The ceiling in a protected room in the Siena's Duomo,
in Italy -- painted at the height of the Renaissance
It turns out that every time you think you understand
everything, there is always more to know. One of the
only odd conversations I had in Florence was with
an artist who wanted to tell me that my colours were too
bright, and that I should tone them down. This it turned
out was based on a hypothetical European ideal, which
favours a more subtle colour range, based on the paintings
of the old masters, particularly the soft colours of the
frescoes found in the Tuscany region. Except for one thing. The
dull browns that used to be Michelangelo, have been cleaned
to reveal surprisingly bright colours and that's not all.
On our last day we took a tour of three Tuscan cities. In
the overwhelmingly magnificent Duomo cathedral in Siena, we were
privileged to be allowed into a room that was closed off for
many years. The surprise in there was the colour -- not the
subtle hues we think of as typical of that era's frescoes, but
pure, bright colour almost pure pigment, heavily adorned
with gold, and our guide told us that this is what all of the
art of the Renaissance would have looked like before people
breathed on it. We were ushered in and out quickly because
just our breath could affect the temperature in the room,
and "dull" the brilliant original colour. So I will continue for
the most part to paint in the vibrant colours that are a fine
old tradition in Europe.
Every time you look at a large 600 year old painting in a
14th or 15th century church and think that it's dark, you
just have to consider what happens to your kitchen floors
if you don't clean them for a week or two (yes I'm thinking
of mine when I say that). Now imagine that they hadn't been
touched for 600 years. Yes! Cleaned up, every single one of
those paintings would reveal unimaginable
brilliance and luminosity.
Luckily art historians and restorers in Florence understand this,
and are constantly restoring and cleaning everything that they
possibly can. So it's entirely possible that when we revere their
magnificent rich, moody, browns, and cloudy hues, what we're
actually often admiring is centuries of dirt.
Have a cleaning-up-and-getting-colourful day.