Medieval Paints

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Colin Middleton
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Medieval Paints

Postby Colin Middleton » Thu Jul 19, 2012 1:04 pm

What were paints made of in the Middle Ages?

I'm thinking that having a descent understanding of this will help us know what colours we can 'aford' to use and help us either source the proper materials, or get a good comparison on 'fake' colours.

ASAIK pigments used at the time included:

Yellow and Red Ochres (made from ground earth pigments).
Brick reds from iron oxides (like modern iron oxide primers).
Black, presumably from soot?
White, presumably from chalk.
Ultramarine Blues from ground Lapis Lasuli, so very expensive.

Could they extract colours from dye-stuffs like an Indigo from Wode, an Orange-Red from Madder and a Bright Yellow from Weld?

Was Cinnabar in use to make Vermilions?

What other options do we have?

Many thanks

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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby Medicus Matt » Thu Jul 19, 2012 2:27 pm

Find yourself a copy of the Mappae Clavicula which is essential reading for anyone interested in the subject. I've got a pdf copy but it's 25Mb, too big to email to you.
The section on pigments begins:-
mc.JPG


It tells you how to make naptha as well, and how to set fire to battering rams.
S'great.

BTW, ochres ARE iron oxides.


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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby Type16 » Thu Jul 19, 2012 2:59 pm

In case its of interest..................
There was an ochre paint manufacturer at Parys Mountain on Anglesey in Victorian times.
The relevance of this is that the ochre pits are still open to public access.............if you get my drift.


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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby Mad Monk of Mitcham » Thu Jul 19, 2012 3:01 pm

White at the time was white lead - use titanium white as a safer alternative.
Some of the period pigments were lead, arsenic or mercury based, so use modern alternatives, (Or have lots of fun with CoSHH at events)

The Dragonsblood is most likely from the Madeira /Canary Island species, not the one from the Island off the bottom of the Red sea - They react differently.

Also worth getting hold of "On Divers Arts" by Theophiliuos (Dover publication), plus "The Craftsman's Handbook" by Cennini



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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby guthrie » Thu Jul 19, 2012 3:27 pm

Gregory 23b has information on his blog, which you can still find in his signature.

The books mentioned already are a good start. The mappae Clavicula, of which I have a copy, is older even than the 11th century but the technology is similar enough.

The matter of paint colours is simple enough, the question is how much did they paint with it and how did they make it stick to canvas, how much did they paint boxes for instance so we could hide our cheap pine boxes with authentic colours of paint, etc.



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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby Medicus Matt » Thu Jul 19, 2012 3:29 pm

Type16 wrote:In case its of interest..................
There was an ochre paint manufacturer at Parys Mountain on Anglesey in Victorian times.
The relevance of this is that the ochre pits are still open to public access.............if you get my drift.


You can still get ochre pigments from Clerewell mines in the Forest of Dean as well. It's the main reason they extract ore these days.


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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby SaraSF » Thu Jul 19, 2012 4:26 pm

Hi there Colin

Can also recommend having a look at Theophilus and Cennini's books on the topic. While working on the re-construction of St Teilo's church in St Fagans museum, we researched the use of pigments in the 15/16C. (good pic here: http://www.fotolibra.com/gallery/660108/st-teilos-church/ + here's what I get up to in and around the building: http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/blog/?cat=410).

We've used: lead tin yellow, synthetic lapis (due to ££), madder, vermillion, lead white, indigo and verdigris when painting on wood; and ochre, charcoal and lime in our mural-paint mixes. Some of these particular minerals or plants have their own special associations and stories - and these change over time, as you'd expect. I gather that vermillion was once very expensive (hence why it's saved for e.g. the robes of the Virgin in Medieval painting), but yielded to the popularity of lapis lazuli by the Tudor period (which is why later Marys are wearing blue).

While I don't endorse them officially, we've found Corneilssen & Sons to be a good place for most fancy pigments. Clearwell Caves will do you a good deal on British ochre - they have one colour of their own - Clearwell Plum - which you apparently don't find anywhere else in the world. In a pinch, I'll buy tester post of ochre from my local 'green'/eco home shop - though these usually come from further afield, and are sometimes 'cut' with other minerals, so caution recommended with those.

For wood-paint, we prepare architectural features with red lead first (we have a license to mix it - not sure how you'd go about procuring one though), and then a coat of iron oxide paint over the top.
Topcoats: we mix the pigment with stand (linseed) oil using a glass plate and muller, to create a 'concentrate'. We then thin it out with true turps as needed. You can use a similar method to create a glaze - though I'd have to look up exactly how (more turps perhaps?)! Our glazes are usually mixed from verdigris or madder, and painted over gold and silver leaf - looks less tacky than it sounds :). These paints take about a month or so to cure properly, and sometimes you'll need to layer on quite a few coats to get a nice, deep colour. So, quite time-consuming, then as now!

