History of paint


The composition of colors as respects those leading tests of excellence, preservation of general tints, and permanency of brilliant hues, during their exposure for many centuries to the impairing assaults of the atmosphere, is a preparation in which the ancient preparers of these oily compounds, have very much excelled, in their skilfulness, the moderns. It is a fact, that the ancient painted walls, to be seen at Dendaras, although exposed for many ages to the open air, without any covering or protection, still possess a perfect brilliancy of color, as vivid as when painted, perhaps 2000 years ago. The Egyptians mixed their colors with some gummy substance, and applied them detached from each other without any blending or mixture. They appeared to have used six colors, viz., white, black, blue, red, yellow, and green; they first covered the canvas entirely with white, upon which they traced the design in black, leaving out the lights of the ground color. They used minium for red, and generally of a dark tinge. Pliny mentions some painted ceilings in his day in the town of Ardea, which had been executed at a date prior to the foundation of Rome. He expresses great surprise and admiration at their freshness, after the lapse of so many centuries. These are, undoubtedly, evidences of the excellence of the ancients in their art of preparing colors. In the number of them there is, probably, not much difference between the ancient and modern knowledge. The ancients seem to have been possessed of some colors of which we are ignorant, while they were unacquainted, themselves, with some of those more recently discovered. The improvements of chemistry have, certainly, in later times, enriched painting with a profusion of tints, to which, in point of brilliancy at least, no combination of primitive colors known to the ancients could pretend; but the rapid fading in the colors of some of the most esteemed masters of the Modern School, proves at least there is something defective in their bases or mode of preparing them. This fault is peculiarly evident in many of the productions from our esteemed master, Sir Joshua Reynolds, which, although they have not issued from his pallet more than 40 years, carry an impoverishment of surface, from the premature fading of their colors, so as almost to lose, in many instances, the identity of the subjects they represent. On this head (and a most important one it is), the superiority of the ancient compounders completely carries away the palm of merit.

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