Paintings and Paints in 17th-Century Holland
Paints and Painting Techniques
Below is a list of the paints 17th century artists used or even made themselves.
Pretzel shaped lead strips were covered with vinegar at a constant slightly higher
temperature. The vessel was kept in fresh dung, so it would have the correct temperature
to complete the reaction
Originally from charred bones. Grave robbers, sometimes sold the skeletons to paint
makers. Usually cows bones. Later lamp black was made from burning pitch or tar.
Expensive was lapis lazuli derived ultramarine. A cheap alternative, but more unstable was
pulverized potassium glass to which cobalt had been added.
Malachite was the expensive choice. A cheap alternative was verdigris, made from Swedish
copper, treated with acid fermented waste of wine making (a dense sludge of mashed pips
Red (Brilliant Red)
Cinnabar (mercury sulphide, a mineral from Spain) was mixed with sulphur and then heated,
to produce a dull blackish baked lump, which was then pounded under water and turned
brilliant red vermilion.
Masticot (Lead Tin yellow, lead mono oxide) was made by letting air flow over heated lead
strips. Yellow crystals formed on the surface, which could be scraped off.
came from the indigofera plant
Red Cochineal. Dried cactus or yucca lice from Mexico
These pigments were then mixed with linseed, walnut or poppy oil to make smooth texture
paints. Some artists, like Rembrandt in his later life, added silica for texture
Catholic baroque paintings required images of saints, prophets and apostles, bringing
worshippers in a state of trans like exaltation. Together with the ritual of the
sacrament, the flood of music and the dizzying manipulation of light and space, these
paintings were part of an immense effect to realize Christian ecstasy here on earth. This
demanded life size or larger figures, spectacular color saturation and a seething
commotion of bodies.
Calvinism demanded the opposite. The proper task of religious paintings was to make
believers aware of their submission to the world of God, as revealed in the bible. It had
to bring the individuals as close as possible to the truth of the Scripture and prayer.
That is why these paintings were smaller, the figures less agitated or exalted and no
distraction by complicated architectural settings.
Paintings were cheap. It was often cheaper to hang paintings over wet spots on a wall,
then having it replastered, or hang a tapestry. The middle class had an average of 20
paintings. The average price of a painting was 10 guilders. In 1637 Rembrandt bought a
Rubens painting (Hero and Leander) for 425 guilders. The going rate for a painter's
apprentice was 100 guilders per year.
Rembrandt van Rijn
In 1642 Rembrandt's wife Saskia dies. For a decade (between 1642 and 1652) society
portraits disappear from Rembrandt's repertoire, but he still did historical scenes, but
with less spectacular colors. Now mainly paintings in 4 colors. Black, white, ochres and
earth reds. In early 1640s Carl Fabritius became his student. After Saskia's death
Rembrandt goes out for walks into the countryside and make sketches and etchings from
those. Those become popular. Books had made an entrance with issues like "For Art
Lovers, who have no time to travel". A good source to sell your etchings.
In 1649 Rembrandt made history. He sold a print (etching) for 100 guilders. A record
for a print.
Some specific aspects abstracted from: Rembrandt's Eyes, by Simon Schama.
In the Ringling Museum of Art Library, ND635. R4 S24 1999
Abstract by Willem van Osnabrugge, Ringling Museum Docent. June, 2005