The Brilliant History of Color in Art
, by Victoria Finlay, takes the reader on a journey through the history of art and the creation and use of different coloured pigments and dyes in different times and places all over the world. It begins by talking about the discovery of the amazing cave paintings in the Lascaux Caves in France during the second world war, then goes into how the paints used to create those paintings were made, and even the scientific process through which the minerals involved were formed as the result of supernovas.
Finlay talks about the religious significance of certain pigments, such as the red ochre held so sacred by the men of the Diyari tribe near Lake Howitt that they would make a 1000 km round trip into South Australia each year to gather it in order to decorate their bodies for ceremonies. Finlay explains how art affected, and was affected by, other events in history. She talks about the huge amount of wealth involved in the creation of many famous paintings (painted with gold leaf and crushed gemstones) and how the 15th Century Portuguese king Henry's desire to improve ships to better explore the oceans led to the invention of better quality sailcloth which turned out to be such a perfect medium for painting that we haven't really improved on it to this day.
This book should appeal not only to those interested in art, but to those interested in history and linguistics as well. It's full of interesting facts. For example, I was intrigued to learn that the word “pink” used to refer to yellow, as well as to the scalloped edges of fabric (like you make with pinking shears). It was only in the sixteenth century when Dianthus flowers came to be known as “pinks” because of their notched petals that the word was applied to the colour of the flowers, which was what we now know as pink.
As you might expect from the title there are many beautiful, full colour illustrations, which make the book not only educational but pleasant to leaf through. The Brilliant History of Color in Art
would make a lovely gift for an art lover, history afficionado or lover of random QI