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Pigments et colorants de l’Antiquité et du Moyen Âge

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Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes
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Centre de recherche sur les collections
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Équipe Étude des pigments, histoire et archéologie

Session C. Matériaux et traditions techniques : des données pour l'histoire de l'art, l'histoire des techniques, l'histoire économique et sociale

The capital-lion from Vossestrand in Norway, an investigation of the polychromy

Unn Plahter

Texte intégral

  • 1 The measurements were taken by Karin BJÖRLING, technical department, Nordiska Museet, Stockholm.

1The capital-lion from Vossestrand is a polychromed wooden carving commonly dated to the late 12th, early 13th century (fig. 1). It was bought in 1877, from the local authority of Vossestrand by Nordiska Museum in Stockholm (NM nr. 16629), where it still is. According to their register of acquisitions it is conceivable that it was part of the carved portal of a stave church. The entry further says that the object is coloured red and green and is made from the root of a birch tree. It is 33 cm high, 23 cm broad and 8 cm thick1. No technical investigation of the paint on it has been undertaken till now (Plahter 1989: 133-141).

2In conjunction with Martin Blindheim’s work on Norwegian romanesque sculpture in wood, attention has been directed towards its polychromy (Blindheim 1989 : 109-132). The present investigation aims to plot out how colour was used on this lion, determine the materials used in the painting and establish whether the painting is original or not. The carving has been discussed earlier by Kjellberg (Kjellberg 1946: 153-166) and Blindheim (ed.) 1972: Cat. No. 96).

Analyses

3Seven specimens of paint were taken for analyses. The specimens were prepared in cross-sections and analysed on an electron microscope connected to an X-ray analyser (SEM JEOL 840, EDS Link AN10000).

1. Support and preparation layer.

4The lion is precisely carved and details are formed in the surface of the wood, which is relatively well smoothed and tooled. A very thin ground appears only to a slight extent to have served to even out irregularities in the wood. The ground is light grey and the principal compounds included in it are various silicates, it being thus presumably a clay. Traces of this greyish ground, in which occur black fragments of charcoal, can be observed on the surface of the carving where paint has fallen off and as a thin layer on some of the cross-sections. It is dry and porous with an aqueous binding medium and appears to have been laid directly on to wood without an intervening layer of glue. Clay ground has not previously been found on any of the relatively few objects of comparable age in Norway which have been examined (Plahter 1981).

Fig. 1. The capital lion from Vossestrand.

Fig. 2. Black line drawing of the capital lion from Vossestrand with some indication of the original colouring.

2. Polychromy

5Pigments identified are lapis lazuli, orpiment, green earth, red lead, vermilion, red ochre, charcoal black and lead white. Red lead and lead white were synthetically prepared, red ochre and green earth are natural earths, the other pigments are found as minerals. All have been used in painting since antiquity and down to modern times, possibly except lapis lazuli which has not been found used as a pigment before the 6th or 7th century (Kruella & Strauss 1983: 35).

  • 2 The lead white layer was stained by Ponceau S, a colouring material with a strong affinity to mater (...)

6The character and solubility of the binding medium seem to indicate egg tempera2.

7The painting on the lion consists essentially of areas of opaque monochrome primary colours. The pigments are broadly speaking used uncombined. No modelling by tone was detected. The paint itself was covered by a semi transparent brownish layer, but on the basis of analyses combined with surface investigation it is possible to describe the structure and composition of the paintwork beneath and to go far towards reconstructing the original appearance of the polychromy.

  • 3 I am indebted to Karin BJORLING for valuable information concerned with traces of paint indicating (...)

