History, Theory, and Practice of Illuminating/Practice

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



On analysis it will be found that this section of my Essay resolves itself into three divisions, embracing respectively, 1stly, the ancient processes; 2ndly, the modern processes; and, 3rdly, the possible processes, not yet introduced into common use. Of the last, I do not propose speaking in the present work. Notices of the first of these might of course have been presented in the historical manual; but, upon reflection, I considered it would be most useful to the student to introduce them, in a collected form, in this place; and for the following reasons:—1stly, In order that they might not interrupt the thread of the narrative; and, 2ndly, because I considered it desirable to put the ancient and modern processes in direct contrast, so that the amateur might be the better enabled to reject what is obsolete in the former, and to revive any which might appear to promise greater technical excellence or facility than he might be enabled to obtain through the employment of the latter.

I commence, therefore, with the Ancient processes.

Sir Charles Eastlake, who has profoundly studied the history and theory of the subject, has justly remarked[1] the intimate relation which, in the classical ages, existed between the physician and the painter,—the former discovering, supplying, and frequently preparing, the materials used by the latter. This ancient connection was not broken during those ages when almost all knowledge and practice of either medicine or art were limited to the walls of the cloister. The zealous fathers not only worked themselves to the best of their ability, but delighted in training up their younger brethren to perpetuate the credit and revenue derived from their skill, knowledge, and labour, by the monasteries to which they were attached. "Nor was it merely by oral instruction that technical secrets were communicated: the traditional and practical knowledge of the monks was condensed in short manuscript formulæ, sometimes on the subject of the arts alone, but oftener mixed up with chemical and medicinal receipts. These collections, still more heterogeneous in their contents as they received fresh additions from other hands, were afterwards published by secular physicians, under the title of 'Secreta.' The earliest of such manuals serve to show the nature of the researches which were undertaken in the convents for the practical benefit of the arts. Various motives might induce the monks to devote themselves with zeal to such pursuits. It has been seen that their chemical studies were analogous; that their knowledge of the materials fittest for technical purposes, derived as it was from experiments which they had abundant leisure to make, was likely to be of the best kind. Painting was holy in their eyes; and, although the excellence of the work depended on the artist, it was for them to ensure its durability. By a singular combination of circumstances, the employers of the artist, the purchasers of pictures (for such the fraternities were in the majority of cases), were often the manufacturers of the painter's materials. Here, then, was another plain and powerful reason for furnishing the best-prepared colours and vehicles. The cost of the finer pigments was, in almost every case, charged to the employer; but economy could be combined with excellence of quality, when the manufacture was undertaken by the inmates of the convent."

All that is asserted in this passage with respect to painting, holds equally good with regard to the materials requisite for the practice of the Art of Illumination; and the same treatises which are illustrative of art generally, almost invariably include specific instructions with regard to the particular branch of it that I am now endeavouring to illustrate.

Fortunately, the series of these "Secreta" both commences from a remote date, and is tolerably complete from that to a quite recent period. Scattered allusions to the processes of art and industry may be met with in the writings of several authors of the Alexandrian Neo-Platonic school in the early ages of the Church, from whom the Byzantine Greeks, no doubt, learnt much; but the most ancient collection on the subject is the treatise of Heraclius, or Eraclius, "de Artibus Romanorum."[2] It would appear not to have been written earlier than the 7th or later than the 10th century,[3] its art being, as Mr. Robert Hendrie, the learned translator and editor of the essay of Theophilus, of whom mention will presently be made, observes, "of the school of Pliny, increased, it is true, by Byzantine invention, but yet essentially Roman."[4] The next collection, in point of age, is that published by Muratori,[5] and well known as the "Lucca Manuscript," ascribed by Mabillon to the age of Charlemagne, and by Muratori himself to a period certainly not later than the 10th century. Its Latinity is barbarous, but I scarcely think I can do wrong in following the translation of so careful a writer as Sharon Turner in the following extracts, which treat of illumination, and give us a clear insight into the practice of the school founded under the patronage of the great Frankish emperor of the West.

The first I select refers to the preparation of the calf-skin.

