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Some Historical Pigments and their Replacements

10 thoughts on “Some Historical Pigments and their Replacements”

  1. it would be informative if you got into detail why each pigment is no longer popular.
    For example, you mention vermillion has poor lightfastness. It darkens in the sunlight. Being made from mercury, it’s toxic when ingested or handled carelessly. Anything else? Will it keep its color in a room not exposed to direct sunlight?

    What about Naples Yellow? Like vermillion, it’s a beautiful color. It’s not so easy to replicate perfectly. Yes cadmium yellow but not quite the same. It’s super cheap. The local art store sells authentic naples yellow. It’s made from lead, so don’t eat it, obviously. Any other reason not to use it? How about lightfastness?

    Same goes for flake white.

    Cochineal? Keep it in the dark and it’s okay?

    Orpiment? Keep it out of the sun. Don’t expose to lead pigment or acid and it keeps its color for aeons?

    I’m learning to paint, and I’m interested in pigments used by the masters but are now deprecated.

    • Hello Dougo.

      The once staple pigments have given way to newer pigments for a variety of reasons. The key factors being health & safety, long term stability, and consumer demand. Many of the pigments can still be obtained through companies such as Kremer Pigments in NYC. Lightfastness has always been one that will cause older colors to lose favor. Madder gave way to Alizarin. Alizarin gave way to Quinacridone. Will there be a new pigment that surpasses Quinacridones for their lightfastness or vibrancy? That is what we constantly persue. If you chose to want to explore older pigments, they can be obtained. We still produce Flake White and Naples Yellow in our Williamsburg line. I doubt pigments with mercury and other deadly toxic ingredients will ever be mass produced again. Just remember, there are reasons that From the 1500s onward, till around the year 1800, life expectancy throughout Europe hovered between 30 and 40 years of age. – Mike Townsend

  2. Nice article! What would be the alternative to asphaltum/bitumen? An art instructor uses it but I was trying to find a better/non-flammable alternative to it.

    • Thank you, Sil.
      Asphaltum is a very dark blackish-brown. Direct from the container, our Van Dyke Brown Hue is a good match. You could increase the amount of Carbon Black (to Transparent Red Iron Oxide) can deepen it further. Some artists and manufacturers use Burnt Umber with Carbon or Mars Black, but Asphaltum was used for transparent glazes and classic earth pigments are too gritty for making smooth glazes. In oils, Williamsburg has a beautiful Dutch Brown (Transparent) PR101 Pigment Name: Synthetic Iron Oxide.
      – Mike


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