8Colours applied to the lion are suggested in the sketch (fig. 2). The face, below the eyebrows, is painted blue. The eyes were white with black pupils and blue iris. The tongue is red, the body green, the tail blue, the four long locks of hair that hang down over the breast, are from left to right: red, blue, yellow and red. The two central curls on the head are: yellow the left hand one and red the right. The colour of the others could not be determined. Reddish colouring along the outer edge of the tail resembles that found under the beast’s belly and on the inner sloping sides of the carving. There are also remains of linear detailing on top of the body-colours: a greyish white stroke (decomposed orpiment?) on the green forehead seems to follow the line of the carved browsand remains could be found of white detailing on the blue below the eye brows. A line of orpiment runs along the front edge of the (left) thigh. The blue and yellow locks in front of the breast are respectively patterned in white and red. On the greenbelly as far as the foreleg there are remains of pointed yellowish tongues (flames) presumably done in orpiment. Remains were also found of a yellow contour following the back edge of the foreleg as well as the front edge of the thigh. On the bluetail there are remains of white detailing. Red colouring along the outer edge of the tail resembles that found under the beast’s belly and on the inner sloping sides of the carving. On the lower part of the thigh are remains of white detail3.

Description of pigments

9Blue areas are painted with a layer of lapis lazuli. Lapis lazuli is a semi-precious stone which in the Middle Ages was imported to Europe from Badakhshan, now a province in north east of Afghanistan (Plesters 1966: 62-91). It contains a blue mineral, lazurite, along with others more or less colourless. Pounded lapis lazuliand the refined product prepared with this blue stone were used as a pigment. The section of the layer of blue pigment on the lion shows (fig. 3) that it is composed of fragments of both blue and colourless crystals. Analyses (SEM-EDS) show that the layer of lapis lazuli is composed of various silicates combined with calcium and magnesium. The calcium magnesium silicate, diopside,and the magnesium silicate, forsterite, are both colourless minerals found in lapis lazuli. The mineral lazurite consists of sodium aluminium silicate. It is clear that the blue pigment on the lion is unrefined lapis lazuli.

10The preparation of the pigment ultramarine involves a relatively complicated procedure, which was presumably known in Europe in the 13th century (Kruella, Strauss1983: 36). In written sources of the late Middle Age ultramarineis described as an expensive pigment, comparable in price with gold, something which must, quite apart from the rarity of the raw material and the distances over which it had to be carried, be due also to this refinement process which is extravagant in material (Plesters 1966: 63-65).

  • 4 I am also thankful to Christopher HOHLER who has assisted me with the English translation. He has r (...)

11The name lapis lazuli is the medieval Latinname of the mineral, lapis meaning “stone”, and Lazulum being a corruption, via the Greek, of the Persian name of the mine in Badakhshan, from which most of it came. The whole meaning “stone of Lazward” (Le Strange 1966: 436)4 Azure” is again a corruption of the name of the mine in Badakhshan, and used to mean blue pigment in general, for instance azurite which occure in several places in Europe (Kruella & Strauss 1966: 46, note 13).

The photographs of paint sections in fig. 3, 4, 5 and 6 are taken in a normal light-microscope at 275x magnification and are reproduced in 85x magnification. The colour coded mapping in fig. 7, are processed from a digitalized image obtained in the SEM-EDX with an X-ray detector. They show how the different elements distribute within the paint layers. By adjusting intensity levels, a suitable colour mapping of element-distribution is obtained.

The photographs of paint sections in fig. 3, 4, 5 and 6 are taken in a normal light-microscope at 275x magnification and are reproduced in 85x magnification. The colour coded mapping in fig. 7, are processed from a digitalized image obtained in the SEM-EDX with an X-ray detector. They show how the different elements distribute within the paint layers. By adjusting intensity levels, a suitable colour mapping of element-distribution is obtained.

Fig. 3. Cross-section of blue paint (lapis lazuli) from the face.

Fig. 4. Cross-section of green paint (green earth) from the body.

12Transmarinum and ultramarinum (= over seas) came into use in order to avoid confusion with other blue pigments, such as the copper mineral azurite. Oltremer (French)or the equivalents, Oltremar, (Spanish) and Oltremare (Italian) were however all medieval Romance names for the Levant. Thissuggests that ultra-marine not only meant that the pigment came from overseas, but that lapis lazuli will have been imported from the Eastern States in the Mediterranean (Kruella & Strauss 1983: 35-35).