"Put it under lime and let it lie for three days; then stretch it, scrape it well on both sides, and dry it; then stain it with the colours you wish."

The second directs how skins may be gilt.

"Take the red skin and carefully pumice and temper it in tepid water, and pour the water on it till it runs off limpid; stretch it afterwards, and smooth it diligently with clean wood. When it is dry, take the whites of eggs and smear it therewith thoroughly; when it is dry, sponge it with water, press it, dry it again, and polish it; then rub it with a clean skin, and polish it again and gild it."

Such gilding was effected with gold leaf, beaten out between small sheets of "Greek parchment, which is made from linen cloth" (i.e. paper), enclosed in vellum. White of egg was used as the mordant for fixing on the gold.

The following two passages instruct the student in preparing gold for writing:—

"File gold very finely, put it in a mortar, and add the sharpest vinegar; rub it till it becomes black, and then pour it out. Put to it some salt or nitre, and so it will dissolve. So you may write with it; and thus all the metals may be dissolved. "Take thin plates of gold and silver, rub them in a mortar with Greek salt or nitre till it disappears. Pour on water and repeat it; then add salt, and so wash it. When the gold remains even, add a moderate portion of the flowers of copper and bullock's gall; rub them together, and write and burnish the letters."

The next and last, alludes to the amalgam, which appears to have been for many centuries a favourite method of applying gold to parchment and other surfaces.

"Melt some lead, and frequently immerse it in cold water. Melt gold, and pour that into the same water, and it will become brittle. Then rub the gold filings carefully with quicksilver, and purge it carefully while it is liquid. Before you write, dip the pen in liquid alum, which is best purified by salt and vinegar."

In these instructions the student may distinctly recognize the processes adopted in the production of those gilt texts on stained vellum grounds which were so highly prized in the Carlovingian age.

In the writings of an ecclesiastic, probably nearly contemporary with the Norman conquest, the monk Rugerus, or "Theophilus," we arrive at a really perfect picture[6] of the arts of the 11th century. The first of the three books into which his "Schedule of different Arts" is divided, is dedicated entirely to painting. It contains forty chapters, of which thirty refer to the preparation and application of pigments generally, both for oil, tempera, and fresco painting, and ten to the various processes connected with illumination. Of these, the following are the most important:—



When you have traced out figures or letters in books, take pure gold and file it very finely in a clean cup or small basin, and wash it with a pencil in the shell of a tortoise, or a shell which is taken out of the water. Have then a mill with its pestle, both cast from metal of copper and tin mixed together, so that three parts may be of pure copper, and the fourth of pure tin, free from lead. With this composition the mill is cast in the form of a small mortar, and its pestle round about an iron in the form of a knot, so that the iron may protrude of the thickness of a finger, and in length a little more than half a foot, the third part of which iron is fixed in wood carefully turned, in length about one yard, and pierced very straightly; in the lower part of which, however, of the length of four fingers from the end, must be a revolving wheel, either of wood or of lead, and in the middle of the upper part is fixed a leather strap, by which it can be pulled, and, in revolving, be drawn back. Then this mill is placed in a hollow, upon a bench fitted for it, between two small wooden pillars firmly fixed into the same bench, upon which another piece of wood is to be inserted, which can be taken out and replaced, in the middle of which, at the lower part, is a hole in which the pestle of the mill will revolve. These things thus disposed, the gold, carefully cleansed, is put into the mill, a little water added, and the pestle placed, and the upper piece of wood fitted, the strap is drawn and is permitted to revolve, again pulled, and again it revolves, and this must so be done for two or three hours. Then the upper wood is taken off, and the pestle washed in the same water with a pencil. Afterwards the mill is taken up, and the gold, with the water, is stirred to the bottom with the pencil, and is left a little, until the grosser part subsides; the water is presently poured into a very clean basin, and whatever gold comes away with the water is ground. Replacing the water and the pestle, and wood above being placed, again it is milled in the same way as before, until it altogether comes away with the water. In the like manner are ground silver, brass, and copper. But gold is ground most carefully, and must be lightly milled; and you must often inspect it, because it is softer than the other metals, that it may not adhere to the mill or the pestle, and become heaped together. If through negligence this should happen, that which is conglomerate is scraped together and taken out, and what is left is milled until finished. Which being done, pouring out the upper water with the impurities from the basin, wash the gold carefully in a clean shell; then pouring the water from it, agitate it with the pencil, and when you have had it in your hand for one hour, pour it into another shell, and keep that very fine part which has come away with the waters. Then again, water being placed with it, warm it and stir it over the fire, and, as before, pour away the fine particles with the water, and you may act thus until you shall have purified it entirely. After this wash with water the same refined part, and in the same manner a second and a third time, and whatever gold you gather mix with the former. In the same way you will wash silver, brass, and copper. Afterwards take the bladder of a fish which is called huso (sturgeon), and washing it three times in tepid water, leave it to soften a night, and on the morrow warm it on the fire, so that it does not boil up until you prove with your finger if it adhere, and when it does adhere strongly, the glue is good.



