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Old 05-25-2018, 02:22 AM
Richard P Richard P is offline
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Rembrandt's colour choices

Hi all,

I was wondering if someone know if there was any research or documentation on why Rembrandt used such a palette so biased towards black, brown and grey in his works (especially the later ones)?

Thanks!
Richard
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Old 05-26-2018, 11:37 AM
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Re: Rembrandt's colour choices

Hi Richard! I am not a museum expert, but I minored in Renascence and Mannerist Art History during college. And this is not the complete story. I do know that Aniline pigment colors did not exist until the 18-40's to 1850's. The colors available to artists of that era and afterward until the advent of both aniline, and also the ability to mass produce paint in enough quantities to tube and sell, was not around until the impressionist era (thereabouts). This is why the vivid almost garish colors came about at that era-- they simply were not available to artists. The bone (black) minerals, earth minerals (browns, ochers, iron ore) the animal-based (Cochineal, lax, murex, cuttlefish), vegetable dyes (woad, madder, etc) were fleeting, and if used in paints, have lost their strength through years of sun bleaching and so on. Generally an artist wants permanence in paint color, but none of these artists knew or even guessed that people would be looking at their work many centuries after they had done them (that is reason #2).

Certain earth minerals like actual gemstones which were ground (Lapis lazuli) were so prohibitive that they were ony used for small spots in painting (and they would be paid for by the patron.) Just using red or blue meant the painting cost a lot to do.

Another reason was the grisielle, (or chiaroscuro) painting form was at its height, as was sfumato, and other techniques in which dark and light are predominant-- so many artists started their work with a black or brown to white or light paradigm. Chiaroscuro went from middle tone grey both up to white, and down to black. So in a sense, painting went through a black and white (or brown and white) phase, and then was "glazed" by more expensive colors. For more on this, get the book.

So--
1. pigments not available in his day
2. The impermanence of many pigments
3. The artistic practices of the day

The "impermanence" situation is interesting because if you think of it, by the 1850's when those paintings done in the 15th and 16th c. had been around for many centuries, the people of the 19th c. were painting very dark simply because they thought that was the intention of those Ren painters, when in fact their paintings were so dark because 1) some of the colors had faded, and 2) because fire-light was the main lighting and heating source and smoke got on everything. If you want to see the real thing you need to look at before and after Sistine Chapel cleaning photos.

I am sure there is research and documentation-- You'd probably have to read some things about paints then and post aniline. Also the painting conventions of the 1600's. You do tend to get this sort of information in 500 level art history classes, but my degree was a long time ago, so I do not remember the exact books I read. Thanks
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Last edited by Use Her Name : 05-26-2018 at 11:41 AM.
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Old 05-27-2018, 03:09 AM
Richard P Richard P is offline
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Re: Rembrandt's colour choices

Thank you Katy!

I'm familiar with the pigments used and the lightfastness issues with the dye based colours used. I was just curious because Italian paintings of the time and earlier have a much wider colour gamut (blues, greens, purples). And Vermeer seemed to prefer two dominant colours of Lead-Tin Yellow and Ultramarine Blue (despite the expense!).

That made me think that it seemed to be more of a stylistic choice, and your comments about using a griselle approach with a chiaroscuro style of dark and lights seem correct to me
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Old 06-07-2018, 08:06 AM
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Re: Rembrandt's colour choices

Rembrandt mostly excelled and focused on dramatic very expressive depictions. For that lighting and form were the focus, not color. He never used color to forge identity or focus of a subject, for that he was master of lighting and he did not need that.
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Old 07-23-2018, 11:28 PM
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Re: Rembrandt's colour choices

I am not an expert on Rembrandt, but I did my masters thesis on Rembrandt's painting style under a world renowned Rembrandt expert.

First of all, Rembrandt did not use a palette biased toward black brown and grey and they are not grisaille paintings. Despite the fact he never visited Italy, Rembrandt was heavily influenced by Titian and Tintoretto. Vermeer's style was more vernacular.

Rembrandt often did an underpainting in umber (manganese). He used green malachite, blue azurite, smalt, very rarely ultramarine, bone black, lamp black, vermillion, many crimson and yellow lakes, lead white, lead tin yellow, red ochre, and many other earth pigments. He used mostly linseed oil as a medium and occasionally walnut oil and even added egg to it on a few occasions. Yes I said egg!

Many photos of Rembrandt paintings until recently were taken with old yellowed varnish making his paintings look nearly a golden monochrome. This is where the grisaille myth started. Today most have been cleaned and if you look closely at his paintings you will see his mastery is in subtle colour shifts and values. His flesh tones shift from pinks to ochre tones to neutrals and even greenish tones. Many of his portraits are of patrons in black and white garb, but there are some exceptions like the portrait of Jan Six and the two main figures' costumes in The Night Watch which is a symphony of colour which includes rich red, blue and creams. Yes Rembrandt was interested in dark and light drama, but a closer look shows the masterful colour shifts that he fused with his chiaroscuro to produce truly epic and sparkling artworks.

