Pigment swatches courtesy of L. Cornelissen & Son
Artists’ Colourmen, London









This is a resource site on historical colours and pigments complemented by TITLES on artists’ Colour Palettes published by Artists . Bookworks. Projected is a series of little books on painters’ colour palettes, by century, the pigments described by historical authors extracted from their treatises. Each little volume contributes to the building of a history of pigments and colours in European painting from Greece and Rome – 1st century B.C. and 1st century A.D. – to the French Impressionists’ Palettes of Light. They combine to make up a unique and important collection of primary sources on pigments, complemented by discussions of artistic issues raised by the treatises.

This website is a companion to the book book-icon TITLES. The Index of palette-iconPIGMENTS brings together an alphabetical listing of all the pigments named and described in the TITLES, each pigment annotated by author so as to reveal the history of pigment names, by century. Similarly, the archive-iconTREATISES are compiled into an alphabetical listing to give an overview of the history of the writings on which the published TITLES are based, while a general LOGO BIBLIO is also provided. A section is devoted to each book-icon TITLE which contains a resumé, Contents, and List of Pigments, to which are added complementary archival archive-iconTREATISES especially for this website.

Together, Painters’ Palettes and Colour Palettes constitute intermedia publications which will be of interest to art historians, curators and collectors as well as conservators and all those who want to know about pigments and their colours through the centuries.

Logo designs by Caroline Wallis.

THE AUTHOR: Patricia Railing, PhD (University of Paris, Sorbonne, Philosophy of Art), is an art historian who specialised in Russian Avant-Garde painting and Suprematism in particular. (See Based in a colour theory of light, she found their sources in French Impressionism, which led her to pursue an investigation into pigments and colour theory through the centuries of European painting, the fruit of it being this series of little books on colour palettes, and this website.

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TITLES on subsequent centuries will be added to this site as they are published.

Choice of Treatises for the Titles

Treatises from classical antiquity and the Middle Ages are few in number due to many having been lost. Hence the TITLES can be based on all or most of the known available texts, thereby providing comprehensive primary sources for the given centuries. The same can be claimed for the major known Italian Renaissance treatises.

Over the 17th and 18th centuries, however, treatises proliferated throughout Europe, so a selection had to be made. This was decided by those that were the most comprehensive and the most original – rather than being copied from other treatises – and based on the authors’ own knowledge as a painter, colour maker, or colour merchant. This is what determined the choice of texts for the 17th and 18th century TITLES.

Note on the Pigments and Kinds of Painting in the Titles

To record pigments and their definitions by century not only reveals the palettes particular to each of them, but shows shifts in the pigments, changes in recipes, and especially shifts in the names of pigments – a notable example is that the pigment today called cinnabar was called “minium” in antiquity, a name that subsequently came to refer to red lead. All this contributes to a history of the pigments themselves, and the alphabetical Index,palette-iconPIGMENTS, is a practical means of identifying these shifts and changes.

Based on the century of a given TITLE, there is a sub-text flowing through: whether the pigments described are intended for use in fresco painting, on gessoed wood panels, on parchment or paper, or on canvas. Thus a history of pigments also implies a history of the kinds of painting and the respective vehicle or medium – water, gum arabic (gouache), egg tempera, oil – a theme running through the TITLES.

Teaching institutions benefit from a trade discount on multiple orders – for details please contact:
UK – Casemate Art, The Old Music Hall, 106-108 Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1JE
Tel: +44 (0)1865 241249
USA – Casemate Group, 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown, PA 19083.
Tel: +1 (610) 853 9131

THE TITLES – available to buy online

Impressionists’ Palettes of Light

68 pp 12 col plates, 12 mono illus

Dimensions 21.6 x 16.8 Paperback

Publication date: 1 October 2015 £8.65

ISBN 978-0-946311-00-2

The French Impressionist painters discovered new means for painting light – they used a “solar palette”, the pigments matched to the colours the eyes see. They are the colours of a ray of light.

This little book reproduces palettes by several of the plein-air painters, describes the pigments they used, and includes short excerpts by the scientists whose work was the foundation of the new painting – complementary colours, optical mixing, and the pigment-colour correspondences. It closes with colour swatches of the pigments, provided by the London artists’ colourmen, L. Cornelissen & Son.

It will be of interest to art historians, collectors, students, conservators, and museum-goers.