13Examination of romanesque painting technique of the 12th and early 13th century in Northern Europe confirms that unrefined powdered lapis lazuliused as a pigment, dates back to at least the beginning of the 12th century (Kruella & Stauss 1983: 35, Serch-Dewaide 1977:58, Westhoff et al. 1980: 66, Tangeberg 1986: 86, Plahter 1984:40), and this early use of lapis lazuli applies also to art in Norway. This might suggest that lapis lazuli in the 12th century was rather easily obtained and at an acceptable price. The use of lapis lazuli seems however to reduce in the course of the 13th century and in the second half far more azurite is used than ultramarine.

  • 5 I thank Christian KELLER for making me aware of the trade with walrus tusk.

14It is reasonable to conclude that the widespread use of lapis lazuli in the 12th century, north of the Alps, reflects especially good and direct trade connections between Northern Europe and Central or South West Asia. It is not impossible that trade in walrus tusk a precious and much sought-after material in Persia and Afghanistan, stimulated import of lapiz lazuli to Northern Europe, possibly along different trade-routes to those passing through the Mediterranean (Tegengren 1962: 3-37)5. When the use of lapis lazuli falls off in our medieval technique in the course of the 13th century, that is most possibly related to an alteration in the trade situation. Unrest in central and west Asia in the early 13th century would have disturbed resumption of trade.

15Green areas are painted with green earth. Green earth is a composite pigment whose green colour is provided by the minerals glauconite and celadonite (Grissom 1986: 141-167). These minerals include silicates, with iron, second and third degree of oxidation. It also includes aluminium silicates and silicon oxide (quartz). The distribution of iron corresponds to the bluish green particles seen in the cross-section (fig. 4).

  • 6 The panel paintings belong to Historisk Museum, University of Bergen

16Green earth must have been imported; deposits of the pigment are to be found in many places, and sources in Europe were known in ancient times (Grissom 1986:149). Accordingly unlike lapis lazuli, it is not a precious material and was presumably, as other earth colours, not an important article of trade (Thompson 1956: 176), which would explain its limited use in this country. In 13th century painting in Norway the dominant green pigment is verdigris, a green synthetic pigment known since antiquity. Investigations so far seem to show that the components of green paints in the 12th century were less uniform. In addition to the copper greens (copper acetates and copper chlorides) (Westhoff et al. 1980: 66-67, Plahter 1981: 71-78), pigments such as green earth aswell as mixtures of orpiment and charcoal seem perhaps more common (Plahter 1981: 74). Later on towards the 14th century indigo and orpiment (altar frontal from Eid) as well as orpiment, ochre and azurite is identified (altar frontal from Odda)6.

Fig. 5. Cross-section of yellow paint (orpiment) covered by red paint (vermilion and red lead) from red design on yellow locks of hair.

17Yellow parts are painted with orpiment. Orpiment (arsenic sulphide) occurs innature as a shining yellow mineral which possibly was imported to Europe from Asia Minor (Wallert 1984: 45). It has been maintained that the pigment was little used in Europe in the Middle Ages (Gettens and Stout 1966: 135). But analyses show that the pigment has been rather widely used also in the 12th century (Search-Dewaide 1977, Westhoff et al. 1980, Plahter 1981) and used more often than the yellow ochre. Orpiment is not however stable and under the effect of light breaks down into colourless components (Plahter et al. 1974: 96, Plahter 1981: 74). Below the chin of the lion from Vossestrand, where the paint has some shelter from the light, the orpiment can be seen rather better preserved than in other more exposed places. The yellow layer is composed of fragments of oblong yellow crystals, i.e. orpiment (fig. 5).

