View Full Version : The young sick Bacchus - what's the palette?

10-08-2011, 03:44 PM
I'm fairly new to art and oil painting, and I'm trying to figure out what palette I would be using for a Caravaggio "the young sick Bacchus." I can't figure out what palette I would use for the skin tones on the body, and the face :(. I see some green and greys in there, but I'm not sure how to work it out.
Does anyone have an opinion on this? I've attached a picture from the book I bought for convenience.



Sunu Tri
10-11-2011, 11:30 PM
Caravaggio works are very interesting and I'm planning to do copies of them in the future. About the palette you ask, maybe you just need to have a go and see what you'll find by try and error.

10-19-2011, 12:13 AM
Typical palettes back then were very earthy. Think umbers, ivory black, yellow ochre, earth reds, burnt sienna. You may be able to get that earthy green with ultramarine and yellow ochre.

Given the picture you've shown here, I would probably start the flesh with ivory black and burnt umber. If the brown wasn't warm enough, I'd probably then add hints of burnt sienna (possibly yellow ochre, but doesn't look likely) to the lighter parts of the flesh to warm them up.

01-07-2012, 03:31 PM
I was in the National last week and happened to look at this and take some notes.

I'd say it was a verdaccio (greenish monochromatic underpainting; say terre verte, lead white, some red iron oxide, black or dark earth {umber}) with the other body and glaze colours laid over it. The lights are opaque the darks translucent by comparison. There's not a huge amount of impasto on this one, certainly nothing like he did in his later work. Finally, compared to some of the late great ones - the taking of Christ for example - the tonal range is pretty small

Hope this helps


01-08-2012, 02:03 PM
This was very helpful! Thanks!

01-08-2012, 07:53 PM
I saw this painting yesterday, along with other Caravaggios and works by the Caravaggisti (at the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, TX).

And boy, it's a really puzzling one.

The most basic palette for all of Caravaggio's paintings appears to have been umber, black, white, yellow ochre, and an earth red (like Venetian red). He added glazes to modify the colors he got with this basic palette, but these are the pigments that are underneath those glazes. (And this is true for nearly all painters at the time).

The umber is most heavily used in the first stage of painting, in establishing forms and blocking in a basic value map.

His flesh tones are all mixed from the black-white-yellow-red combination. But in this one? He used very little red--and possibly none; he might have used umber instead--so the figure has a sickly, greenish complexion. His lips are unnervingly gray.

I don't know what his intentions were, and I'm not sure anyone does. I'm reading a biography of him right now in which the author suggests that C was aiming for a moonlit effect. It seems plausible, as the light in this painting looks very cold, but I'm not completely convinced.

To me, it looks as if C intended to add red glazes later--but never got around to it. Even the apricots tend to be a hard, sickly yellow, without the blush of a thin vermilion glaze to bring them to full, ripe life.

His base greens, by the way, were mixed from yellow ochre (or perhaps lead-tin yellow), white, and black, then occasionally modified with glazes in a strong, deep green (verdigris), or blue. And his blue, like verdigris green, is probably derived from copper, given it's greenish cast--it's definitely not ultramarine (which C, as far as I can tell, did not use). But in this painting, I don't think there's any actual blue--I'm pretty sure the palette was limited to the basic colors I described above. So see how far you can get with those pigments alone.

01-10-2012, 10:29 PM
Excellent responses re. the palette. I might add that one key thing to notice about the glazed additions is the use of warm tones around the edges of the forms, especially the subtle reds along the edges of the arms and the top of the forehead. This effect suggests the presence of blood beneath the skin and will go a long way towards conveying life and warmth in your figures. Those boundary moments (edges of limbs, faces, etc) contain so much vital energy...good to focus on them.

Happy Painting,
Geoff Atkin

01-17-2012, 09:13 AM
If you are interested i found a tutorial that tells you step by step how to create a reproduction of another painting of Bacchus by Caravaggio.
The tutorial is in Italian but is full of pictures, if you want I can help you to translate it, I'm Italian.
the link is http://www.disegnoepittura.it/artisti/come-dipingere-bacco-caravaggio.html.

I think you can find different tips that go well also for this painting.

Good work!