What is Venetian Red?
We’re visual artists, who conceived of Venetian Red as a vehicle through which we could explore art, the resplendent light that illuminates human civilization. The process of looking at, thinking about, and writing on art inspires us emotionally and enhances us creatively. Further, sharing our ideas through the digital forum over the past 5 years has had an unexpected and welcomed bonus—loads of you from around the world have shared your ideas with us. We see how the ensuing dialog enriches all participants.
What’s in a Name?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a color must speak volumes. Indeed, a long and captivating tale of human creativity unfolds through the venerable hue known as Venetian Red. The Lascaux beasts, the murals at Pompeii, Tenmoku glazes, the ceramic figures of Colima, Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin, El Greco’s Disrobing of Christ, Matisse’s Interior in Venetian Red, Julian Schnabel’s Orientalist palace are but a few of the many chapters in the book on Venetian Red.
Ancient and enduring, Venetian Red is natural earth clay tinted by iron oxide. It appears in various forms all over the world. The color ranges from deep red to brownish red, depending on the content of iron oxide in the soil. For centuries the specific pigment (PR 102) used by fine artists was mined, as its name suggests, at a quarry near Venice, although it wasn’t known by its modern name until perhaps the 17th century. Through the years it has been called English Red, Light Red, Red Oxide and confused with Indian and Mars Reds. Since the 19th century, Venetian Red, like most pigments, has been made synthetically.
Venetian Red is a deceptively simple color. After all, dirt is a basic element of life on Earth. True, it is a hearty one, nourishing & satisfying like a bowl of lentil soup. But the name of this hue conjures up depth and mystery too. Venice is the city that bequeathed to the world the likes of Casanova, Shylock, Gustav von Aschenbach & Tadzio, Jane Hudson, Peggy Guggenheim, sinister fogs, Doge processions, and Murano glass. And what about the wide symbolic associations of red—guilt, lust, and sin; love; courage and heros; warning, fire; and in parts of Africa, death and mourning? In short, this color is packed with a lot of cultural intelligence. It speaks to the brilliance that is right there on the surface and to the gems that can only be found by digging through the layers.
Mystery, exploration, connection, inspiration, and art. Venetian Red captures it all.
Photos: (left) Interior mural, Pompeii (John Hauser); (middle) Ceramic Dog, Colima, ca. 300 (Latin American Studies); (right) Henri Matisse, Interior in Venetian Red, oil on linen, 1946 (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique)