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  • The Half-Life of Blue

    Charlene Villaseñor Black

    Chapter from the book: Black C. & Álvarez M. 2019. Renaissance Futurities: Science, Art, Invention.


    Early modern patrons and painters in the Spanish empire, including masters Murillo and Velázquez, prized blue pigments—ultramarine, lapis lazuli, indigo, cobalt blue, and smalt. Blue pigments are notorious, though, for their expense and their instability. As recounted by art theorist Francisco Pacheco and others, many blue pigments were known to degrade, losing their color within decades of use. Why would artists and patrons choose pigments, and smalt in particular, with such a short half-life? This chapter, written by Charlene Villaseñor Black, investigates how developments in Arabic science and technology, as well as early modern conceptions of temporality, conditioned attitudes toward blues in Spain. Unique meanings, traceable to the legacies of al-Andalus, and the valorization of Hispano-Moresque ceramics, accrued to blues in Golden Age painting.

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    How to cite this chapter
    Black, C. 2019. The Half-Life of Blue. In: Black C. & Álvarez M (eds.), Renaissance Futurities. California: University of California Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/luminos.79.h

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    Published on Oct. 15, 2019