Afterwards take pure minium (red lead), and add to it a third part of cinnabar (vermilion), grinding it upon a stone with water. Which being carefully ground, beat up the clear of the white of an egg, in summer with water, in winter without water; and when it is clear, put the minium into a horn and pour the clear upon it, and stir it a little with a piece of wood put into it, and with a pencil fill up all places with it upon which you wish to lay gold. Then place a little pot with glue over the fire, and when it is liquefied, pour it into the shell of gold and wash it with it. When you have poured which into another shell, in which the purifying is kept, again pour in warm glue, and holding it in the palm of your left hand, stir it carefully with the pencil, and lay it on where you wish, thick or thin, so, however, that there be little glue, because, should it exceed, it blackens the gold and does not receive a polish; but after it has dried, polish it with a tooth or bloodstone carefully filed and polished, upon a smooth and shining horn tablet. But should it happen, through negligence of the glue not being well cooked, that the gold pulverizes in rubbing, or rises on account of too great thickness, have near you some old clear of egg, beat up without water, and directly with a pencil paint slightly and quickly over the gold; when it is dry again rub it with the tooth or stone. Lay in this manner silver, brass, and copper in their place and polish them.

The raised gold was not always produced by the mixture of red lead and white of egg recommended by Theophilus. It was, especially in Italy, frequently made of a composition of "gesso," or plaster, and in the 15th century was often punctured all over by way of ornament. It may be occasionally met with stamped over in patterns, with intaglio punches. This "gesso raising," though very brilliant, possessed little tenacity, and in many examples it has scaled off, while the more ancient "raising" prescribed by Theophilus has adhered perfectly.



But if you have neither of these (gold, silver, brass, or copper), and yet wish to decorate your work in some manner, take tin pure and finely scraped, mill it and wash it like gold, and apply it with the same glue, upon letters or other places which you wish to ornament with gold or silver; and when you have polished it with a tooth, take saffron, with which silk is coloured, moistening it with clear of egg without water, and when it has stood a night, on the following day cover with a pencil the places which you wish to gild, the rest holding the place of silver. Then make fine traits round the letters and leaves, and flourishes from minium, with a pen, also the stuffs of dresses and other ornaments.



If you have not a bladder (of the sturgeon), cut up thick parchment or vellum in the same manner,—wash and cook it. Prepare also the skin of an eel carefully scraped, cut up and washed in the same manner. Prepare thus also the bones of the head of the wolf-fish washed and dried, carefully washed in water three times. To whichever of these you have prepared, add a third part of very transparent gum, simmer it a little, and you can keep it as long as you wish.



These things thus accomplished, make a mixture of the clearest gum and water as above, and temper all colours except green, and ceruse, and minium, and carmine. Salt green is worth nothing for books. You will temper Spanish green with pure wine, and if you wish to make shadows, add a little sap of iris, or cabbage, or leek. You will temper minium, and ceruse, and carmine, with clear of egg. Compose all preparations of colours for a book as above, if you want them for painting figures. All colours are laid on twice in books, at first very thinly, then more thickly; but twice for letters.

