Pigments used in egg-tempera icon painting by early Italian masters and the search for modern equivalents by Guillem Ramos-Poquí
Today there are hundreds of artists’ dry pigments available on the market. This research is based on a comparative study of the colours, taking as reference points works at London’s National Gallery, the Courtauld Institute, the Byzantine section of the British Museum, and the icon collection at the Temple Gallery in London. The object of the exercise was to decide on a ‘limited palette’ of twenty-four permanent dry pigments (twenty colours, some of which are mixtures, two whites and two blacks) which could readily mix with egg-tempera medium without the need for grinding. Also, to find mixtures of contemporary pigments which could act as equivalents to historical colours, some of which have been discarded as being exorbitantly expensive (lapis lazuli, vermilion), highly poisonous (red lead or minium, lead tin yellow, white lead), non-permanent (carmine, rose madder, indigo), or coarse-ground and therefore too gritty (some varieties of malachite, azurite, chrysocolla). The resulting limited palette, of single pigments and mixtures of two or more to enhance colours, aims to provide an ideal adequate range.
This selection of pigments is made not for restorers but for those artists who wish to recreate or reinterpret today the works of the old masters - Giotto, Duccio, Monaco and others. It is advisable that those interested do their detective work by making their own samples of the mixtures given here and maybe others, in order to compare them directly with the colours in works in museums and galleries. A large colour-wheel chart of pigments, with graduation from white and black (available from many different makers and suppliers), mixed with egg tempera, and other charts of these pigments and their mixtures, were taken to compare with the colours in the actual galleries. Notes were taken of possible optional combinations and checked again. For the colours of the historical pigments, equivalent mixtures of dry pigments are given in the limited palette under (M), but you should test these mixtures against the historical pigments to refine them and find the right proportions.
the limited palette