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The theory and the practice: new synthetic pigments mentioned in 19th century Portuguese technical literature and pigments used in paintings

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Comunicação Comunicação sob a forma de poster
Autores S. Barros dos Santos, A. J. Cruz
Evento 4th ATSR Meeting - Technology and Interpretation - Reflecting the artist's Process, ICOM-CC Working Group of Art Technological Source Research
Local Vienna, Academy of Fine Arts, 23-24 de Setembro de 2010
Notícia URL
Resumo During the 19th century a reduced number of books related with painting materials and techniques were published in Portugal. Written by authors with distinct profiles and motivations, they target different audiences. According to a recent survey, in this technical literature references to new synthetic pigments developed throughout the century appear only several years after the beginning of their commercialization in countries such as France and England. For example, cobalt blue, introduced in the market in 1807, only appeared in literature in 1844, and artificial ultramarine, already commercialized in 1830, is first cited in 1875. In average, concerning new synthetic blue pigments, a delay of 37 years was found between the beginning of commercialization and the first written reference. In yellow pigments case the average delay increases up to 52 years.

But, did indeed Portuguese painters take so long to adopt new pigments? Or were such materials introduced in their palettes long before they began to appear in this type of literature? If a significant difference between the theory and the practice exists, which was the delay really associated to new materials introduction? Is it comparable to the delay observed in countries central to the development of new materials and to the beginning of colour industry?

In order to clarify these questions, a search for new synthetic pigments in Portuguese 19th century painting was made. In the first place, relevant Portuguese published studies, many difficult to locate and accede, were inventoried and data concerning pigments identified through scientific analysis were collected. Secondly, 21 paintings, particularly from 19th century periods not so well covered by the published studies, were analysed by energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF). Non-invasive analysis was made with portable equipment optimized to detect new synthetic pigments. Since major innovations in the 19th century relate to blue, yellow, green, red and white pigments, these colours were emphasised.

Dates of main modern pigments use will be presented and the oldest dates will be discussed in the context of the questions previously mentioned. Moreover these dates shall be debated within the setting of the involved painters’ artistic activity.

It is our intention to contribute to the understanding of the artistic process particularly in relation to artists’ choice of materials and technical knowledge transfer in peripheral countries during the 19th century.
Publicação Livro de Resumos (PDF)