Italian Earth Pigments

Italy is a land of painters and popes, pasta and polenta, and medieval castles and alpine mountains. Most importantly, it is the land of romance. Italy is also a land rich in minerals from which many different colored pigments have historically been used in some of the world’s most important works of art.

In this part of our series on Italian Earth PIgments, we discuss the following pigments:

  • Italian Green Umber (umber)
  • Verona Green Earth (green earth)
  • Italian Yellow Earth (yellow ocher)
  • Ercolano Red (red ocher)
  • Italian Burnt Umber Warm (umber)
  • Italian Raw Sienna (sienna)

 

Map of Italy of Earth Pigments
Earth pigments discussed in this article from various locations in northern Italy


Location of Italian Green Umber in the Verona Province, Veneto, Italy
Location of Italian Green Umber in the Verona Province, Veneto, Italy

Italian Green Umber

Specimen of Umber or Manganese OreOur Italian Green Raw Umber is a fine, greenish-brown powdered pigment from Italy. Umbers are mineral pigments that can be used in all mediums, such as tempera, oil, and watercolor, and are obtained from natural earths colored by the oxides of iron and manganese.

The name ‘umber’ comes from terra d'ombra, or earth of Umbria, the Italian name of the pigment. Umbria is a mountainous region in central Italy where the pigment may have been originally extracted. The word also may be related to the Latin word ombra, meaning “shadow.”

Umber is not a specific color but a range of browns, from light to dark, and from yellowish to reddish to greenish-gray. The color of the natural earth depends upon the amount of iron oxide and manganese in the clay. Umber earth pigments contain five to twenty percent manganese oxide, which accounts for their being a darker color than yellow ocher or sienna.

Our Italian green raw umber comes from deposits in the province of Verona in the Veneto region of Italy. The source of this earth is at Monte Purga di Bolca in Verona, lying between the cities of Verona and Vicenza. The name purga is the name locally given to a landform with a distinctly conical shape. Monte Purga is a volcanic neck that forms a characteristic conical shape. The mountain consists mostly of basalt and limestone rocks, rich in silicate, iron, manganese, and calcite minerals. The earth varies in color from greenish-brown to dark brown.

Pigment Form Where to Find
Dry Powder Pigment
Aqueous Pigment Dispersion
Oil Color
Watercolor

 

Location of Verona Green Earth from the Verona Province, Veneto, Italy
Verona Green Earth from the Verona Province, Veneto, Italy

Verona Green Earth

Verona Green Earth is the natural mineral celadonite, a greenish phyllosilicate mineral of potassium, iron, aluminum, and numerous trace elements. The color of celadonite varies considerably from pale green, bright green, bluish-green, olive-green, and black-green, depending upon its constituent elements. Our Verona green earth is from deposits in northern Italy near the famous sources of Veronese green earth.

The deposits of green earth originate on Monte Baldo, a mountain range in the Italian Alps, located in the provinces of Trento and Verona. Its ridge spans mainly northeast-southwest, and is bounded from the south by the highland ending at Caprino Veronese, from the west by Lake Garda, from the north by the valley joining Rovereto to Nago-Torbole and, from east, the Val d'Adige.

The outcrops of basalts and tuff with its characteristic greenish color are found at the foot of Monte Noroni, in the proximity to the hamlet of Santa Cristina. A small quarry on Monte Noroni is where we extract the natural green pigment known as Verona green earth or Verona terre verte. The hamlet of Santa Cristina, due to its proximity to the village of Prun is sometimes called Santa Cristina di Prun or simply Prun.

Pigment Form Where to Find
Dry Powder Pigment
Aqueous Pigment Dispersion
Oil Color
Watercolor

 

Location of Italian Yellow Earth in the Val Gallina, Verona Province, Veneto, Italy
Location of Italian Yellow Earth in the Val Gallina, Verona Province, Veneto, Italy

Italian Yellow Earth

Italian Yellow Earth is a natural iron oxide hydroxide mineral known as goethite from quarries in northern Italy. Goethite is often found in mixtures of limonite or weathered deposits of pyrites. It is yellow earth from the hilly areas of Verona that are washed, purified, and then ground with a hammer mill.

The pigment is derived from the abandoned quarries of the limestone hills along the left side of the Val Gallina (or Vaio Galina) valley, drained by the Progno Galina river. The area contains pyrite in large golden nodules, sometimes deeply altered to brown limonite, in marly-calcareous levels. Calcite also appears in this area as druses of crystals in the limestone fissures.

