Sir Joshua Reynolds – Notes from Rome

Titian – Charles V

The Leda, in the Colonna palace, by Correggio, is dead-coloured white and black, with ultramarine in the shadow ; and over that is scumbled, thinly and smooth, a warmer tint,—I believe caput mortuum.  The lights are mellow ; the shadows blueish, but mellow.  The picture is painted on  panel, in a broad and large manner, but finished like enamel : the shadows harmonize, and are lost in the ground.

“The Ecce Homo of Correggio in the same palace.  The shadow are entirely lost in the ground,—perhaps more by time than they were at first.

“The adonis of Titian in the Colonna Palace is dead-coloured white, with the muscles marked bold.  The second painting he scumbled a light colour over it ; the light, a mellow flesh colour ; the shadows, in the lighter parts, of a faint purple hue—at least they were so at first.  That purple hue seems to be occasioned by blackish shadows under,1 and the colour scumbled over them.

1.Probably a dark ground, which Titian frequently employed, and which, in  showing itself through a white preparation, as stated, would take the tint alluded to.  Such a ground is afterwards mentioned as having been employed by G. Poussin.

“I copied the Titian in the Colonna collection with white umber, minio, cinnabar, black; the shadows thin of colour.  Perhaps little more than the dark ground left.

“In respect to painting the flesh tints, after it has been finished with very strong colours, such as ultramarine and carmine, pass white over it, very thin with oil.  I believe it will have a very wonderful effect.

“Or paint carnation too red, and then scumble over with white and black.

“Then dead colour, with white and black only ; at the second sitting carnation, (to wit the Barocci at the Palace Albani, and Corregio in the Pamphili.1

“Poussin’s landscapes in the Verossi Palace, are painted on a dark ground, made of Indian red and black.

“Make a finished sketch of every portrait you intend to paint, and by the help of that, dispose your living model ; then finish at the first time, on a ground made of Indian red and black.

“All the shadows in the works of the Carracci, Buerchino, as well as the Venetian school, are made with little colour, but much oil : the Venetians seem to be made only of a drying oil, composed of red lead and oil.

“In the comparison with Titian, and Paul Veronese, all the other Venetian painters appear hard ; they have in a degree, the manner of all Rembrandt’s, mezzotinto, occasioned by scumbling over their pictures some dark oil colour.”

1“All these modes of preparation were afterwards employed by Sir Joshua, who generally made out his shapes, as well as the light and shadow of his heads, in little more than blue black and white, of lake blue black and white (sometimes lake and white only), using always, in this state of the picture, a good body of colour ; over this, when dry, he scumbled yellow ochre and white, or umber and white, sometimes orpiment and white, very thin; and on retouched his features, and tinted the cheeks and other parts of the head which might require it, with brighter and more decided colour : a slight glaze, little more that the varnish, completed his work.

“Sometimes, instead of scumbling, he employed glazing with red lead or vermilion, which being passed thinly over his white preparation, gave considerable power to the local colour of his head ; on this he painted thinly with ultramarine and white, and orpiment, or yellow ochre, and white, tinting in parts with carmine, and finishing with a thin glaze of asphaltum.

“Occasionally he allowed his first gaze to dry, and then painted thinly over it, with orpiment and white, ultramarine and white, and vermilion or carmine and white ; but always allowing the colour underneath to appear more or less through whatever he passed over it

“In very many of his pictures, which have been injudiciously cleansed, the first preparation is all that now remains ; and in some cases his glowing tints and other colours have changed or disappeared altogether, owning to his indiscriminate use of perishable materials ; for he was a very indifferent chemist.

“The cracking of his pictures is chiefly occasioned by painting over the preparation before it was thoroughly dry, or by using materials of the surface of his picture, which dried harder than those employed underneath.

“Dark colours, and especially those which are transparent, will generally open in large cracks when laid on very thickly, or employed with much vehicle ; and this was frequently the case with Sir Joshua’s pictures, whose dark back grounds, hair, and draperies, were often painted with a considerable body of colour.

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