The next extract I give is of great interest in the technical history of illumination, on three accounts: firstly, because it guides the student to recognize in madder the purple stain and colour, so highly prized in the early periods of the art; secondly, because it shows him the manner in which fugitive vegetable tints were protected from the decomposing influence of the atmosphere by an albuminous varnish; and thirdly, because it illustrates the ordinary modern processes of under painting, and glazing with transparent colour. The "folium" of the Greek illuminators was procured from plants growing abundantly near Athens, while that of the Hiberno-Saxon scribes was obtained from the "norma" or "gorma" of the Celts. Mr. Hendrie, in his learned notes to Theophilus, has traced successive recipes for the preparation of "folium," in which the identity of the base giving the colouring matter is clearly established. It is curious that the collections of "Secreta" should give as the only countries supplying the materials for making "folium," those two in which the use of the bright purple stain ascends to the very earliest of their decorated manuscripts. The following is the description given by Theophilus:—



There are three kinds of folium, one red, another purple, a third blue, which you will thus temper. Take ashes, and sift them through a cloth, and, sprinkling them with cold water, make rolls of them in form of loaves, and placing them in the fire, leave them until they quite glow. After they have first burnt for a very long time, and have afterwards cooled, place a portion of them in a vessel of clay, pouring urine upon them and stirring with wood. When it has deposed in a clear manner, pour it upon the red folium, and, grinding it slightly upon a stone, add to it a fourth part of quick lime, and when it shall be ground and sufficiently moistened, strain it through a cloth, and paint with a pencil where you wish, thinly; afterwards more thickly. And if you wish to imitate a robe in a page of a book, with purple folium; with the same tempering, without the mixture of lime, paint first with a pen, in the same page, flourishes or circles, and in them birds or beasts, or leaves; and when it is dry, paint red folium over all, thinly, then more thickly, and a third time if necessary; and afterwards paint over it some old clear of egg. Paint over also with glaire of egg, draperies, and all things which you have painted with folium and carmine. You can likewise preserve the burned ashes which remain for a long time, dry.

I conclude the series of receipts extracted from Theophilus[7] by one not further bearing upon the Art of Illumination, than as proving the nature of the ink which has generally retained its colour so wonderfully in the ancient manuscripts.



To make ink, cut for yourself wood of the thorn-trees in April or May, before they produce flowers or leaves, and collecting them in small bundles, allow them to lie in the shade for two, three, or four weeks, until they are somewhat dry. Then have wooden mallets, with which you beat these thorns upon another piece of hardwood, until you peel off the bark everywhere, put which immediately into a barrelful of water. When you have filled two, or three, or four, or five barrels with bark and water, allow them so to stand for eight days, until the waters imbibe all the sap of the bark. Afterwards put this water into a very clean pan, or into a cauldron, and fire being placed under it, boil it; from time to time, also, throw into the pan some of this bark, so that whatever sap may remain in it may be boiled out. When you have cooked it a little, throw it out, and again put in more; which done, boil down the remaining water unto a third part, and then pouring it out of this pan, put it into one smaller, and cook it until it grows black and begins to thicken, add one third part of pure wine, and putting it into two or three new pots, cook it until you see a sort of skin show itself on the surface; then taking these pots from the fire, place them in the sun until the black ink purifies itself from the red dregs. Afterwards take small bags of parchment carefully sewn, and bladders, and pouring in the pure ink, suspend them in the sun until all is quite dry; and when dry, take from it as much as you wish, and temper it with wine over the fire, and, adding a little vitriol, write. But, if it should happen through negligence that your ink be not black enough, take a fragment of the thickness of a finger, and putting it into the fire, allow it to glow, and throw it directly into the ink.

The next collection of "Secreta," in point of importance and probably antiquity, is the "Mappæ Clavicula," or "little key to drawing," a manuscript treatise on the preparation of pigments, and on various processes of the decorative arts practised during the Middle Ages, in the possession of Sir Thomas Phillipps, of Middle Hill.[8] The proprietor of the volume, Mr. Hendrie, Sir Charles Eastlake, and (last, not least) Mr. Albert Way, agree in considering it highly probable that it may be an English collection, probably of about the reign of Henry II. Like the "Schedula" of Theophilus, it presents a very miscellaneous series of recipes, and tends to prove, what is very generally believed by the learned, that the "Masters of Arts" of old were frequently skilled, not in special departments of production, such as the modern division-of-labour system has created, but in multifarious avocations, such as we should not now readily recognize as likely to be practised by any single individual.

