WHITE – The last date of Art and Chemistry

cover photo about white blog post


White is the lightest color and is achromatic (having no hue), because it fully reflects and scatters all the visible wavelengths of light.

White was also one of the first colours used in art.

The Lascaux Cave in France contains drawings of bulls and other animals drawn by paleolithic artists between 18,000 and 17,000 years ago.

Paleolithic artists used calcite or chalk, sometimes as a background, sometimes as a highlight, along with charcoal and red and yellow ochre in their vivid cave paintings.

Lime powder and gesso were the first whites available in prehistoric times.

In ancient Egypt was made from chalk mixed with gypsum, often employed as a lightened for other hues.

The most important contribution to art materials from Greece was lead white, a pigment that would be found everywhere in Western art.

LIME is a white or greyish white solid which has many applications. It is a major aspect and support in construction and building trade.

white lime stone
White lime stone


It is a natural mineral product which is in use from the ancient period for traditional building & monuments.

Almost from 14000 years, many historical monuments and buildings like Pyramid of Cheops, Taj Mahal, The Great Wall of China,  Pantheon in Rome, Toledo, Ohio,New York City, Dam,

and many others are to the list of the buildings that have been built using lime.


white lime stone used to build Taj Mahal
Considered as one of the seven wonders of the world. Taj Mahal was created by Emperor Shah Jahan to honour his beloved wife Mumtaz after her death. – photo credits : Pinterest –

Lime stone is formed in the oceanic environment.

Its origination is from the biological marine life and shelled creatures that lived in deep in the ocean and died.

With constant action of pressure and heat in the ocean bed, these shells were buried deep into the ground.

White lime stone
Fossils of sea creatures


Through ages, they formed into different shapes and patterns that together formed our much-known rock called as LIME STONE

During the post-classical history, painters rarely ever mixed colours;

but in the Renaissance, the influential humanist and scholar Leon Battista Alberti

encouraged artists to add white to their colours to make them lighter, brighter, and to add cheerfulness or brilliance.

Many painters followed his advice, and the palette of the Renaissance was considerably brighter (1)


Using white in Renaissance painting
Simonetta Vespucci, 1480, Sandro Botticelli


The greatest of the whites – and certainly the deadliest – is made from lead.

This hue could capture and reflect a gleam of light like no other, though its production was anything but glamorous.

In the 17th-century there was this Dutch method for manufacturing the pigment .

They put cow and horse’s manure at layers and then put over lead and vinegar.

After three months in a sealed room, these materials would combine to create flakes of pure white.

The resulting flakes of white rust were alchemical magic,

the dirt and the smells converted into the purest white.

Its one defect: lead is so poisonous that prolonged exposure would kill you

white poisonous color lead white
photo  credits :pinterest



While scientists in the late 19th century identified lead as poisonous,

it wasn’t until 1978 that the United States banned the production of lead white paint.

At the end of the 19th century, lead white was still the most popular pigment.

But  between 1916 and 1918, chemical companies in Norway and the United States began to produce titanium white, made from titanium oxide.

It had first been identified in the 18th century by the German chemist Martin Klaproth, who also discovered uranium.

It had twice the covering power of lead white, and was the brightest white pigment known.

white titanium pigment
photo credits: pinterest


By 1945, 80 per cent of the white pigments sold were titanium white.

Of all the pigments—Chrome Yellow, Scheele’s Green, Green—that have been banned over the centuries,

the color most missed by painters is likely Lead White.

Another modern white next to titanium white is the zinc white.

Thanks to its excellent qualities, titanium white has largely replaced lead white in both art and industry.

Titanium white is the most popular white for artists today!

It is the brightest available white pigment and has twice the coverage of lead white.

Firstly became commercially available in 1921.

It is made out of titanium dioxide, from the minerals brookite, anatase, rutile, or ilmenite, currently being the major source.

It is an inert, insoluble material that’s used as a whitener in everything from paper and paint to plastics.

Because of its brilliant whiteness, it is used as a colorant for most toothpaste and sunscreen.


titanium white in products
photographer : Ian Dooley


And as a pigment, is also used to make food products look more appealing.

white color in foods
Photographer: Heather Schwartz


If you think of white what can you paint?

Milk? Snow? a white pearl?

There are more chances to leave the paper completely white…

(or to paint all colors like a reactive child that does the opposite than it is told.)

But the inspiration came from the post itself :

The Pantheon in Rome.

One of the monuments made of limestone.

Pantheon in Rome


I have been in Pantheon !

Have been standing amazed inside this round temple!


Pantheon white ray of light-interior
The interior of Pantheon from Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1747)


I remember existing under this ray of light that was coming from the open hole on the roof, in this strange round temple.

It is said that was made and devoted to all Gods.

The name “Pantheon” is from the Ancient Greek “Pantheion” (Πάνθειον)

meaning “of, relating to, or common to all the gods”:

(pan- / “παν-” meaning “all” + theion / “θεῖον”= meaning “of or sacred to a god”) as Wikipedia enlightens us.

That ray of white light is the best metaphor for white in my mind …


acquarela painting me in Pantheon temple
me in my Pantheon edition some years ago.

This illustration is a reference from a photo I took back then. It is made with watercolour and have  added some ink details in the end.

With this White post, I close my research in the history of colour pigments.

All coming out from my personal interest and curiosity about how pigments are made.

What, who and how those magnificent materials I am using today have ended in my hands.

Hope you enjoyed




(1)  John Gage, (1993), Color and Culture, pp. 117–19

sources :

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