More thoughts on dirt: art from the soil

January 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Masaccio: The Tribute Money

The fresco painters of the Italian Renaissance found themselves in a peculiar position with respect to color. They had available to them a large number of vegetable- and mineral-derived pigments, but the technique of fresco (that is, working on wet plaster) limited them largely to the earth’s palette, because the alkali in the plaster tended to decompose and disperse the vegetable-based dyes. The very rich colors of Masaccio’s frescoes are almost all derived directly from the soil. The reds, browns, and yellows are from ochre. The green is from a reduced clay called terre verte. The umber came straight from the earth of Sienna. The whole Christian drama is expressed in the colors of the earth.

– William Bryant Logan, Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth

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