On Divers Arts


First printed in the 12th century, here is the earliest treatise on the arts written by a practicing artist. Offering an essential understanding of pre-Renaissance art and technology, the Benedictine author details pigments, glass blowing, stained glass, gold and silver work, and more — information of great importance to craftsmen and historians of art and science. Includes 34 illustrations.
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On Divers Arts

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First printed in the 12th century, here is the earliest treatise on the arts written by a practicing artist. Offering an essential understanding of pre-Renaissance art and technology, the Benedictine author details pigments, glass blowing, stained glass, gold and silver work, and more — information of great importance to craftsmen and historians of art and science. Includes 34 illustrations.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780486237848
  • Publisher: Dover Publications
  • Publication date: 8/1/1979
  • Series: Dover Art Instruction Series
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 793,375
  • Product dimensions: 6.66 (w) x 9.36 (h) x 0.66 (d)

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On Divers Arts

The Foremost Medieval Treatise on Painting, Glassmaking and Metalwork

By Theophilus, John G. Hawthorne, Cyril Stanley Smith

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1979 Cyril Stanley Smith
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14541-9


The Mixture of Pigments For Rude Bodies

The pigment called flesh-color, with which faces and nude bodies are painted, is prepared thus. Take ceruse (i.e., the white which is made from lead) and put it without grinding, just as it is, dry, into a copper or iron pot; set it on blazing coals and burn it until it turns a yellowish tan color. Then grind it and mix white ceruse and cinnabar with it until it looks like flesh. Mix these pigments to suit your fancy: for example, if you want to have red faces, add more cinnabar; if white, put in more white; if pallid, put in a little prasinus instead of cinnabar.


Burnt Ocher, the red iron oxide (rubeum: 1-1, 3, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 23; II-17). Although "red that is burnt from ocher" is specified in 1-3 and 1-23, it is possible that red used elsewhere was sometimes a natural red earth, ground without firing. Red iron oxide (rouge) for polishing gold was made by calcining green vitriol (111-40).

Cinnabar, a popular pigment which to Theophilus was artificial mercury sulphide, later known as vermilion. Preparation described in I-34 (cenobrium: I-1, 3, 4, 8, 14, 15, 16, 20, 29, 34).

Minium (red lead, Pb3O4), made by roasting ceruse as in 1-37 (minium: 1-4, 14, 20, 25, 29, 30, 32, 37).

Carmine, mentioned without description except for comparison of color with minium or cinnabar. It is probably the coloring matter derived from the eggs of the cochineal insect, kermococcus vermilio (carmin: 1-24, 32, 33).

Folium, a vegetable juice which was red in its natural acid state (folium: 1-14, 16, 33). See 1-33, n. 1.

Madder, used only on bone (rubrica: III-94).


Ocher, a natural yellow earth consisting mostly of hydrated iron oxides and clay mineral (ogra: 1-3, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16).

Orpiment, yellow arsenic sulphide, also used in a mixture with cinnabar (auripigmentum: 1-14).

Saffron yellow, from the dried stigma of the saffron plant or crocus. Theophilus uses the pigment mostly for staining the surface of tin to represent gold, but the term is also applied to the color of a clear yellow glass (II-7, 12, 21, 23, 28) (croceum: 1-16, 24, 30).


Green and dark green pigments, otherwise unidentified but supposedly earth greens (viride: 1-2, 14, 15).

Spanish green (viride Hispanicum: 1-25, 32, 36) and salt green (viride salsum: 1-32, 35), both of which types of verdigris are basic copper acetates, the latter perhaps with some chlorides. Their manufacture is described in some detail.

Prasinus is hard to identify, and we have not followed Dodwell in translating it as "earth green" (see 1-2, n. 1) (prasinus: 1-2, 3, 7, 11, 15).

Sucus is supposedly sap green (probably that made from buckthorn berries) which owes its color to chlorophyll (sucus: 1-14, 15, 16, 25). Other vegetable juices that are mentioned are those of iris, cabbage, and leek (sucus gladioli vel caulae vel porri: 1-32, elderberry juice (sucus sambuci: 1-14), and the material folium (see under red and blue pigments).


Azure is the only mineral blue mentioned. Probably this was the mineral azurite, basic copper carbonate, Cu3- (CO3)2OH2, but Theophilus could have known other natural or artificial blue pigments, including ultramarine (which was prepared by a kind of flotation process) although he does not specifically mention them (lazur: 1-14, 15, 16). See Raft (1968).

Indigo, the vegetable color imported from the Orient (indicum: 1-14).

Folium, the red vegetable juice which became purple or violet when made alkaline with urine and wood ash, or blue when made still more alkaline with lime (folium: see 1-33, n. 1).

