Saturday, November 9, 2013

Saturday Snapshot: A Moment in Notre Dame



While wandering around Notre Dame, this sculpture with the bright stained glass behind it grabbed my attention. It was in a small side chapel that most people don’t see because they’re looking up and in instead on down and out. Plus, I love that a single pane was open to show how the windows work.

Monday, November 4, 2013

ArtSmart Roundtable: What Went into Medieval Pigments and Where’d They Come From?

It’s November already! This month, the ArtSmart Roundtable is focusing on color. I’m that nerd that loves looking through paint chips. Pinterest photos of interior design with bold accents colors always grab my eye. My closet is organized in rainbow order. Needless to say, I like pops of color.

While I tossed around a few contemporary ideas (like Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko’s color fields or Yves Klein’s signature blue), the ability to get Creative Commons or Wikimedia Commons images ultimately steered me back towards a theme that I can tie into travel. Since I focused on medieval art in my major, medieval art it is again. Ever wonder what colors were available to medieval artists? Or where certain colors came from? Well, read on.

Winchester Psalter Hellmouth Page

An angel locking the gates of Hell with a key, miniature from the Winchester Psalter, British Library, London. Circa 1121-1161. Via Wikimedia Commons

Illuminated manuscripts were made of vellum, parchment, and later paper pages. Vellum is basically the very best quality parchment (parchment being animal skin). From there, copiers and illustrators would copy the text and draw out carpet pages, full page illustrations, and marginalia. The text was always done first (so any mistakes could be easily shaved off and written again), then the illustrators would draw on the patterns. The gilding was always done last as a finishing touch to avoid wasting gold.

Book of Hours Annunciation Page

Book of hours, Paris c. 1410. Miniature of the Annunciation, with the start of Matins in the Little Office, the beginning of the texts after the calendar in the usual arrangement. Via Wikimedia Commons.

In addition to gold and silver leaf, medieval manuscripts had these basic colors: black, white, red, blue, green, and yellow. All the colors either came from plant/animal sources or from minerals. Here’s the breakdown of the major sources:

Plant/Animal Based:







China green






Mineral Based:

red lead*








white lead*


iron gall ink

*denotes toxicity

With this 6 color palette, just imagine the time and energy it took just to get the pigments in order to copy, illustrate, and illuminate a manuscript. There’s a reason why only the elite had illuminated books. The money needed for the colors and parchment alone would have been the medieval version of a diamond encrusted 24k gold iPhone.

Map of pigment sources

So where did they source these dyes? Here’s a map marking where major supplies of a particular insect/plant/animal/mineral would have been found. Ultramarine, orpiment, and verdigris were prized for their bright colors, but ultramarine was the priciest pigment you could possibly buy since it only came from Afghanistan. Tumeric, lac, and indigo had to travel from India to get into the hands of medieval artists. Others were closer to European scriptoria, but they still had to travel across kingdoms and fiefdoms to get there.

Red lead was a by-product of making white lead so you got a two-for-one producing those colors. Other colors were trickier. Turnsole tended to fade, indigo was more purple-y blue, ochre could be hit or miss on the shade of yellow, and vermillion required grinding it as finely as possible to get a rich red rather than a blackish color.

Book of Kells Chi Rho Page

Book of Kells Chi Rho page (c. 800) via Wikimedia Commons

Now, all these colors were mixed with various chemicals to stabilize them or with binders in order to apply them. Often, they were poisonous to the illustrator. Add in the fact that they were doing their work by natural and/or candlelight with fine brushes, rock crystal magnifiers, and possibly utilizing the “magic-eye eye” (the way you have to look at a magic-eye image to see the 3D object) to do the very detailed parts, and I’m beyond impressed that certain manuscripts such as the Book of Kells HAVE NO MISTAKES IN THE ILLUSTRATIONS. None.

St. Louis Psalter

Saint Louis Psalter 17 recto. 1190-1200. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Only after all the illustration work was done, the illuminators had the difficult task of applying gold and silver leaf to the images without getting it stuck to the page (gold leaf is almost as bad as glitter for sticking to everything) or ruining the image when burnishing the leaf. Pretty nifty, huh?

What is ArtSmart?  A couple fellow travel bloggers with an interest in art and I decided to do a roundtable series focused on making our readers “art smart”, e.g. understanding why certain works of art are famous and worth the visit while traveling.  At the end of this post are links to the other ArtSmart posts by participating bloggers.  Interested in joining the Roundtable?  Check out our Facebook page or email me.

This Month’s Fellow ArtSmart Roundtable Articles:

Lesley of CultureTripper: Canadian color field painter William Perehudoff at Berry Campbell Gallery, New York

Christina of Daydream Tourist: Egyptian Blue Faience

Murissa of The Wanderfull Traveler: A Personal Account: Six Degrees of Separation and J.M.W. Turner’s Use of Colour 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Saturday Snapshot: A Hidden Garden in Dublin

hidden garden in Dublin, Ireland

This garden was walled off, but you could catch a peek through the gate (or climb up on the stoop along the wall). It was near an embassy, but I couldn’t tell if this was a private residence or another embassy-like place (they had an unrecognizable flag on a pole in the yard). I just loved the sculpture spitting water into the pond.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Snapshots of Dublin


Most of my time in Dublin for TBEX was spent inside because of all the rain. My last day there cleared up, so I was able to take some outdoor shots of the area along the canal (Ballsbridge area).

When I studied at UCD, I would often ride the bus through Ballsbridge on my way from city center through Donnybrook out to UCD’s campus. So it was nice to revisit the neighborhood and poke around streets and shops I never wandered around 9 years ago.

A statue along the canal.

A statue along the canal.


The back of the Pepper Canister Church.

The back of the Pepper Canister Church. Yes, that sign is in Irish about the vote to abolish the Seanad.






I was amused at the packaging for cherry tomatoes at Donnybrook Fair, a fancy grocery store with prepared foods as well.

I was amused at the packaging for cherry tomatoes at Donnybrook Fair, a fancy grocery store with prepared foods as well. Also, drooling over the parsnips.


The Georgian doors across from the TBEX hotel.

The Georgian doors across from the TBEX hotel.

Of course, I did take a few photos from the TBEX opening party at the Guinness Storehouse. True story, it was just my second visit to the Storehouse despite 7 or 8 trips to Ireland.

Guinness bottle collection in the lobby of the Storehouse.

Guinness bottle collection in the lobby of the Storehouse.


Samples of corned beef boxty (a crepe made from potato though these were like gnocchi).

Samples of corned beef boxty (a crepe made from potato though these were like gnocchi).

If the weather had been better, I would have taken so many more photos. It was just raining too hard to risk ruining my phone. But at least I captured some shots that aren’t your usual Dublin photos like pub signs, Molly Malone, Ha’Penny Bridge, the Liffey, or that Knobs & Knockers shop near Trinity.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Saturday Snapshot: Fall in Boston


The leaves are changing in a staggered wave here in Boston. The tree in front of our apartment turned yellow a month ago and is nearly bare, but the tree in the backyard is still green.

This sugar maple had an ombre effect going on. It’s at one of my jobs (yes, I have multiple jobs now) in a suburb of Boston.

Have the leaves changed where you are?