18Red layers on hanging locks of hair and rolls of hair on the head, and in ornaments are composed of a mixture of vermilion and red lead. Vermilion (mercury sulphide) occurs as a natural mineral. The most important deposit in Europe is in Spain. Vermilion could be produced synthetically in the 12th century by sublimation (Gettens and Stout 1972: 125-139). But as both natural and synthetic crystal fragments of vermilion look much alike, they can hardly be distinguished in paint samples. Red lead is a very fine grained synthetic pigment (FitzHugh 1986: 109-139). In sections with red paint (fig. 5 and 6) relatively large glistening crystals of vermilion are visible, mixed with the more fine-grained yellowish red material of red lead. In the colour coded mapping of the elements in a section of red paint (fig. 7), it can be seen how the lead pigment, coded in red, is distributed in the layer between the relative large crystal fragments of the mercury pigment coded in lilac.

Fig. 6. Cross-section of red paint (vermilion and red lead) on a loyer of red ochre from red lock of hair.

Fig. 7. Colour-coded digitalized image. Vermilion (HgS) and red lead (Pb3O4), mercury and lead are coloured lilac and red respectively. The layer of red ochre contains mainly silicates with a rather low proportion of iron to Silicon. Silicon is coloured white, aluminium green. Contents of potassium, calcium and iron are coded yellow, turquoise and red respectively.

19Red painting on the outer and inner edges of sculptured surface is executed in red ochre. In cross-section (fig. 6) the layer can hardly be distinguished by colour but in the colour-coded mapping (fig. 7), the content of silicon, aluminum and iron coded in white, green and blue, respectively, makes it easy to detect the layer structure. It also becomes apparent that the ochre has a rather high silicon content in relation to iron.

20White paint contains lead white. Like red lead, lead white is a fine-grained synthetic pigment (Gettens et al, 1967: 125-135), known since antiquity (Caley & Richards 1956 : 57). Analyses show that the pigment was used unmixed.

Conclusion

21As has been pointed out by P Tångeberg, two styles of painting seems to have been practised in the 12th and early 13th century: the “golden” style and the “coloured” (Tångeberg 1986: 90). The “golden” style involves the use of precious metals and stones or the imitation of the rich effects of these materials, the “coloured” style relies more on painting proper, where strong and dense colours are used. Analyses of the lion reveals that it compares to the densely coloured polychromed sculptures of this period. Pure primary colours, blue, green, yellow and red, and the use of powdered lapis lazuli in preference to azurite are characteristic. Furthermore the use of green earth in preference to verdigris seems tocompare to the 12th century’s rather variable use of pigments in green colours. It is thus reasonable to regard the painting on the lion as the original romanesque polychromy.

Bibliographie

References

– BLINDHEIM, M. 1989: Primœrbruk av farve og tjaœre ved utsmykning av norske stavkirker, Universitetets Oldsaksamlings Årbok1986-1988.

– BLINDHEIM, M. (red) 1972: Middelalderkunst fra Norge i andre land.Oslo.

– CALEY, E.R., & RICHARDS, J.F. 1956: Theophrastus on Stones. Ohio.

– FITZHUGH, E. 1986: Red lead and minium.109-139, in R.L. Feller (ed.), Artists’ Pigments; a handbook of their history and characteristics. Washington.

– GETTENS, R.J., FELLER, R.L., & CHASE, W.T. 1972: Vermilion and cinnabar. Studies in Conservation 17, 45-69.

– GETTENS, R.J., KÜHN, H., & CHASE, W.T. 1967: Lead white. Studies in Conservation 12, 125-139.

– GETTENS, R.J., & STOUT, G.L. 1966: Painting Materials. A Short Encyclopedia. New York.

– GRISSOM, C.A. 1986: Green Earth, 147-167, in R.L. Feller (ed.), Artists Pigments; a handbook of their history and characteristics. Washington.

– KJELLBERG, R. 1946: Djevelen fra Vossestrand. Fataburen, 153-166.

– KURELLA, A., & STRAUSS, I. 1983: Lapislazuli und natürliches Ultramarin.Maltechnik Restauro 1, 34-54.

– KÜHN, H. 1969 : Lead-tin yellow. Studies in Conservation 13,7-33.

– LE STRANGE, G. 1966: The lands of the Eastern Califate,London.