Most wooden sculptures would have first been gessoed before painting, to give them a smooth finish. Architectural features, as far as our research indicates, were not (unless you wanted to pass off a piece of carved wood as solid gold, in which case you'd gesso and gild it!)

The lapis paint takes much more finesse and is usually made using rabbit skin glue. It's best to have the surface of what you're painting, and the paint, at similar temperatures, or the glue can shrink at the corners, taking the pigment with it.

Mural paint is something you or I or your Aunty Marge could confidently knock up in the kitchen. You can use all sorts of protein-based media to hold the pigment - we're still monitoring the different mixes at the museum, to see how they respond to extremes of temperature and humidity. Egg yolk (fish out the sac it came in if you can) is good on almost any material - linen, leather, wood, paper etc. Mix it with the pigment quite vigorously, and add a slip of linseed oil to give it a silky consistency. If I'm stuck, I'll use a bit of walnut oil, or whatever I've got in the cupboard. Alternately, leave out the oil and thin out the yolk with water before mixing it in. In the church, we used casein for the most part, with mixed results. It also smells so bad we ended up perfuming the paint with clove oil...

Right, this is getting long but I'll mention briefly that if you want to go the whole hog (pun intended), you'll find a good recipe for distemper in Theophilus - boiling pig-skin and adding whiting as you go. Gum arabic is something I've seen used by modern artists using ancient pigments, to achieve a more watercolour-y finish. Hope that's helpful!

Sara



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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby Grymm » Thu Jul 19, 2012 5:02 pm

Speak to Mr Gregory23b, colours, painting and the like are (one of) his thang(s).


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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby gregory23b » Thu Jul 19, 2012 5:33 pm

Cornellisens sell lead paints, red and white, plus genuine vermillion etc. I don't use them as I don't have the controls at home.

Ultramarine Blues from ground Lapis Lasuli, so very expensive. - yes but azurite was a cheaper (relatively speaking) alternative but has a different cast and it handles very differently, i grind my own and it does indeed act as Cennini describes.

IMHO modern synthetic lapis is more intense than the real stuff, very high on the red spectrum.

Use woad flour with white to create a reasonable blue, it is not as red as lapis, but was used as a cheap alternative, lapis is really out of the league of day to day use.

Blacks - a range exist. lamp (soot) the finest.

"Could they extract colours from dye-stuffs like an Indigo from Wode, an Orange-Red from Madder and a Bright Yellow from Weld? "

yes, except there is some debate regarding the use of madder, it appears in some works, notably some woodcuts yet there appear to be no actual recipes for preparing it, unlike woad/indigo and weld which are recorded.
Weld is easy to use, but you have to precipitate it and it wont last long outdoors, use if or cheap paints in books.

Use lead tin yellows for longer lasting colour, or procure very light earth yellows and blend to get the right tone.

"Was Cinnabar in use to make Vermilions?`

Yes, they are interchangeable terms to some extent, cinnabar gives the natural form of vermillion and by the late middle ages vermillion was cheap as it was created artificially suing mercury and sulphur.

If you can get hold a copy of the Strasbourg Manuscript that opens a world of information for northern Europe, Cennini is very much Italy and his whole processes reflect the Italians level of control over their medium. Northern Europe has less egg and more oil and size, thinner layers of gesso grounds and the use of real dark tone as opposed to the Italians use of pure colour values.


A lot of the colours are briefly outline on the authentic and cheap recipe thread.


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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby Brother Ranulf » Fri Jul 20, 2012 6:29 am

Gregory 23b said:
by the late middle ages vermilion was cheap as it was created artificially using mercury and sulphur


At an event I appeared as s a monk at Rochester cathedral priory and I was explaining this process to a group of visitors when one elderly chap visibly paled - turns out he was a chemistry expert and he was staggered that anyone would even dream of heating sulphur and mercury together until they vaporised (and someone had to then condense the vapour on a cold surface :worried: ). This is a seriously efficient means of killing yourself, just like doing anything at all with white lead (or other forms of lead). Medieval pigments should be treated with extreme caution and in general the modern substitutes are a much safer option.


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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby gregory23b » Fri Jul 20, 2012 9:00 am

Indeed, scary stuff. Cinnabar in its natural state is toxic enough, Pliny mentions the miners wearing goat/sheepskin masks to reduce exposure to the dust.


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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby guthrie » Fri Jul 20, 2012 9:59 am

Brother Ranulf wrote:Gregory 23b said:
by the late middle ages vermilion was cheap as it was created artificially using mercury and sulphur


At an event I appeared as s a monk at Rochester cathedral priory and I was explaining this process to a group of visitors when one elderly chap visibly paled - turns out he was a chemistry expert and he was staggered that anyone would even dream of heating sulphur and mercury together until they vaporised (and someone had to then condense the vapour on a cold surface :worried: ). This is a seriously efficient means of killing yourself, just like doing anything at all with white lead (or other forms of lead). Medieval pigments should be treated with extreme caution and in general the modern substitutes are a much safer option.


