A brief history of pigments

I referred to a renaissance in pigments in the last part of this guide, there was indeed a huge leap in a very short period of the quality and variety of pigments, however it is best to start at the beginning.

The first pigments were the strongly coloured materials people found in their local environment, soot, yellow clays, red earth, brightly coloured berries and so on. The medium for these would be water creating a simple but effective paint, pigments like these have been found dating from 350,000 B.C. and they would have been mostly used for body decoration.

A leap forward in pigments was made about around 15,000 B.C. with the onset of the bronze age, the idea of processing rock essentially with heat became a common practice and with this basic processing of mineral ores a whole world of colour was discovered. With minerals such as malachite and the iron oxides present in many rocks and clays still in use today as ochres and umbers. Interestingly though blues and greens are not generally found from this period, blue is understandable as it is a rare natural pigment, but greens were fairly abundant in various green clays, this is also the period from when we have discovered the earliest painting, the cave paintings of Lascaux and alike.



Among the ancient cultures, it was the ancient Egyptians who really started to widen the palette of colours, with the addition of dark and light blues, greens, violet, white and gold. For red they used arsenic disulfide and they made greens with powdered malachite (copper carbonate, however it was the yellows where they really excelled, up to this point the earthy yellow ochre was the yellow hue, the Egyptians created the golden yellow orpiment and pale yellows from minerals called jarosites.

More coming soon!

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