The mystery of extraordinary colours

The artistic painting has a long tradition of various colours and colour mediums. The artists’ colours have been existing unchanged till now or have been modified or reproduced by new pigments of better quality. Some colours have a long history and the specialists consider them a must in their choice of the classical colour range. Among those are e.g. Carmine, Cerulean blue or Burnt umber. Schmincke has been continuously making colour research in its more than 130-years-history, using basic traditional formulations as a base for better, more stable and modern modifications of traditional colours.

Consequently, Schmincke offers a number of unusual rare colours, which are highly praised by connoisseurs. Numerous extraordinary colours with euphonious and exotic names are contained mainly in the premium range assortments HORADAM® AQUARELL, MUSSINI®, Norma® Professional and PRIMAcryl® and probably need an explanation.

We would like to reveal these “mysteries” for you, so that you become aware of what “Sfumato” or “Viridian” are about.


I. Special historical colours

The colour “mummy brown” which does not exist any more since some decades, has a remarkable thrilling history. This colour got its name, indeed, from imported mummies! Other examples are “Schweinfurt green” (it contained arsenic!) or "genuine Vermilion" (it contained mercury!) which were so poisonous, that artists were under severe threat. Of course those colours disappeared and now are substituted by harmless, better and more stable products, e.g. Vermilion red tone. Above that, the offering is completed by such excitingly named colours, as Verona green earth, Sepia brown, Caesar purple or Caput mortuum. These products are so important presently, that we have pleasure in explaining their most particular features:

Caesar purple

Origin/ Manufacture: In ancient times, purple was obtained by means of a complicated process from the gland of a snail, and was much sought-after as a particularly valuable dye for artists’ colours. Appearance: Finely translucent colour, bluer than magenta. MUSSINI®(10366)

Byzantine blue

Origin/ Manufacture: Often appears in Byzantine frescos. In former times it was obtained primarily from azurite and a small fraction of coal. Today composition of modern, lightfast pigments. Appearance: Dark black blue which retains its blue character. MUSSINI® (10495)

Ultramarine blue

Origin/ Manufacture: In the Middle Ages, ultramarine was obtained from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli. It was not possible until the first third of the 19th century to produce ultramarine by synthetic means without any qualitative consequences. Appearance: Finely translucent, very pure blue with a red tinge. MUSSINI® (10491 (10491 Ultramarine blue light and 10492 Ultramarine blue deep)), Norma® Professional (11442 Ultramarine light, 443 Ultramarine deep), HORADAM® AQUARELL (14494 Ultramarine finest, 496 Ultramarine), PRIMAcryl® (13443 Ultramarine)

Royal blue

Origin/ Manufacture: The classical royal blue – a light blue, corresponding roughly to a greentinged sky blue - was introduced under King Louis XIV of France, based on a cobalt pigment. Appearance: Depending on the amount of cobalt or ultramarine pigment royal blue varies from light green-tinged sky blue to brilliant medium blue. MUSSINI® (10485 Royal blue light and 10486 Royal blue deep), PRIMAcryl® (13436)

Verona green earth

Origin/ Manufacture: Known since antiques times. Ideal for producing the “verdaccio” effect, the green priming coat applied to the main areas in portrait colouring. In former times produced with best Terra verde earths from Baldo (Lake Garda) and traded via Verona. As theses earths aren’t available anymore, the colour is now an imitation with high-quality pigments. Appearance: Translucent, dull green with a slight grey tinge. MUSSINI® (10640)

Attic light ochre

Origin/ Manufacture: In ancient times much sought-after colour. “Attic” means the area around Athens in ancient times. Today imitation with modern hydrated iron oxide. Appearance: Semi-opaque to semitranslucent fiery golden yellow. MUSSINI® (10656)

Sepia brown

Origin/ Manufacture: Originally – since the end of the 18th century – gained from the cuttlefish. At that time not lightfast and storable. Today replaced by a lightfast pigment mixture. Often used for first layers or pen-and-ink drawings. Appearance: Deep brown HORADAM® AQUARELL (14663 Sepia brown and 14662 Sepia brown tone)

Caput mortuum

Origin/ Manufacture: The name “caput mortuum” is derived from the field of alchemy and means “death’s head”, as this colour was obtained from iron salts which were baked down to their “dying” embers. Appearance: Violet-tinged dark reddish brown with high opacity and tinting power. MUSSINI® (10648), Norma® Professional (11683), HORADAM® AQUARELL (14645)


II. Unusual colour names

Some colour names might sound enigmatic, because some have their roots in history, and other names were borrowed from foreign languages, especially Latin and Italian, e.g. “Atrament”, “Viridian” or “Pozzuoli earth”. We offer you an explanatory help below:

Turmaline green

Origin/ Manufacture: Colour similar to the semi-precious stone tourmaline. Appearance: Dark, rich bluish green, whose shades range from yellowish green and olive green to bluish green. MUSSINI® (10536), PRIMAcryl® (13561)


Origin/ Manufacture: The name is borrowed from Latin “viridis” = “green”. Successor of the “Original Schweinfurt green”, an important artists’ colour in the 19th century, which was highly toxic on account of its arsenic content. Appearance: Semi-translucent, gentle, yellow-tinged green. MUSSINI® (10529)

Pozzuoli earth

Origin/ Manufacture: In former times made by the famous natural earths from Italy. The name relates to the place where it was formerly found at the foot of Vesuvius. Now high-quality imitation, because theses earths are barely obtainable today. Appearance: Redbrown, slightly lighter and more yellow than Pompeiian red, with high opacity and tinting power. MUSSINI® (10663), HORADAM® AQUARELL (14666)

Atrament black

Origin/ Manufacture: “Atrament” was the name for a very cold black in Roman times (“àtro” (ital.) = dark, gloomy, murky, “atramentarius” (lat.) = like ink). Today a modern organic pigment. Appearance: Very deep black in full tone, close to a Russian green in glazes. Produces green-tinged grey tones when mixed with white. MUSSINI® (10779), PRIMAcryl® (13791)

Brown pink (Stil de grain brun)

Origin/ Manufacture: Stil de grain was formerly obtained from the dyestuff contained in the semiripe berries of the milkwort. Today a high-quality imitation. Appearance: A warm translucent brown tone. MUSSINI® (10662)

Sfumato (Shade grey)

Origin/ Manufacture: „Sfumato“ - especially developed to pro-duce the Italian masters famous "sfumato" - a fine grey mist which was applied to portraits, for example. („sfumato“ (ital.) = shaded; „fumo“ (ital.) = fume/ smoke). Appearance: Greenish, semitransparent grey MUSSINI® (10790)

Medieval yellow

Origin/ Manufacture: The brightest yellow used by Medieval painters. Today imitation of the original shade with inorganic pigments. Appearance: Pale, greenish, opaque yellow. MUSSINI® (10207), PRIMAcryl® (13203)

Florentine red

Origin/ Manufacture: Based on the old Florentine colour which was obtained from Brazil wood. Today made of Perylenes (highest lightfast organic pigments). Appearance: A translucent, cold dark red with a slight brown tint. MUSSINI® (10353)

These were only a few examples of the fascinating colours of the wide Schmincke assortment. Of course, there are a lot more interesting colours with extraordinary properties about which it is worth while reporting. We still hope that with our selection you’ve got new, interesting information about the exciting world of Schmincke’s finest artists’ colours.