A 900-Page Pre-Pantone Guide to Color from 1692: A Complete High-Resolution Digital Scan

There’s ahead of its time, then there’s Traité des couleurs ser­vant à la pein­ture à l’eau — or, in its orig­i­nal Dutch title, Klaer Ligh­t­ende Spiegel der Ver­fkon­st, a 900-page book of paint col­ors made before any such things were com­mon tools of the artist’s, scientist’s, and indus­tri­al designer’s trade. Author and artist A. Boogert cre­at­ed one, and only one, copy of his extra­or­di­nary man­u­al on col­or mix­ing in 1692. Appear­ing on the thresh­old of mod­ern col­or the­o­ry, and fea­tur­ing over 700 pages of col­or swatch­es, the book draws on Aristotle’s sys­tem of col­or rather than the new under­stand­ing of the col­or spec­trum, ful­ly elab­o­rat­ed by New­ton in his Opticks over a decade lat­er.

It would be anoth­er hun­dred years before a flood tide of col­or books began to make the the­o­ry more prac­ti­cal: from Goethe’s 1810 The­o­ry of Col­ors and Werner’s 1814 Nomen­cla­ture of Colour to the dream of col­or stan­dard­iza­tion real­ized: the Pan­tone com­pa­ny, launched in 1963.

But if A. Boogert had much influ­ence on the the­o­ry or prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tion of col­or in his day, there doesn’t seem to be much evi­dence for it. Of course most of the Dutch mas­ters had died when the book was com­plet­ed, and it seems unlike­ly that those still work­ing in 1692 would have been famil­iar with its sin­gle copy.

Instead, the book was meant to edu­cate water­col­orists, hence its French title, which refers to “water-based paint.” (A lit­er­al trans­la­tion of the Dutch runs some­thing like “clear­ly light­ing mir­ror of the paint­ing art.”) Medieval his­to­ri­an Erik Kwakkel found the book in a French data­base, “and it turns out to be quite spe­cial,” he writes, “because it pro­vides an unusu­al peek into the work­shop of 17th-cen­tu­ry painters and illus­tra­tors.

In over 700 pages of hand­writ­ten Dutch, the author, who iden­ti­fies him­self as A. Boogert, describes how to make water­colour paints. He explains how to mix the colours and how to change their tone by adding ‘one, two or three por­tions of water.’… In the 17th Cen­tu­ry, an age known as the Gold­en Age of Dutch Paint­ing, this man­u­al would have hit the right spot.”

The book is cur­rent­ly housed at Bib­lio­thèque Méjanes in Aix-en-Provence, where you’ll find full-page, zoomable, hi-res­o­lu­tion scans. “Beyond being infor­ma­tion­al, the images from the book are stun­ning and addic­tive flip through,” notes Refinery29. “They resem­ble page after page of Pan­tone col­or chips, except with­out the house­hold name.” One won­ders if “A. Boogert” would have become a house­hold name had his book been print­ed and dis­trib­uted. But his col­or sys­tem was already pass­ing away in the New­ton­ian age of col­or spec­trums and wheels, until paint chips final­ly came back in style. Vis­it the col­or man­u­al online here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Goethe’s Col­or­ful & Abstract Illus­tra­tions for His 1810 Trea­tise, The­o­ry of Col­ors: Scans of the First Edi­tion

Werner’s Nomen­cla­ture of Colour, the 19th-Cen­tu­ry “Col­or Dic­tio­nary” Used by Charles Dar­win (1814)

The Vibrant Col­or Wheels Designed by Goethe, New­ton & Oth­er The­o­rists of Col­or (1665–1810)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Charles Suggs says:


    Being a col­orist, I appre­ci­ate the effort that went into this remark­able resource from a time before Mac­in­tosh’s 17,000,000 col­ors. We joke with our dog (he takes it well) about wait­ing for the light to turn grey before we can go but just imag­ine if we had no col­or in our lives.

    Thank you.


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