Roman Black Pigment

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A natural earth that is a dense, opaque color that is absolutely permanent. It is comparatively neutral in undertone, wets easily, and is non-greasy, when compared to carbon blacks. It is a useful pigment when these qualities are required.

Roman Black is a natural brownish-black earth that is a dense, opaque, heavy color that is absolutely permanent. Writers like De Mayerne mention the black earths of Rome and Venice. Roman black earth (Terra nera di Roma) is described by Salter as producing ‘the same effect as charcoal black’. It is comparatively warm to neutral in undertone, wets easily, and is non-greasy compared to carbon blacks. It is a valuable pigment when these qualities are required.

Pigment Names
Common Names:English: black oxide
French: oxyde noir
German: Oxid Schwarzes
Italian: ossido nero
Japanese: 酸化物黒
Portuguese: óxido preto
Spanish: óxido negro
Alternate Names:English: black earth, black ocher, black ochre, black iron oxide, iron oxide
French: fer oxydé, naturelle noir Indien
Italian: terra nera di Roma

Mars black is the name given to the artificial substitute of natural black oxide.

Origin and History

Black oxide is a recent development in modern pigments and was not often encountered in artists’ palettes before the 19th century. However, black earths that are mixtures of iron oxide, manganese oxide, and carbon have been in use since Antiquity.


Natural black oxide is usually from an iron ore called magnetite. Magnetite, also known as lodestone, is a ferrous ferric oxide that is heavy, black, and opaque. Theoretically, black iron oxide contains slightly more iron metal than red oxide but not nearly as much as yellow oxide. The native mineral may contain varying amounts of manganese, clay, and silica.

Permanence and Compatibility

Natural black oxide is an absolutely permanent color for all uses on the artist’s palette. It is compatible with all other pigments and can be used with good results in all mediums.

Oil Absorption and Grinding

Natural black oxide absorbs a moderately low amount of oil. The oil absorption ratio is 20–25 parts by weight of linseed oil to 100 parts by weight of pigment. If the measurement were grams, it would require 20–25 grams (by weight) of linseed oil to grind 100 grams (by weight) of pigment to form a stiff paste. It makes an average drying oil paint and forms a hard, somewhat flexible film.


Natural black oxide is not considered toxic, but care should be used in handling the dry powder pigment to avoid inhaling the dust.

Rublev Colours Pigment: Roman Black

Rublev Colours Pigment: Roman Black

Pigment Information
Colour Index:Pigment Black 11 (77499)
Chemical Name:Iron oxide and manganese oxides from natural sources
Chemical Formula:Fe3O4 MnO2
ASTM Lightfastness Rating
Refractive Index:n=2.42
More Information
BrandRublev Colours
VendorNatural Pigments
Processing TimeUsually ships the next business day.
Pigment TypeInorganic, Earth, Natural
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Roman Black Pigment
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