Remember, many peoples art history papers on Michelangelo's painting technique as sculptural via strong chiaroscuro were trashed when the Sistine Chapel was cleaned and showed a colour palette that matches the brighter colours of his Madonna painting in the Uffizzi. Old cliches can sometimes die very hard deaths.
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Old 07-24-2018, 07:23 PM
Namkha Namkha is offline
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Re: Rembrandt's colour choices

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jacopo Robusti
I am not an expert on Rembrandt, but I did my masters thesis on Rembrandt's painting style under a world renowned Rembrandt expert.




Thank you for your input in this conversation.
I recently watched a couple tv shows with Tom Keating. He also said Titian was the influence, and he showed tempera built up over a chalk drawing (on a ground of red bole over gesso), and then various layers of chalking, glazes of green, brown, white, etc....greying out - and on each layer building up the highlights again, sometimes shadows and so on.
Anyway, do you happen to know, the tempera he used, was it just the same pigment - just different medium from oil, or...?

Was all tempera made moist with egg or was something else ever used?
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Old 07-24-2018, 09:48 PM
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Re: Rembrandt's colour choices

Hmmm....not sure about tempera with Rembrandt. He used gesso on his panels (you can see coccolith fossils in the chalk with an electron microscope) and coloured oil grounds on his canvases. The egg I was referring to was the egg he put in his oil medium. Sometimes he did a layer of red ochre and a second coat of grey. Sometimes he just did ochre. He allowed the ground to show through quite often, especially in halftones and backgrounds. Then he did an umber wash drawing and built his painting from there (this can be confirmed through autoradiographs of his paintings). He used dark glazes in the shadows and built thick impasto in the lights and highlights, later adding more glazes and allowing the highest impasto on the highlights to peek through. The brightest highlight would be reinforced with opaque strokes or dabs to create what I call the the sparkle.
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Old 07-24-2018, 10:34 PM
Namkha Namkha is offline
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Re: Rembrandt's colour choices

So you're not aware of him using tempera for under painting and building up the lights?
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Old 07-24-2018, 10:38 PM
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Re: Rembrandt's colour choices

I just watched Tom Keatings video on Rembrandt. A lot is incorrect and some things are completely wrong. The texture with tempera is totally wrong. There is no evidence of this in any of his work or any of the cross sections of his paint I have ever seen.

The wonderful world of technology has really unmasked notorious forgers like him with much greater ease.
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Old 07-25-2018, 12:46 AM
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Re: Rembrandt's colour choices

Ooops. I forgot. Rembrandt right after the initial drawing did a monochrome of the composition in mostly umbers and no white paint. Only in later years did he add a little white to the umber. In this stage, dubbed dead colouring, he sometimes made use of extra paint and palette scrapings.
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Old 07-25-2018, 07:49 AM
Namkha Namkha is offline
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Re: Rembrandt's colour choices

So how do you think he achieved that incredible build up of thickness in the lights?
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Old 07-25-2018, 10:40 AM
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Re: Rembrandt's colour choices

With oil paint. He sometimes even collected the old paint and palette scrapings off his palette and globed it on. He experimented too from time to time, so there is no real single exact way that he always worked. The problem with Tom Keating is that he is quite knowledgeable, but he sounds so definitive that he knows exactly how Rembrandt did everything and that he always did it that way. That just isn't true and he is quite wrong in some cases.

If you want to read about Rembrandt's painting methods I would suggest reading Art in the Making:Rembrandt, David Bomford, Christopher Brown and Ashok Roy, pub. National Gallery of London. Or Rembrandt at Work, Ernst van de Wettering, Amsterdam University Press (he was head of the Rembrandt Research Project). For more info on Rembrandts paintings you can visit http://rembrandtdatabase.org/
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Old 07-25-2018, 11:11 AM
Namkha Namkha is offline
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Re: Rembrandt's colour choices

Ok. Thank you.
I have to say, however, that while some of the techniques might be technically inaccurate, his results are quite amazing and Rembrandtesque, imho.
Cheers.
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Old 07-25-2018, 11:13 AM
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Re: Rembrandt's colour choices

Quote:
Originally Posted by Namkha
Ok. Thank you.
I have to say, however, that while some of the techniques might be technically inaccurate, his results are quite amazing and Rembrandtesque, imho.
Cheers.


That is the stock and trade of a forger. Faking the look of a painting, but not necessarily recreating it accurately.
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Old 08-16-2018, 08:09 AM
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Re: Rembrandt's colour choices

You can't lay Rembrandt's "limited" palette upon the accessibility of a broader range of colors. Michelangelo's Sistine (to say nothing of the Dono Tondi) as well as the paintings of other Renaissance and Mannerist painters... and even Rembrandt's near contemporary, Rubens, reveal a wealth of brilliant and saturated colors.

Rembrandt was a tonal painter who emphasized light and dark over a broad range of color. He studied under Pieter Lastman who was also a tonalist profoundly influenced by Caravaggio and Adam Elsheimer. Both of these latter two painters were also an influence upon Rembrandt. Caravaggio was undoubtedly the biggest influence of the era. Besides Rembrandt, he was a major influence upon Rubens, Velazquez, Bernardo Strozzi, the Gentileschis (father and daughter), Georges de la Tour, etc... While Caravaggio's palette employed reds more frequently than Rembrandt, he still stressed a large contrast of value over a large range of color. There are few paintings that employ both (Raphael's Transfiguration and Rubens' Deposition come to mind) without looking overly garish... like a black velvet painting.
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