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Alphabe Thursday W is for White

April 24, 2014



White can be made from many things such as chalk, zinc, barium and rice; but the finest and the cruelest is lead.

White lead was believed by European artists to be one of the most important paints.  It can be used as a primer, to prepare their boards and canvases or mixed with other pigments to build up layers.  Then it is used as a highlight for eyes, the glimmer on glass or silver, the sparkle on jewels, no painting is complete without white.

Unfortunately lead is poisonous; and this has been documented since Roman times.  Pliny says in his Natural History that lead white is poisonous when swallowed; but he doesn’t tell us that it also very harmful when absorbed through the skin or when the dust is breathed in. In his time, Pliny writes, the best lead white came from Rhodes. Shavings of the lead was put over a bowl filled with vinegar.  The acid on the metal would cause a chemical reaction leave a white deposit of lead carbonate. The lead-workers would make little cakes of the powder and leave them in the sun to dry.

In Colour Victoria Finlay goes on to say that the recipe changes slightly in Holland in Rembrandt’s time.  The process  involved using clay pots divided into two sections.  Dozens of  pots filed with the vinegar and lead were laid out on a bed of manure which would generate heat to evaporate the acid and the carbon dioxide to transform the substance from lead acetate to basic lead carbon. All this happened in a sealed room for three months.

When the room was eventually opened it must have been a wonderful sight, from the stench of the stagnant heat and rotting remains came the purest and cleanest white flakes described as ‘alchemical magic’

alphabet thursday




10 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2014 1:46 pm

    Some lead coumpunds taste sweet, another reason they were dangerous

  2. April 24, 2014 7:48 pm

    I’m enjoying your posts about color!

  3. April 24, 2014 11:05 pm

    I love white, especially in summer.

  4. April 25, 2014 3:31 am

    I love to use white ink to write and draw in my art journal. I had always used black ink before but found that lots of people used white. And liked the idea! {:-D

    • April 25, 2014 7:35 am

      Yes I am going to use it more ? But I am new to this malarkey so I promise myself each week … ‘I will use colour more!’ Not very good at doing as I am told! Do you Post images from you art journal?

    • April 25, 2014 7:41 am

      Silly question I have since discovered !! a joy xxx

  5. April 25, 2014 9:28 am

    White reminds me of winter ~ snow

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