Italian Earth Colors

Raw Sienna. Burnt Sienna. These earth colors are associated with the Italian landscape and essential for a palette used for nature sketching in Italy – our color topic today. Jean Mackay is leading a Winslow Art Center workshop in Italy where I hope to up my skills in composition and page refinement while sketching outdoors.

Earth colours is a collective term given to naturally occurring colours which come from the earth, for example iron oxides from clay. They include yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt sienna, raw umber, burnt umber and terre verte.

Color ‘sienna’ can be found in prehistoric caves, but it was in the Rennaissance, 14th century that the color took on the name of the place it was produced. The medieval Italians created a full range of hues from iron ore or ferric oxide found naturally in clays. Roasting turned raw sienna into a deeper burnt sienna, and the mines south of the city of Sienna produced brilliant colors sought by artists. As the mines were beginning to be depleted (1940s) a synthetic iron oxide became the go to source for creating pigments and this is what is in my watercolor palette today.

The town of Siena hosts Palio di Siena a pageant and horse race dating back to the 14th century. I was in Siena for this rivalry a few years ago, but I must admit the colors of the buildings and regalia were more of my interest… wondering what this city was like when it was the thriving center of colors used by the Rennaissance masters.

These photos are from past visits to Italy. Beautiful colors with a history to match!

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