Recipes from the Colour ConText Database

The Colour ConText Database was established at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin in 2014 under the direction of Sven Dupré and Sylvie Néven. There are also versions in Liege and in Cologne. Its aim is to facilitate the consultation and exploitation of a large corpus of recipes. As of January 2016, around 6,500 recipes from the mediëval and early modern period—some constituting only a few lines, others covering several folios—had been transcribed and added to the database. The core data consists of medieval and early modern manuscripts and printed books from across Europe, and written sources on colour theory.

In the medieval and early modern period, colour recipes specified instructions for the production of pigments, colourants, glues, media, inks and so on. In parallel to the physical descriptions of pigments and colourants, recipes provided information concerning optical characteristics, conservation, (in)compatibility with other sorts of materials and information regarding a material’s ageing properties. Some of these texts also describe the preparation of supports, the application of various layers of paint, suitable mixtures, the use of gold in gilding or how to produce an imitation. In addition, a number of recipes are dedicated to the production, refining or colouring of materials such as textiles, glass, metals, horn, stones and so on.

The recipes from the Colour Context Database form one of the foundations of the ARTECHNE database, and we expect that this corpus, combined with the newly added material from artist handbooks and other sources will give us new insights in the geographical and temporal dispersal and transmission of recipes and techniques.