Blue Moon

Nov 17, 2020 | Discoveries, Restoration

Raphael’s new pigment

It could be the soundtrack to this news, or, maybe, “Blue eyes, baby’s got blue eyes, like a deep blue see on a blue, blue day!” as Elton John sang in the early 1980s and again in the Premium subscription of many of us

You probably thought you knew him well. He was the subject of your studies in high school and later at university too, perhaps in a nice monographic course. It is the kind of artist who you look for in exhibitions and museums, that excites everyone and puts everyone in agreement. Can we, then, say that we know him well? No!

   Art never ceases to amaze us and, if we often have to thank the archives and their finds, just as often we have to do so with the diagnostic investigations that today reveal Raphael as the “inventor” of the first artificial pigment in history!

This is how things went: in the midst of the “Roman period”, between one commission for Pope Gulius II and the other, Raphael works for Agostino Chigi in what will later be known as Villa Farnesina. Let us stop on the ground floor, in front of the fresco that represents the nymph of the sea, Galatea, triumphant, driving a chariot in the shape of a scallop and surrounded by a procession of marine deities and lovebirds. Well, the analyses on the work tell us that Raphael’s immersion in mythology and ancient art, which he loved and knew deeply, not only inspired him in the conception of the scene, but also in experimenting with the pictorial technique. Raphael recreates the so-called “Egyptian blue”, a pigment that had disappeared at the end of the Roman Empire because it was supplanted by the lapislazzuli. He then uses it everywhere: we find it in the sky, in the sea and in the dreamy eyes of the nymph.

   Five hundred years after his death, he seems to have still much to say… and scientists to investigate…… the search continues!