These collections remarkably illustrate the class of knowledge likely to have been possessed by such apparently versatile geniuses as St. Dunstan, St. Eloi, Bernward of Hildesheim, Tutilo the monk of St. Gall, and many others. The author of the "Mappæ Clavicula," in a few lines of poetical introduction to his teachings, defines the first necessity for painters to be, a knowledge of the manufacture of colours, then a command over the various modes of mixing them, then dexterity in using and heightening them in different kinds of work; and, ultimately, he commends to their attention a variety of information for the advancement of art generally, derived from the writings of many learned men.—"Sicut liber iste docebit." Thus under two hundred and nine heads, but with some tautology, he proceeds to treat, as Sir Thomas Phillipps observes, not only of the composition of colours, but "of a variety of other subjects, in a concise and simple manner, and generally very intelligibly; as for instance, architecture, mensuration of altitudes, the art of war, &c." Among the recipes, in addition to those referring to pigments, are many relating to illuminating. The following, for instance, is curious as defining clearly what were the best and most important tints for illumination:—

Technical Manual. Plate No VII.
XIVTH Century.

Plate VII

From British Museum, Reg. 15. D. 2.

Of different Colours.

"These colours are clear and full-bodied for vellum:—Azorium (azure), Vermiculum (vermilion), Sanguis Draconis (dragon's blood), Carum (yellow ochre), Minium (red lead), Folium (madder purple), Auripigmentum (orpiment), Viride Græcum (acetate of copper), Gravetum Indicum (indigo), Brunum (brown), Crocus (yellow), Minium Rubeum vel Album (red or white lead), Nigrum Optimum ex carbone vitis (the best black made from carbonized vine twigs); all these colours are mixed with white of egg."

The mixture of colours appears to have been reduced to a perfect system, each hue having others specially adapted and used, for heightening and lowering the pure tint; thus the author gives directions which are likely to be scarcely less useful to the illuminator of the present day than they were to those of old.

Of Mixtures.

"If, therefore, you should desire to know the natures and mixtures of these [the above given] colours, and which are antagonistic to each other, lend your ear diligently.

"Mix azure with white lead, lower with indigo, heighten with white lead. Pure vermilion you may lower with brown or with dragon's blood, and heighten with orpiment. Mix vermilion with white lead, and make the colour which is called Rosa, lower it with vermilion, heighten it with white lead. Item, you may make a colour with dragon's blood and orpiment, which you may lower with brown, and heighten with orpiment. Yellow ochre you may lower with brown, and heighten with red lead (query, with white). Item, you may make Rosam[9] of yellow ochre and white lead, deepen with yellow ochre, heighten with white lead. Reddish purple (folium) may be lowered with brown, and heightened with white lead. Item, mix folium with white lead, lower with folium, and heighten with white lead. Orpiment may be lowered with vermilion, but cannot be heightened, because it stains all other colours."

Of Tempering.

"Greek green you will temper with acid, deepen with black, and heighten with white, made from stag's horn (ivory black). Mix green with white lead, deepen with pure green, and heighten with white lead. Greenish blue, deepen with green, heighten with white lead. Yellow, deepen with vermilion, heighten with white lead. Indigo, deepen with black, heighten with azure. Item, mix indigo with white, deepen with azure, heighten with white lead. Brown, deepen with black, heighten with red lead. Item, make of brown and white lead a drab (Rosam), lower with brown, heighten with white lead. Item, mix yellow with white lead, lower with yellow, heighten with white lead. Lower red lead with brown, heighten with white lead. Item, red lead with brown, deepen with black, heighten with red lead. Item, you may make flesh-colour of red lead and white, lower with vermilion, heighten with white lead."

Which Colours are Antagonistic.