Menesc, a vegetable pigment of uncertain nature, but probably violet or dark blue, since it was used as an alternative to indigo or elderberry juice in robe painting (I-14) and as a complementary color to cinnabar or ocher in the rainbow (1-16). The word is of obscure origin but Kissling (quoted by Waetzoldt) suggests that it is derived from the Persian banaschi (violet) (menesc: 1-14, 16). Merrifield (1849) believed that it may have been madder, for mnitsch is the Indian name for this plant.


Menesc (see above).

Folium (see above).

Violet, an undescribed pigment or mixture of pigments, used as a robe color on a wall (violaticum: 1-14).


A pigment frequently mentioned by Theophilus, though he nowhere describes its preparation. The best blacks of the period were lampblacks or ground charcoal made from vine, ground grapevine shoots being preferred (nigrum: 1-2, 6, 10-16).

Ink (incaustum), made from thornwood extract and green vitriol (1-38). Theophilus uses the word atramentum, which in classical Latin was a black pigment, only in places where the chemical context calls unmistakably for green vitriol and he certainly does not mean any of the carbon blacks as Waetzoldt has supposed. Vitriol was classically atramentum sutorium, shoemaker's black, but the term was often applied to blue vitriol and to astringent crystalline substances generally.


Ceruse is the principal named white pigment, basic lead carbonate, the manufacture of which is described in 1-37 (cerosa: 1-1, 5, 12, 14, 25, 32, 37).

White pigment without fuller specification was probably ground bone ash, whiting, calcium carbonate, or lime (album: 1-6, 9, 14, 16).

Gypsum or chalk, ground and mixed with glue, was used as a ground for painting, the mixture later known as


The Pigment "Prasinus"

This prasinus is, as it were, a special preparation with a resemblance to green and black. Its nature is such that it is not ground on a stone, but, when it is put into water, it disintegrates and it is then strained carefully through a cloth. It is very serviceable for use as green on a new wall.


Veneda, gray, mixed from black and white as in 1-6 (veneda: 1-6, 13, 15, 16).

Exudra, brown, mixed from black and burnt ocher, for use as a shadow pigment on faces, etc. (exudra: 1-13).

Shadow pigments, mixed from ocher, green, cinnabar, etc., used for dark flesh shades (posc: 1-3, 5, 7, 15; II-21).

Flesh-colored pigments, mixed from massicot, ceruse, and cinnabar (membrana: 1-3, 4, 5, 15).

Light brown pigments, for high-lighting flesh, are mixed as for membrana but with more ceruse (lumina: 1-5, 9, 15).

Rose is the basic flesh color plus cinnabar and minium (rosa: I-4, 8, 11, 13, 15).

It should be noted that Theophilus refers to mixed pigments very frequently, although D. V. Thompson (1936) believes that among medieval painters "the prevailing fashion was to use a palette of frank, definite colors."


Gold leaf (petula auri: 1-23).

Tin leaf (petula stagni), either dyed yellow to imitate gold or used directly as a white reflecting background for applied painting (pictura translucida: 1-27).

Milled gold (made as in 1-28) used both as a paint, usually burnished, and as an ink for chrysography. Silver, brass, and copper powders were also ground and used in the same manner as gold: they must have been very subject to tarnish. Burnished tin powder would be better, whether dyed or not (1-30).

Theophilus usually refers only to the use of his pigments, not to their manufacture. The exceptions are cinnabar, Spanish green, salt green, ceruse, and minium, the preparation of which is described almost as an afterthought at the end of Book I; these are perhaps copied from another source, although they do not appear in either the Mappae clavicula or the Lucca manuscript.

See 1-25 for note on pigment vehicles and 1-21 for note on varnishes and resins.


The First Shadow pigment

When you have mixed the flesh-color pigment and have laid in the faces and nude bodies with it, mix with it prasinus, the red that is burnt from ocher, and a little cinnabar, and so make shadow pigment. With this you should delineate the eyebrows and eyes, the nostrils and mouth, the chin, the hollows round the nostrils, the temples, the wrinkles on the forehead and neck, the roundness of the face, the beards of young men, the fingers and toes, and all the distinctive limbs of the nude body.


The first Rose Pigment

Then mix a little cinnabar and a little less minium with the plain flesh-color pigment, to make the pigment that is called rose. With this redden both cheeks, the mouth, the lower part of the chin, the neck and the wrinkles of the forehead slightly; also each side of the forehead above the temples, the length of the nose, above the nostrils on each side, the fingers and toes, and the other limbs of the nude body.


Excerpted from On Divers Arts by Theophilus, John G. Hawthorne, Cyril Stanley Smith. Copyright © 1979 Cyril Stanley Smith. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

  "The Author, the Manuscripts, and the Editions"
    List of the Principal Manuscripts
    List of the Printed Editions
    Table of Concordance of the Major Editions
  The Place of the Treatise in the Literature of the Practical Arts
  List of Chapters
    Book I
    Book II
    Book III

    Book I. The Art of the Painter
    Book II. The Art of the Worker in Glass
    Book III. The Art of the Metalworker

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