what was sometimes a painstaking process. Artists of earlier times had a much more limited palette, and some of their colours were immensely expensive, while some were unstable and tended to fade or darken. In order to make their materials and put them to the best use, painters once had to be chemically literate.
In this lecture Dr Philip Ball will trace the chemical history of the pigments on the artist’s palette, and show how the invention of new colour has constantly transformed art.