"If you wish to know in what manner colours are antagonistic, this is it. Orpiment (sulphuret of arsenic) does not agree with purple (folio), nor with green (acetate of copper), nor with red lead, nor white lead. Green does not agree with purple.[10]

"If you wish to make grounds, make a fine rose-colour of vermilion and white. Item, make a ground of purple mixed with chalk. Item, make a ground of green mixed with vinegar. Item, make a ground of the same green, and when it shall have become dry, cover it with size ('caule').

"If you wish to write in gold, take powder of gold and moisten it with size, made from the very same parchment on which you have to write; and with the gold and size near to the fire; and, when the writing shall be dry, burnish with a very smooth stone, or with the tooth of a wild boar. Item, if then you should wish to make a robe or a picture, you may apply gold to the parchment, as I have above directed, and shade with ink or with indigo, and heighten with orpiment."

The above are the principal passages in the "Mappæ Clavicula," which supply deficiencies in most other books of Secreta; and I have translated them at length, both on account of the accuracy with which I have found the directions followed in ancient illuminated manuscripts, and because I believed that a knowledge of this ancient scale of colours might greatly facilitate accurate copying from old examples. I need scarcely say, that as the art of painting improved in Italy and the Netherlands, the illuminator's palette became enriched with several new and very brilliant colours;—such as the ultramarines and carmines (exceedingly scarce in early manuscripts) which make the books produced at Rome and in Northern Italy, during the 16th and 17th centuries, glow with a vivacity never previously attained. Every improvement made in one country was, however, speedily, communicated through these very art-treatises to other countries, and thus we find lakes and carmines freely used in England during the 15th century.[11] Ultramarine, indeed, forms the special subject of an essay by a Norman, comprised among the Le Bègue MSS. (already referred to), under the following title, which proves its novelty in Western Europe, at the beginning of the 15th century:—

Technical Manual. Plate No VIII.
XIVTH Century.

Plate VIII

From British Museum, Reg. 15. D. 2.

Technical Manual.
Outline for coloring.
Plate No IX.
XIVTH Century.

Plate IX

From British Museum, Reg. 15. D. 2.

"Anno 1411, Johannes de ... [illegible] Normannus de Azurro novo, lapidis lazulli ultramarini."

The next collection of Secreta in importance, and probably in date to the "Mappæ Clavicula," is that of a Frenchman, Peter de St. Audemar. "With this treatise," observes Sir Charles Eastlake, "may be classed a similar one in the British Museum, written in the 14th century," but treating of a somewhat earlier practice in art. The identity of the colours for, and practice of, painters on wall and panel, and illuminators on vellum, is proved by the instructions to both being almost invariably given in the same books. Thus, the volume last mentioned commences—"Incipit tractatus de coloribus Illuminatorum seu Pictorum"—as though there existed no practical distinction between the two. Another manuscript, of later date, also in the Le Bègue collection, exhibits, in its title even, a curious picture of the industry with which the Art of Illumination was studied in the principal countries of Europe,—introducing the student to a scribe, actually keeping a school at Milan. Thus, "Liber Johannis Acherius, A.D. 1398. Ut accessit a Jacobo Cona, Flamingo pictore:—Capitula de coloribus ad illuminandum libros ab eodem Archerio sive Alcherio, ut accessit ab Antonio de compendio illuminatore librorum in Parisiis et a Magistro Alberto Pozotto perfectissimo in omnibus modis scribendi, Mediolani scholas tenente."

Here we have, in a few lines, evidence of the concurrence of no less, probably, than four distinct nationalities to make up one set of instructions. However illuminated manuscripts may differ in style from each other, according to the countries in which they may have been produced, the technical processes, from the commencement of the 15th century, scarcely differed at all, probably through the general spread of these "handbooks of the Middle Ages."

