Sunday, March 13, 2016

From the annals of None-more-Blackness: Bitumen edition

There is a movie waiting to be made about shenanigans in the English arts scene of the late 18th century. For the milieu encouraged wild experimentation with new pigments and techniques, but also intrigue and skulduggery, with forgers and con-men offering to sell the stylistic secrets -- rediscovered or unearthed -- of the Renaissance Old Masters. In fact Thomas Pynchon has already written the book, although the only surviving copy of his original manuscript is preserved in the Reality Exclusion Vault in the Riddled library... all other copies having been rewritten by some kind of entropic degeneration from a resonance in the Morphogenic Field (which turned them all into a noir novel about PIs, drug-smuggling and degenerate dentists in 1970 California).
Poster design: Variations on a theme

"Inherent vice" in art conservation is the term for the self-destructive, time-bomb nature of certain media and pigments. Case in point being bitumen. Which was popular with Georgian artists, who had no compunctions about painting with roading material (the units are not well-standardised but one compunction is roughly comparable to a qualm, and less than a scruple).

The attraction of bitumen was the velvety raven's-wing blackness it provided on the canvas, the blackness of putrefaction and alchemical nigredo, the first stage in the process of individuation. Regrettably, bitumen is never quite stable; it retains a paradoxical life from all the long-chain hydrocarbons: over the decades it bubbles and cracks, creeps across the canvas in the manner of a slime mould.

Joshua Reynolds was fond of bitumen backgrounds, with the result that half his paintings from the 1770s and 1780s have transformed into Picture-of-Dorian-Gray monstrosities (while their models are still alive today, showing no evidence of the passage of time and the corruption of their souls).

The other attraction of bitumen, along with toxic pigments like Realgar and Orpiment (which coincidentally are the names of the Riddled goldfish), is that it discouraged people from eating canvases. Which was a widespread problem in late-1700s art galleries. Also megilp [alternative spelling of megilph], "a mixture of mastic varnish and [...] linseed oil [...] cooked with litharge or white lead."

"I was given to understand," Another Kiwi vouchsafed, "that a Megilph is deputy leader of any secret society devoted to preserving the esoteric wisdom of Old Master alchemical painting. Second only to the Petrarch."

"How much did they charge you for membership?" asked tigris in sympathy.

This all reached a climax in the 'Venetian Secret' imbroglio, or fiasco, or farrago [it is a mystery why so many words for "disreputable goings-on" came to us from Italian]. An egregious con-man convinced various members of the art establishment that he had inherited a manual of trade secrets from the Italian masters, for the construction of adjustable slatted window shades, which happened to be in the handwriting of his daughter because the original version had been destroyed. It will be a great movie and I do not want to spoil things by reading the book. See Highly Allegorical portrayal of the whole unfortunate episode:

But here at Riddled there is no end to the generous sharing of our knowledge, and with nary a thought for personal advancement, without demanding a 10-guinea subscription or expecting you to buy your own copy of "Colour and Meaning", we pass on here the actual recipe for Titian's Shade:

The Guardian arts columnist has a slightly different recipe but his methods are unsound:
In the 18th century, leading artists including Benjamin West and Joshua Reynolds paid through the nose for the right to use “Titian’s shade”, a mixture of ivory black and Prussian blue that was supposed to be the Venetian master’s secret colour. It was in reality a con trick concocted by a painter called Ann Provis, who had a good laugh at the men of the Royal Academy.
The 'Venetian Secret' debacle ran from 1795 to 1797, and Joshua Reynolds died in 1792, so he can be forgiven for his gullibility what with the absence of brain activity.

Hello, is that the Grauniad? I'm calling from the Zapotec culture in pre-Colombian Mexico to let you know that some ignorant slut is making crap up and putting it on-line on your website.

1 comment:

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

The FBI would like to get hold of the manufacturer of that cellphone.