Pigment Form Where to Find
Dry Powder Pigment
Aqueous Pigment Dispersion
Oil Color
Watercolor

 

Location of Ercolano Red near San Giovanni Ilarione, Verona Province, Veneto, Italy
Location of Ercolano Red near San Giovanni Ilarione, Verona Province, Veneto, Italy

Ercolano Red

Ercolano Red is a ground natural red earth composed of hematite (iron oxide) and gypsum (calcium sulfate) minerals. Hematite is the leading mineral imparting color to the red earth.

This pigment comes from a small basalt quarry, officially named Cattignano Quarry and improperly known among mineral collectors as Bagattei or also as “Contrada Bagattei” quarry, located on the right side of Rio Castelvero, to the northeast of the hamlet of Cattignano, in the municipal territory of San Giovanni Ilarione, Verona Province, Veneto, Italy. Extensive outcrops of red earth are found at San Giovanni Ilarione in the locality called Viali or Viale and are associated with basalts. The hematite is associated with crystalline clay minerals mainly represented by montmorillonite and, subordinately, by kaolinite.

San Giovanni Ilarione is a comune (municipality) in the Province of Verona in the Italian region Veneto, located about 90 kilometers (56 miles) west of Venice and about 20 kilometers (12 miles) northeast of Verona.

Pigment Form Where to Find
Dry Powder Pigment
Aqueous Pigment Dispersion
Oil Color
Watercolor

 

Location of Italian Burnt Umber Warm near the municipality Castel di Casio, near the city of Bologna, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy
Location of Italian Burnt Umber Warm near the municipality Castel di Casio, near the city of Bologna, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy

Italian Burnt Umber Warm

Our Italian Burnt Umber Warm is derived from a natural mineral from northern Italy that is calcined in furnaces until it is reddish-brown. The pigment used in tempera, oil, and watercolor, obtained from natural clays colored by the oxides of iron and manganese.

Our Italian umber is obtained from abandoned quarries near the village of Lizzo, which belongs to the municipality Castel di Casio, near the city of Bologna, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. In this place, minerals are found in the mine debris and in the hard blocks of serpentinite still remaining in the area.

Pigment Form Where to Find
Dry Powder Pigment
Watercolor

 

Italian Raw Sienna from Monteriggioni, Sienna Province, Tuscany, Italy
Italian Raw Sienna from Monteriggioni, Sienna Province, Tuscany, Italy

Italian Raw Sienna

Italian Raw Sienna is natural yellow-brown earth composed of several minerals, mostly goethite (iron oxide) and limonite (iron oxide), but also manganese-bearing minerals. The manganese content of these earth pigments distinguishes siennas from yellow ochers, giving raw siennas their characteristic greenish color or dark brown color in burnt sienna.

Sienna is made from clay composed of iron oxide and manganese oxide, two minerals that are common in soil. In fact, Sienna gets its name from the Italian terra di Siena, meaning “earth of Siena.” Siena, a small city in the region of Italy known as Tuscany, was also used to manufacture pigment. Other names to which this pigment is referred are terra rossa (red earth) or terra gialla (yellow earth). In its natural state, it is yellowish-brown and is called raw sienna. The first recorded use of sienna as a color name in English was in 1760.

The clay soil of Tuscany near Monteriggioni is rich in limonite, a term used for unidentified hydroxides and oxides of iron, with no visible crystals and a yellow-brown streak. Limonite is commonly composed of the mineral goethite but can also consist of varying proportions of the minerals lepidocrocite, hisingerite, jarosite, maghemite, hematite, etc.

Manganese oxides-oxyhydroxides, which are typical of siennas, are known to occur in acid-drainage areas around deposits of limonite. For example, Benvenuti et al. (2000) observed pyrolusite [MnO2] and pyrochroite [Mn(OH)2] in weathered jig tailings and waste rock at a site in Tuscany, Italy.

Pigment Form Where to Find
Dry Powder Pigment
Aqueous Pigment Dispersion
Oil Color
Watercolor

 


References

Maerz and Paul (1930) A Dictionary of Color, New York: McGraw-Hill, 204; Color Sample of Sienna: Page 37 Plate 7 Color Sample E12.