Patricia Railing ~ editor

18th Century Colour Palettes

176 pp 12 col plates, 12 mono illus

Dimensions 21.6 x 16.8 Paperback, £12

ISBN 978-0-946311-01-9

Treatises: Robert Dossie 1858, Jean Félix Watin 1773, Le Pileur d’Apligny 1776, Constant de Massoul 1797

This primary source describes over 175 pigment names by four 18th century authors – two artists’ colourmen and two chemists, in England and in France. All their entries are included, usually in full, and the pigments are those they found “in the shops”, the authors often citing contemporary scholarly publications. Entries from the French treatises are published in English for the first time.

The plates make up a collection of fashionable 18th century ladies, several of which are portraits by women painters, among them several self-portraits. The colours are richly illustrated swatches.

It will be of interest to art historians, collectors, students, conservators, and museum-goers.

Patricia Railing, Editor

17th Century Colour Palettes

130 pp 16 col plates, 14 mono illus

Dimensions 21.6 x 16.8 Paperback, £12

ISBN 978-0-946311-10-1

Treatises: English | Henry Pecham, Edward Norgate, Richard Waller. International | Theodore Turquet de Mayerne. Spanish | Vicente Carducho, Anon.. Italian | Gian Batista Volpato. French | Pierre Le Brun, René François, Roger de Piles.

Ten 17th century writers describe the pigments in use in their countries – England, Flanders, France, Spain, and Italy. The theme of their treatises was studio practice and the pigments were discussed as they were placed on the palette. Surprisingly, the method was the same – from light to dark, white to black. The 17th century palette was an international palette comprising just over 100 pigments.

It will be of interest to art historians, collectors, students, conservators, and museum-goers.

Patricia Railing, Editor


16th  Century Colour Palettes

132 pp 16 col plates, 7 mono illus

Dimensions 21.6 x 16.8  Paperback, £12

ISBN 978-0-946311-13-2

Treatises: Leonardo da Vinci 1540, Raffaello Borghini 1584, Gian Paolo Lomazzo 1585/98.

In these three treatises, the some 70 pigments in use in 16th century Italy are given for fresco and oil painting. They are considered in the context of how colour is seen in the world so they should be beautiful as they arise between light and shadow. Influenced by Aristotle, the authors all agree that colour in painting is seen as the “bounded shining form”, and the Plates of paintings by Titian convey this marvellously, as do the pigment swatches.

It will be of interest to art historians, collectors, students, conservators, and museum-goers.

Patricia Railing, Editor


14th  Century Colour Palettes – One

Patricia Railing, Editor 
104 pp 16 col plates,
6 mono illus Dimensions 21.6 x 16.8 Paperback £12.50 

Publication date: 15 April 2020 
ISBN 978-0-946311-28-6 


  • The Book on Colours for Illuminators and Painters / Liber de coloribus illuminatorum siue pictorum, early French 14th century compilation.
  • On the Art of Illuminating / De arte illuminandi, late Italian 14th century treatise by an artist.

The 70 pigments named in the treatises are for the Art of the Book – decorative painting, as for the Anjou Bible of 1340, some pages shown in the Plates. Nearly 50 Plates of swatches of the pigments are reproduced as a guide to the colours. This handbook is a basic source for painting on parchment and paper and a complement to 14th century French and Italian book illumination. 


14th  Century Colour Palettes – Two

Patricia Railing, Editor
130 pp. 12 col plates 8 mono illus

Dimensions 21.6 x 16.8 Paperback £12.50

Publication date: 15 April 2020
ISBN 978-0-946311-24-8

In his Book of Art of the 1390s, the Italian painter, Cennino Cennini recorded the practice of painting on the wall in fresco and secco, and on wood panel for altarpieces. It was not only a “craftsman’s handbook” for preparing the surfaces and pigments, but an artist’s handbook on creativity: drawing from nature, using proportions, and training the imagination. The craft of painting, with all the pigments described, is set out in this collection of extracts, which are unabridged, Cennino writing that it originated from Giotto, who had brought painting “up to date”.

For art historians – academics and curators – and students as well as museum-goers.

1st Century Colour Palettes

88 pp 12 col plates, 6 mono illus

Dimensions 21.6 x 16.8 Paperback, £12

ISBN 978-0-946311-14-9

Treatises: Vitruvius, Pliny, with Theophrastus and Dioscorides.

The pigments described by these classical authors make up a lexicon of those used in Greece and Rome, the over 40 pigments given in full. Pliny’s history of Greek painting is set out, complemented by its artistic principles, and the stages of its colour palettes are discussed by the Editor. This collection is the fundamental primary source for classical painting and pigments.

It will be of interest to art historians, collectors, students, conservators, and museum-goers.

Patricia Railing, Editor