Rothko avant la lettre

Rothko avant la lettre

Perhaps you’ve never heard of it. Perhaps you have. Actually I haven’t, but a manuscript caught my eye after reading the column of Dutch culture critic Bianca Stigter*. She discussed in her column the book Klaerlightende spiegel der verf konst (translated literally as: ‘clearly lighting mirror of the painting art’), written by a certain A. Boogert in 1692**. This handwritten and hand-painted book contains 800 pages of texts and images of colors that you can realise with watercolor. You could look at this as a detailed cookbook full of recipes for producing colors. Per page different shades of one color are pictured in rectangles or squares, or you see the result of mixing two colors. Pages with different kinds of red, blue, black, white, yellow and all sorts in between. The colors are usually named after the material of which they are made of, as vine black or mummy black (the result of berries and stones cooked or grinded, bones burned and pulverized, only to keep the color). The comparison to the well-known works by Mark Rothko (1903-1970), also made by Stigter in her column, is drawn quickly. However the book was intended as an educational guide and is never and could never be considered an artwork (even though there exists only one copy ironically).

This Rothko ‘avant la lettre’ is an extraordinary example how man has always been concerned with color and the research and experimentation with that very concept. Rothko was definitely not the first. But compared to the little squares of Boogert the immense canvases of the American artist are of an unprecedented intensity. You can loose yourself completely in it. All thanks to the seventeenth-century predecessor of this art icon.

To view the complete manuscript online go to:

*The column ‘Bij Rothko is de kleur op vakantie’ appeared in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad of 31 July 2014.

**It is currently kept in the Bibliothèque Méjanes in Aix-en-Provence, France.