– PLAHTER, L.E., SKAUG, E., & PLAHTER,U. 1974: Gothic Altar Frontals from the Church of Tingelstad. Materials, Technique, Restoration. Universitetsforlaget, Oslo 1974.

– PLAHTER, U. 1981: Noen observasjoner i 1100-talls bemaling sett i relasjon til antemensalemaleriet, 71-78. Nordiskkonservator forbunds 9. kongress, Oslo mai 1981, Preprints.

– PLAHTER, U. 1984: The Crucifix from Hemse: Analyses of Painting Technique, Maltechnik Restauro 1, 35-44.

– PLAHTER, U. 1989: Kapitel-lФven fra Vossestrand, en maleteknisk undersØkelse. Universitetets Oldsaksamlings Årbok1986-1988, Oslo.

– PLESTERS, J. 1966: Ultramarine blue, natural and artificial. Studies in Conservation 11, 62-91.

– SERCK-DEWAIDE, M. 1977: Les Sedes Sapientiae romanes de Bertem et de Hermalle-sous-Huy. Etude des polychromies successives. Institut Royal du Patrimoine Artistique, Bulletin XVI 1976/77, 57-76.

– TEGENGREN, H. 1962: Valrosstanden i världshandlen, Nordenskioldsamfunnets tidskrift, 3-37.

– THOMPSON, D.V. 1956: The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting. New York.

– TÅNGEBERG, P. 1986: Mittelalterliche Holzskulpturen und Altarschreine in Schweden. Stockholm.

– WALLERT, A. 1984: Orpiment and realgar. Some pigment characteristics, Maltechnik Restauro 4, 45-55.

– WESTHOFF, W., HARLIN, H., & RICHTER, E.L. 1980 : Zum Freüdenstädter Lesepult. Jahrbuchder Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen in Baden-Würtemberg 76, 42-84.

Notes

1 The measurements were taken by Karin BJÖRLING, technical department, Nordiska Museet, Stockholm.

2 The lead white layer was stained by Ponceau S, a colouring material with a strong affinity to materials containing protein.

3 I am indebted to Karin BJORLING for valuable information concerned with traces of paint indicating detailing on top of the body colours. I also thank her for making it possible for me to investigate the polychromy on this carved figure.

4 I am also thankful to Christopher HOHLER who has assisted me with the English translation. He has read the article carefully and he has pointed out the connection between lazward, lazur and azure, as well as the connection between ultramarine and the medieva Romance name of the Levant.

5 I thank Christian KELLER for making me aware of the trade with walrus tusk.

6 The panel paintings belong to Historisk Museum, University of Bergen

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 1. The capital lion from Vossestrand.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/8182/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 83k
Légende Fig. 2. Black line drawing of the capital lion from Vossestrand with some indication of the original colouring.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/8182/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 55k
Titre The photographs of paint sections in fig. 3, 4, 5 and 6 are taken in a normal light-microscope at 275x magnification and are reproduced in 85x magnification. The colour coded mapping in fig. 7, are processed from a digitalized image obtained in the SEM-EDX with an X-ray detector. They show how the different elements distribute within the paint layers. By adjusting intensity levels, a suitable colour mapping of element-distribution is obtained.
Légende Fig. 3. Cross-section of blue paint (lapis lazuli) from the face.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/8182/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 22k
Légende Fig. 4. Cross-section of green paint (green earth) from the body.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/8182/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 32k
Légende Fig. 5. Cross-section of yellow paint (orpiment) covered by red paint (vermilion and red lead) from red design on yellow locks of hair.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/8182/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 7,2k
Légende Fig. 6. Cross-section of red paint (vermilion and red lead) on a loyer of red ochre from red lock of hair.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/8182/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 21k
Légende Fig. 7. Colour-coded digitalized image. Vermilion (HgS) and red lead (Pb3O4), mercury and lead are coloured lilac and red respectively. The layer of red ochre contains mainly silicates with a rather low proportion of iron to Silicon. Silicon is coloured white, aluminium green. Contents of potassium, calcium and iron are coded yellow, turquoise and red respectively.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/8182/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 25k

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