Colours for word and image

Object: assortment of pigments
Historical pigments at a glance: assortment of pigments with 223 samples. Kremer Pigmente, 2005
Deutsches Buch- und Schriftmuseum der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek Leipzig, Photograph: Michael Setzpfandt

Colours for word and image

In the eye of the beholder

Colours are acts of light.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Theory of Colours, 1810

Substrates for writing can be painted, written or printed on, or stamped using chalks and charcoal, inks, Indian inks, paints or varnishes. This is done freehand using tools or using forms made for the purpose such as stamps or stencils. The means used to apply colour – soluble colourants or insoluble pigments – differ in shade and resistance to light. Only a limited range of enduring colourants were used over long periods in history to record text and images on substrates. A Chinese proverb says: “The palest ink lasts longer than the most retentive memory”.

Smalt, minium, auripigment, vermillion, azurite, malachite, lapis lazuli, chrysocolla, blue iron ore, indigo, rose madder, dragon’s blood, saffron and curcuma are the names of some of the historical colourants which artists and artisans of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance or the Baroque used in their work.