German Vine Black Pigment

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Rublev Colours German Vine Black is a moderate, slightly cool gray that works well in graying out flesh tones without dirtying them. Pliny describes a black earth that he calls ‘Ampelitis’ or ‘vine earth,’ which is the source of this color from earth deposits in Germany.

Rublev Colours German Vine Black is a moderate, slightly cool gray that works well in graying out flesh tones without dirtying them. Pliny describes a black earth which he calls ‘Ampelitis’ or ‘vine earth,’ which is the source of this color from earth deposits in Germany.

Color Names
Common NamesDutch: wijnrankenzwart
English: vine black
French: noir de vigne
German: Rebenschwarz
Italian: nero vite
Portuguese: negro de videira
Spanish: negro de vid
Alternate Namesblue black; cork black; drop black; Frankfort black; German black; grape black; kernel black; mare black; Spanish black; yeast black, ampelitis


Origin and History

Vine black was known since prehistoric times and used extensively by medieval and Renaissance artists. The term’ vine black’ may refer to a char of woody material from vines but has been historically applied to chars and cokes of a wide range of other materials, such as yeasts, and as Mayer (1983) puts it, ‘various second-rate materials of vegetable, animal and petroleum origins.’ Tingry (1804), however, states that this does, in fact, come from burnt vine twigs.


Vine black is produced by charring dried grape vines and stems, which results in pure carbon (the chemical formula of charcoal black is C) with small quantities of potassium and sodium salts. The one-year-old and barely lignified shoots pruned systematically from vines each year are used to prepare the black pigment. The dried shoots are packed, cut in equal lengths, into iron pipes crammed as full as possible. A plug is then put in the pipe, which is slowly heated to red heat. The charred matter contains considerable quantities of potassium carbonate from the organic salts originally present, which are removed by washing with water. Washing with water and grinding usually constitutes the entire preparation of the pigment.

Soft shoots of other plants can also be carbonized to give a product that can be used as a black pigment. Shoots of porous white wood, such as poplar, alder, and willow, are especially suitable for this purpose.

Rublev Colours Vine Black is not from charred vines but a natural mineral of black iron oxide and manganese oxide from earth deposits in Germany. There is a sound reason why we name an earth pigment “vine black.” Pliny describes a black earth he calls ‘ampelitis’ or ‘vine earth.’ Here Pliny describes the earth and its application in his Natural History:

Ampelitis* is an earth which bears a strong resemblance to bitumen. The test of its goodness is its dissolving in oil, like wax, and preserving its black colour when submitted to the action of fire. Its properties are emollient and repercussive; for which reason, it is used in medicinal compositions, those known as “calliblephara,” more particularly, and in preparations for dyeing the hair.

*So called from ἀμπέλος, a “vine;” either because it was applied to vines to kill the insects, or because its admixture with the soil was favourable to the cultivation of the vine.

Source: The Natural History. Pliny the Elder. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855. Chapter 56. Last accessed on August 9, 2023.

The mine from which this earth originates uses the name ‘vine black’ or ‘nero vitae’ because of its resemblance to ampelitis described by Pliny. We decided to keep the name, even though it also refers to a pigment made from charred vines.

Permanence and Compatibility

When the charcoal has been calcined at a sufficiently high temperature and then thoroughly washed, there is no question about its permanence as a pigment in all media. However, if it has been imperfectly carbonized, it may become grey after prolonged exposure to light. This change is due to the oxidation of the volatile constituents, brown substances that are intermediate in composition between the original vegetable matter and carbon.

A peculiar property, possessed in varying degrees by charcoal of every kind, must not be ignored when mixing carbon black with other pigments. Charcoal adsorbs organic coloring matter from its surrounding medium. Adding a small amount of charcoal black to a pale tint of rose madder in water rapidly decolorizes, the pigment being adsorbed, although not destroyed. Animal charcoal (bone black) is more active in this quality, and lamp black is less powerful.

German Vine Black is derived from earth deposits of black iron oxide and manganese oxide. These earth pigments are permanent and compatible with all pigments and can be used in all mediums. 

Oil Absorption and Grinding

Vine black absorbs a moderate amount of linseed oil; 30 grams of oil are needed to form a paste with 100 grams of pigment. It grinds effortlessly in both drying oils and water.

Carbon blacks have been known to be poor driers in oil paint for centuries, but the cause was believed to be the presence of oily impurities. It was later found that carbon black pigments inhibit the oxidation of drying oils due mainly to the adsorption of the pigment of intermediate oxidation products, which are the true catalyst in the drying of the oil (Rhodes, 1926). When added to drying oil containing a drier, carbon pigments adsorb some of the drier and, for this reason, also tend to retard drying.

German Vine Black is a black iron oxide and manganese oxide pigment that has a moderate oil absorption value. 


German Vine black, as is most iron oxide earth black pigments, is not considered toxic, but care should be used in handling the dry powder pigment so as not to inhale the dust.

Rublev Colours German Vine Black

Rublev Colours Pigment: German Vine Black

Pigment Information
Colour Index:Pigment Black 7 (77266)
Chemical Name:Iron oxide and manganese oxide
Chemical Name:FeO2 MnO2
ASTM Lightfastness Rating
Bulk Density:0.56 g/c2
Refractive Index:
More Information
BrandRublev Colours
VendorNatural Pigments
Processing TimeUsually ships the next business day.
Pigment TypeInorganic, Earth, Natural
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