Synopses & Reviews
provides an astonishing glimpse into a little-explored avenue in the history of art and science: the creation of pigments and dyes and their influence on painting, as well as on fashion, merchandising, and the textile and chemical industries. For as long as artists have turned their dreams into images, they have relied on technical knowledge to supply their materials. Today almost every shade imaginable is easily available in off-the-shelf tubes; every hue and tincture is manufactured and ready for immediate use by the painter. But up until the eighteenth century, most artists ground and mixed their own pigments, and by necessity had considerable skill as practical chemists.
From the artistry of ancient Greece and Rome to the metamorphosis of the Renaissance, through the heady days of Impressionism, Modernism, and beyond, the chemical advances of each age played an important role in the supply of and demand for new and more sophisticated colors. The purple of Imperial Rome came from shellfish; crushed beetles provided some of the finest reds of the Baroque era; Indian yellow was made from cows' urine; and Peruvian guano was the raw material for a nineteenth-century purple dye known as murexide.
The systematic chemical manufacture of color came of age in the early nineteenth century, and its fruits were the glowing canvases of the Pre-Raphaelites in England and the iconoclastic styles of Impressionism and Fauvism in France. Many of today's great chemical and drug companies Bayer, Hoechst, Ciba-Geigy had their origins as dye manufacturers in the nineteenth century, and their chemists helped to turn color-making into an exact science.
In Bright Earth, Philip Ball illustrates how chemical technology and the use of color in art have always existed in a symbiotic relationship that has shaped both their courses throughout history. By tracing their coevolution, Ball reveals how art is more of a science, and science more of an art, than is commonly appreciated on either side of the fence. Brilliantly researched, engagingly written, and far-reaching in scope and implication, Bright Earth will stand as the definitive work on color, its development, and its many artistic and commercial applications for years to come.
"British science popularizer Ball is part of the excellent new breed of explainers who produce imaginative and vivid prose in magazines like Nature and New Scientist....He has clearly spent time looking at art, and his range over these 14 chapters encompasses prehistory, Tintoretto and Gauguin....A good bet for the scientifically inclined who want a grounded entry point to the arts, this book will also stretch out to art fans who want writing well-versed in art's physical bases. It's a rare example of a crossover study where an author really seems to grasp both domains." Publishers Weekly
"Chemist, physicist, and gifted science writer Ball...takes an unusually tangible approach to art history by decanting the science and history of paint making....By concentrating on what paintings are made of and how they're made, Ball celebrates the way 'technology opens new doors for artists' and the breathtaking results." Donna Seaman, Booklist
For art in the 20th century, the medium is the message. Many artists offer works defined by their materials. In Bright Earth, Philip Ball brings together the themes of art and science to show that chemical technology and the use of color in art have always existed in a symbiotic relationship that has shaped both of their courses throughout history. By tracing their co-evolution, Ball reveals how art is more of a science, and science more of an art, than is commonly appreciated on either side of the fence.
A fascinating study of the evolution of color in art and science from antiquity to the present.
For art in the twentieth century, medium is the message. Many artists offer works defined by their materials. In no aspect is this more strikingly demonstrated than in the use of color.
Bright Earth is the story of how color evolved and was produced for artistic and commercial use. The modern chemical industry was spawned and nurtured largely by the demand for color as many of today's major chemical companies began as manufacturers of aniline dye; advances in synthetic chemistry, both organic and inorganic, were stimulated in the nineteenth century by the quest for artificial colors. The future holds still more challenges for the color chemist, not only to provide new coloring materials, but also to replace old ones that will shortly become extinct, as concerns about the use of lead and cadmium pigments increase.
In Bright Earth, Philip Ball brings together the themes of art and science to show that chemical technology and the use of color in art have always existed in a symbiotic relationship that has shaped both their courses throughout history. By tracing their co-evolution, Ball reveals how art is more of a science, and science more of an art, than is commonly appreciated on either side of the fence.
About the Author
majored in chemistry at the University of Oxford and received a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Bristol. He worked for ten years as an editor at Nature
, and is the author, most recently, of Life's Matrix: A Biography of Water
. He lives i+n London.