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Pigment: Poison Greens, Scheele’s and Emerald Greens
Rumours still abound as to the cause of Napoleon’s death almost two centuries ago. One theory – not currently in favour – is that he was poisoned by arsenic in the wallpaper. At the time, that would have been unusual, but by the 1860s, such deaths were significant enough... Read more
Hail Caesar: paintings of the Colosseum and its spectacles, 1
When the crowds at the Paris Salon of 1859 first saw Jean-Léon Gérôme’s painting Ave Caesar, Morituri Te Salutant, its visual impact would have been very different from those on a modern viewer. It was unusual if not radical in three respects: it has what we would now term... Read more
Plutarch’s Lives in Paint: 5b Cato the Elder
Cato the Elder must have stood out from the crowd, if Plutarch’s description of his reddish hair and keen grey eyes is anything to go by. As one of the early Roman historians, writing a critical biography of him must have been quite a daunting task. Cato, the great-grandfather... Read more
Plutarch’s Lives in Paint: 20a Demosthenes
In his Lives, Plutarch compares the biographies, but not their speeches, of two of the greatest of the classical orators: Demosthenes, the Athenian, and Cicero, the Roman. Their lives had many close similarities, which perhaps predisposed them to their profession. The father of Demosthenes had a large factory employing... Read more
Ondine and her curse
Not content with Naiads and other watery nymphs, the alchemist and proto-scientist Paracelsus (1493-1541) invented his own elemental beings associated with water, which became known as Undines or Ondines. He elaborated the nature of Ondines too: although they cunningly resemble beautiful young women, they aren’t human, so lack a... Read more
Out of the Shadows: Form and figures
According to ancient legend, the person who ‘invented’ painting was not a man, and did so by tracing the shadow of her boyfriend. Dibutades, a maid of Corinth in Greece, was about to see her boyfriend sent away from the city on military service. As the daughter of a... Read more
Fog: Turner to Homer
For much of the history of Western Art, one of its underlying principles has been to reveal rather than to hide. Atmospheric and other effects which tend to obscure the image being painted have generally been shunned. The great majority of landscape views, at least until the nineteenth century,... Read more
Out of darkness, light: The development of chiaroscuro 2
In the first of these two articles looking briefly at the history of ‘compositional’ chiaroscuro in painting, I traced some early examples from the Renaissance before showing a selection from its heyday between 1590 and 1650. With Caravaggio and those influenced by him gone, chiaroscuro returned to occasional use... Read more