From the 14th century onwards, the treatises, or rather probably composite transcripts from earlier treatises, multiply greatly; so far, however, as I have been able to make out from the able analysis made by Sir C. Eastlake, Mr. Hendrie, and Mrs. Merrifield, of many, they contain little more information than is conveyed in the extracts already given. Some curious details, however, may be gathered as to the London practice in the 15th century, which may interest the reader. A manuscript, written in German, as is believed at that date, is preserved in the public library at Strasburg, which distinctly proves that the colours for illuminating were commonly preserved by steeping small pieces of linen in the tinted extracts, sometimes mixed with alkaline solutions. The process is minutely described in this MS.; the dyes so prepared are there called "tüchlein varwen," literally "clothlet colours." The following passage from another compendium, a Venetian MS., gives the result in few words:—"When the aforesaid pieces of cloth are dry, put them in a book of cotton paper, and keep the book under your pillow, that it may take no damp; and when you wish to use the colours, cut off a small portion [of the cloth], and place it in a shell with a little water, the evening before. In the morning the tint will be ready, the colour being extracted from the linen." This practice is alluded to by Cennini, when he says:—"You can shade with colours, and by means of small pieces of cloth, according to the process of the illuminators."

The German compiler, speaking of the preparation of a blue colour in this mode, says, "If you wish to make a beautiful clothlet blue colour according to the London practice," &c. After describing the method of preparing it, he adds:—"These [pieces of cloth] may be preserved fresh and brilliant, without any change in their tints, for twenty years; and this colour, in Paris and in London, is called [blue] for missals, and here in this country clothlet blue; it is a beautiful and valuable colour."

"The place denominated Lampten, mentioned together with Paris, can be no other than London."[12]

As pursuing the subject of ancient processes further than I have now done, would scarcely he profitable to the student, I proceed to the second division of this part of my subject, and accordingly take up the modern processes. In offering the following details on this subject, however, to the amateur's attention, I would not for one moment let it be supposed that a knowledge of them alone will be sufficient to make him an efficient illuminator. Fortunately many very excellent artists have of late devoted themselves to giving instruction in the practical manipulation of the art, and amateurs cannot do better than place themselves at once in communication with masters, whose addresses may be obtained at the shops of the principal artists' colourmen. There will still be, no doubt, in different parts of the country, many desirous of illuminating, and yet unable to obtain the benefit of seeing a practised hand work before them, or even to pick up information as to the modus operandi. To such, at least, the following observations may prove useful.[13]

The two great sections into which all the processes by which illumination of any kind may be executed, divide themselves, are—1st, those in which water and glutinous substances soluble in water form the vehicles for applying the pigments, and causing them to adhere to the surfaces on which they may be applied; and 2ndly, those in which oil or spirit, and resins, or other substances which combine readily with such fluids, are made to perform corresponding functions. The pigments, reduced to an impalpable powder, are the same in both classes of processes, which are commonly known as watercolour-painting and oil-painting. That which was of old the artist's greatest stumbling-block—the manufacture and preparation of his pigments—need now no longer occasion him the slightest embarrassment; for every colour with which his palette could be enriched is to be bought, ready prepared, of the principal artists' colourmen. In like manner every other essential for his use is now freely at his command; and all that is required on his part is knowledge how to employ the materials which others most dexterously and carefully place at his disposal.

In commencing the collection of that information which I am now endeavouring to communicate, I felt it my duty to enter into correspondence with all those manufacturers whose products I had at different times personally tested; and I accordingly addressed myself to the following, whose materials, with insignificant exceptions, I have invariably found satisfactory, both in nature and quality.

R. Ackerman, 191, Regent-street, W.
L. Barbe, 60, Quadrant, Regent-street, W.
J. Barnard, 339, Oxford-street, W.
Messrs. Brodie & Middleton, 79, Long-acre, W.C.
H. Miller, 56, Long-acre, W.C.
J. Newman, 24, Soho-square, W.
Messrs. Reeves & Sons, 113, Cheapside, E.C.
Messrs. Roberson, 99, Long-acre, W.C.
Messrs. Rowney & Co., 51, Rathbone-place, W.
Messrs. Sherborne & Tillyer, 321, Oxford-street, W.
Messrs. Winsor & Newton, 38, Rathbone-place, W.

