09 April 2011

And this I held the greatest wonder in the world...

A couple of days ago, Unreal nature quoted entrancing extracts from Color: a natural history of the palette by Victoria Finlay – a book new to me, but now ordered and eagerly awaited.

The love of materials for their own sake is common in artists (and everyone with a sense of wonder, for that matter, regardless of field); less so are those who can express that love poetically in words. One of my favourite examples is this one from Cennino Cennini's fourteenth (probably) century painters' manual Il libro dell'arte:

A natural colour known as ochre is yellow. This colour is found in the earth in the mountains, where there are found certain seams resembling sulphur; and where these seams are, there is found sinoper, and terre-verte and other kinds of colour. I found this when I was guided one day be Andrea Cennini, my father, who led me through the territory of Colle di Val d'Elsa, close to the borders of Casole, at the beginning of the forest of the commune of Colle, above a township called Dometaria. And upon reaching a little valley, a very wild steep place, scraping the steep with a spade, I beheld seams of many kinds of colour: ochre, dark and light sinoper, blue, and white; and this I held the greatest wonder in the world – that white could exist in a seam of earth…
[from chapter XLV, "On the character of a yellow color called ocher"]


(I've used Daniel V Thompson's 1960 translation; there are others, including a modern Italian one which makes a halfway house; but Thompson's is the standard, best, and only currently in print, English reference.)

  • Victoria Finlay, Color : a natural history of the palette. 2003, New York: Ballantine Books. 0345444302
  • Cennino d'Andrea Cennini (Trans: Daniel V. Thompson), The craftsman's handbook : the Italian "Il libro dell'arte". 1960, New York: Dover Publications. 048620054X.

1 comment:

Julie Heyward said...

Neato! The book is a very easy (enjoyable) read; I hope you like it. I will be interested to hear any comments you have on Finlay's Australian adventures -- in particular her description of Utopia.