Non-Fiction Book Reviews

Book Review: The Alchemy of Paint

By Sandy Amazeen Dec 30, 2009, 22:08 GMT

Book Review: The Alchemy of Paint

The Alchemy of Paint is a critique of the modern world, which Spike Bucklow sees as the product of seventeenth-century ideas about science. In modern times, we have divorced color from its origins, using it for commercial advantage. Spike Bucklow shows us how in medieval times, color had mystical significance far beyond the enjoyment of shade and hue. Each chapter demonstrates the mindset of medieval Europe and is devoted ...more

Donít be put off by the dry sounding title as this is a fascinating look at the importance color has played in human history beyond that of instantly recognizable corporate logos. Bucklow reveals what went into creating pigments produced by medieval painters and artisans as well as why colors like Tyrian purple and crimson red were so highly prized. Tyrian purple for example, was produced by crushing the glands of a particular snail and so valuable that commercial restrictions regulating its manufacture were in place by the 4th century. The restricted distribution of purple silks altered trade routes and the price of a pound of purple wool was equivalent to a pound of refined gold.

From the importance of dried cochineal insects to the value and differences in alums, the legends behind substances like dragonsblood or the symbolic meanings attached to vermilion, this illuminating and absorbing work rapidly draws you into a world alive with vivid color. It was Bucklowís aim to restore value to color and he has succeeded admirably, while a valuable reference to artisans, this will appeal to anyone interested in gaining more insight about something we tend to take for granted.

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