What is Venetian Red?

*** VENETIAN RED is no longer publishing. Posts can now be viewed on FIGURATIVE SPEAKING. ***

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.

Liz Hager

Christine Cariati

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)

19 Responses to “What is Venetian Red?”

  1. Karen Kuhlman Says:

    When did you become interested in Central Asian Art? I have been reading about Cetntral Asia…politics, art, archealogy…all since 9/11/2001…I was astounded to see references to Auriel Stein before the great article on the trillion dollar bail out….I have passed on to my internet group…we are all over the US….who have been writing to one another for years….thanks for sending this to me

  2. I picked up your cards at SoMarts and that they were wonderrful, so followed up with your website. I live in th Richmond District, have a studio at the Shipyard in Hunters Point. I hope to see your work during your Open Studio.

  3. Hello from France…
    I was very glad to find your site. Didn’t have time enough yet to explore all here, but as a painter involved in using earth for my works, I deeply appreciate your sentence “Venetian Red is a deceptively simple color. After all, dirt is a basic element of life on Earth”… And I really think that simple elements and techniques should never been forgotten, because when we practise them, the meaning of an artistic approach becomes obvious all of a sudden… And the reason why we do things, in this 21th century, is not always easy to find !…
    Many thanks for all this work here.

  4. Jan Vinnai Says:

    What a magical website!!! It nourrishes. Thank you

  5. Wow! I stumbled onto this site while googling Dagobert Peche. What a gift this is. Thank you!

    Julie @ Gaslight
    San Francisco

  6. What a wonderful website. From textiles to icons to Sean Scully you have touched on so many of my interests with outstanding images. Thank you!

  7. I love your site! I came across it while Googling Asparagus for a cookery book a client of mine is writing based on an 18th century book of recipes. Couldn’t help myself—had to subscribe! It’s a delight.

  8. bravo for all venetian red . a painter from greece

  9. Andrew Ashton Says:

    At last a website after my own heart! How great to see so many of my favourite art/artists in one place.

  10. See the chapter “Ochre” in “COLOUR” by Victoria Finlay – red ochre is seen as a sacred colour by the Aboriginals of Australia. Is this the basis for Venetian Red, does anyone know?

  11. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say great blog!

  12. Your blog is wonderful! I don’t see any recent posts so I hope you’re still at it. I’m also an artist with a blog about art and art history – we’ve been on some of the same award lists. I’m adding you to my blog roll – please let me know if you have decided to stop.

    • Marilyn,
      We’re pleased that you have found us. We’ve taken a hiatus from writing, but we will be back. In the meantime, you can follow us more frequently on TWITTER. See link at top of “sidebar.”

  13. Jacqueline
    We are so pleased that you have found Venetian Red. Just a word of explanation about your difficulties in posting a longer comment. Comments don’t post automatically. We’ve set up Venetian Red so that we need to approve all comments before they post, so that we avoid readers having to wade through spam. As a reader, I hope you appreciate that policy.

    Look forward to more of your comments.

  14. Susan james Says:

    Lovely lovely pieces on this site. Thank you, Ive jsut subscribed. The spiral jetty, and the fellow who weaves real growing trees- makes you wanna live this kind of thing.

  15. Just subscibed after finding you while Googling Kantha… sooo much here to like and love – thank you

  16. Thank you, I’ve just discovered your site. I’m enjoying it and look forward to reading more. Congratulations.:)

  17. bluerabbit Says:

    Thank you for this wonderful blog! I found it when searching for comments about Camille Carot’s astonishing use of red.

  18. This is one of the best About sections I’ve ever read.

    I think you’ve captured, in your blog all those things the shade conveys – natural and deceptively simple, yet with a rich history and full of mystery.

    I love it.

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