He should have done some reading - many alchemical texts tell you to do exactly that, sulphur and mercury to make cinnabar. Not to mention the separation the other way, which is basically the same physical process but in reverse chemically. If you have good glass vessels it wouldn't be that dangerous, but if they broke at the wrong time it would be. I have been trying to find actual accounts of alchemists of our period poisoning themselves, but nobody seems to have written about that.
Same with lead, as long as you aren't creating lots of dust and inhaling it, or smearing it on your skin, it isn't so much of a problem, but of course I don't reccoment doing it at home unless you have a good idea what you are doing.



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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby Colin Middleton » Fri Jul 20, 2012 1:12 pm

Eeek! What a terrifying amount of information to try and process!

guthrie wrote:The matter of paint colours is simple enough, the question is how much did they paint with it and how did they make it stick to canvas, how much did they paint boxes for instance so we could hide our cheap pine boxes with authentic colours of paint, etc.


This is pretty much what I was aiming at. I don't want to be doing authentic painting a shows or really have an interest in the area. However, when I do paint things, I want to feel that they are within a stone's throw of being correct. I know too many re-enactors who will paint their whole armour or a large box in ultramarine or worse bright purples without thinking what it would mean to a viewer at the time.

I'll have to chew this lot over at the weekend.

Matt, does this cover the relevant parts?
http://www.elizabethancostume.net/dyes/mappae.html


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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby gregory23b » Fri Jul 20, 2012 2:09 pm

All of that information is readily available, history, the materials and techniques are very well recorded and reviewed and then emulated. The bottom line is it depends on what you want to paint, each substrate has its own particular method and materials, not all work for all things. I have a convenient list of colours for a basic but very usable pallete, see the authentic and cheap thread in general history. The big deal with many people using say too much ultramarine is that the synth version is now a very cheap product and then you have the disconnect between using a tiny amount of the blue in a manuscript and scaling it up on a tent in real life.


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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby guthrie » Fri Jul 20, 2012 5:01 pm

Colin Middleton wrote:Eeek! What a terrifying amount of information to try and process!

guthrie wrote:The matter of paint colours is simple enough, the question is how much did they paint with it and how did they make it stick to canvas, how much did they paint boxes for instance so we could hide our cheap pine boxes with authentic colours of paint, etc.


This is pretty much what I was aiming at. I don't want to be doing authentic painting a shows or really have an interest in the area. However, when I do paint things, I want to feel that they are within a stone's throw of being correct. I know too many re-enactors who will paint their whole armour or a large box in ultramarine or worse bright purples without thinking what it would mean to a viewer at the time.

I'll have to chew this lot over at the weekend.

Matt, does this cover the relevant parts?
http://www.elizabethancostume.net/dyes/mappae.html

The link covers the ones that even I can see are clearly to do with dyeing and painting. It isn't always entirely clear what the end product is intended for, there's also a recipe for something purpleish using woad, alum and other chemicals but it doesn't say what it is for the painting of.



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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby Mark Griffin » Sun Jul 22, 2012 8:32 pm

Despite the trade in pigments the immediacy of supply was brought home to me when I dug up a whacking great lump of iron oxide (we are talking medicine ball sized) plus similar lumps on a rescue dig at a local golf course. It was a few hundred yards from a church with excellent 12th cent paintings so i grabbed a bit, cleaned it up and took the results along. Exact match. I can't say whether the painter used the same source and red oxide is similar in many parts of the world but this was an exact match to the eye and readily available on site. I've added 'Hassocks Red' to my London,, Worcester and Paris red's in my pigments box. At some point i must use that bit of orpiment i have.....


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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby guthrie » Sun Jul 22, 2012 11:14 pm

Mark Griffin wrote: At some point i must use that bit of orpiment i have.....

Go on then, you know you want to. I can even recommend appropriate control measures if you like.

(My orpiment is staying in it's packaging for obvious reasons)



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Re: Medieval Paints

Postby Colin Middleton » Mon Jul 23, 2012 12:59 pm

gregory23b wrote:All of that information is readily available, history, the materials and techniques are very well recorded and reviewed and then emulated. The bottom line is it depends on what you want to paint, each substrate has its own particular method and materials, not all work for all things. I have a convenient list of colours for a basic but very usable pallete, see the authentic and cheap thread in general history. The big deal with many people using say too much ultramarine is that the synth version is now a very cheap product and then you have the disconnect between using a tiny amount of the blue in a manuscript and scaling it up on a tent in real life.


I thought that I'd seen a list on here some-where before, but couldn't find it when I looked.

For anyone else who can't use the search engine, the discussion is here:http://livinghistory.co.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=3811&start=60

Best wishes (and many thanks)

Colin


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