The Alchemy of Paint: Art, Science and Secrets from the Middle Ages
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The Alchemy of Paint is a critique of the modern world, which Spike Bucklow sees as the product of seventeenth-century ideas about science. In modern times, we have divorced color from its origins, using it for commercial advantage. Spike Bucklow shows us how in medieval times, color had mystical significance far beyond the enjoyment of shade and hue.
Each chapter demonstrates the mindset of medieval Europe and is devoted to just one color, acknowledging its connections with life in the pre-modern world. Colors examined and explained in detail include a midnight blue called ultramarine, an opaque red called vermilion, a multitude of colors made from metals, a transparent red called dragonsblood, and, finally, gold.
Today, “scarlet” describes a color, but it was originally a type of cloth. Henry VI's wardrobe accounts from 1438 to 1489 show that his cheapest scarlet was £14.2s.6d. and that scarlets could fetch up to twice that price. In the fifteenth century, a mid-priced scarlet cost more than two thousand kilos of cheese or one thousand liters of wine. This expense accounts for the custom of giving important visitors the "red carpet treatment."
The book looks at how color was “read” in the Middle Ages and returns to materials to look at the hidden meaning of the artists' version of the philosopher's stone. The penultimate chapter considers why everyone has always loved gold.
Spike Bucklow is a conservation scientist working with oil paintings at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge.
ink and divine substance is no coincidence. It reflects a profound understanding of creation. The Andalusian, Ibn ‘Arabī, compared the world to a book written by God ‘…there did not remain a single place in the whole universe where My word was not inscribed, nor was there any writing which did not come from My substance and My dictation.’93 Quadi Ahmad’s ink reflects the richness of that divine substance. It is an ink worthy of the Qur’ān. In its material composition, his ink seems to
has ‘levity’ in the sphere of water. These elemental movements also show on a larger scale. For example, if a drop of (dense) water is in the (subtle) sphere of air, then it has gravity and falls as rain. But if the water is in the (even denser) sphere of earth, then it has levity and rises as in a spring or a well. When water is in the sphere of water, in other words in the sea, it is at rest because, as we still say, ‘it is in its element’. The power of these elemental tendencies can be judged
concordant with fire) to lift the fiery pyrite up through the sphere of water to be scooped-off at the surface in an oily froth of gold-coated bubbles. Differences There is a practical difference between Cennini’s recipe and modern froth-flotation. The traditional method involved the separation of a mixture between a solid (the paste-ball) and a liquid (the lye). This meant that the procedure was essentially a batch process – the best ultramarine comes out of the ball first and eventually
Persephone (fire and water) is never seen. The only indication of their union is the seasonal cycle of life that follows their on-off relationship. Of course, things grow in the summer, when Hades and Persephone are apart, and appear to be dormant in winter, when they are together. This could be interpreted as a six-month delay corresponding to the period of gestation between the conception of life underground and its birth above ground. But a more profound interpretation would see it as another
‘…When God brought Eve to Adam for a bride The Text says she was ta’en from out man’s side …This is a mystery; perhaps too deep For blockish Adam, who’s fall’n asleep.’8 Loss of access to the deepest levels of meaning in myths is evident in the arts. For example, towards the end of his life, Goya painted a particularly bloodthirsty picture that was not intended for public viewing, although it is now widely known. Someone – who obviously did not understand the myth – called it