From each of the above-mentioned firms I have obtained valuable information, and from several, excellent samples of their products. I am glad, therefore, to take the present opportunity of expressing my obligations to them. From Messrs. Winsor & Newton, especially, I have received the kindest and most intelligent co-operation; and I am happy to be the channel of making public the results of a series of experiments, on the combinations of colours and the use of various materials for illuminating purposes, suggested by me, and made with great tact and judgment by Mr. W. H. Winsor. Messrs. Winsor & Newton and Mr. Barnard have, up to the present time, done most to smooth away the difficulties which beset the illuminator. Messrs. Newman, Messrs. Rowney & Co., Messrs. Reeves & Sons, and Mr. Barbe, have also recently contributed valuable improvements or special adaptations.[14]

The colours best suited for illuminating I believe to be as follows:—

B Lemon Yellow
A Gamboge
A Cadmium Yellow
D Mars Yellow
B Rose Madder
A Crimson Lake
C Carmine
C Orange Vermilion
A Vermilion
A Cobalt
A French Blue
D Smalt
D Mars Orange
B Burnt Sienna
C Burnt Carmine
D Indian Purple
A Emerald Green
C Green Oxide of Chromium
B Vandyke Brown Brown.
A Lampblack Black.
A Chinese White White.

These colours are selected from the list of water-colours made at the present day (upwards of eighty), and will, I think, be found to be all that can well be required for illuminating. The whole number is by no means indispensable, and I have therefore marked by different letters of the alphabet,—1st, A, those without which it would be useless to commence work; 2ndly, B, those which should first be added; 3rdly, C, those which are required for very great brilliancy in certain effects; and, 4thly, D, those which may be regarded as luxuries in the art. The C are really important; the D are much less so. Messrs. Winsor & Newton have arranged them into four different lists, which are placed in boxes (complete with colours and materials for working in water-colours), of the respective retail values of £1. 1s., £1. 11s. 6d., £2. 2s., and £3. 3s. Boxes corresponding with, or slightly varying from these, in selection of colours and materials, may be obtained from other artists' colourmen.

I now proceed to notice these colours seriatim, in reference to their tints, both when used alone and when mixed with other colours.


Lemon Yellow.—A vivid high-toned yellow, semi-opaque, is extremely telling upon gold. Mixed with cadmium yellow it furnishes a range of brilliant warm yellows. It mixes well with gamboge, orange vermilion, cobalt, emerald green, and oxide of chromium, and with any of these produces clean and useful tints.

Gamboge.—A bright transparent yellow of light tone; works freely, and is very useful for glazing purposes. In combination with lemon yellow it affords a range of clean tints. When mixed with a little Mars yellow it produces a clear, warm, transparent tone of colour.

Cadmium Yellow.—A rich glowing yellow, powerful in tint, and semi-transparent. This is a most effective colour for illuminating. When judiciously toned with white, it furnishes a series of useful shades. Mixed with lemon yellow it produces a range of clean vivid tints. It does not, however, make good greens—they are dingy. Mixed with carmine, or glazed with it, it gives a series of strong luminous shades.

Mars Yellow.—A semi-transparent warm yellow, of slightly russet tone, but clean and bright in tint. Useful where a quiet yellow is required; mixes well with gamboge; does not make good greens.


Rose Madder.—A light transparent pink colour of extremely pure tone. It is delicate in tint, but very effective, on account of its purity. Mixed with cobalt, it affords clean, warm, and cold purples. The addition of a little carmine materially heightens the tone of this colour, though at the same time it somewhat impairs its purity.

Crimson Lake.—A rich crimson colour, clean and transparent; washes and mixes well. More generally useful than carmine, though wanting the intense depth and brilliancy of the latter colour.

Carmine.—A deep-toned luminous crimson, much stronger than crimson lake; is clean and transparent. The brilliancy of this powerful colour can be increased, by using it over a ground of gamboge.

Orange Vermilion.—A high-toned opaque red, of pure and brilliant hue, standing in relation to ordinary vermilion as carmine to crimson lake. It is extremely effective, and answers admirably where vivid opaque red is required; it works, washes, and mixes well. Its admixture with cadmium results in a fine range of warm luminous tints. When mixed with lemon yellow, it furnishes a series of extremely clean and pure tints; when toned with white, the shades are clear and effective. This is a most useful colour.

Vermilion.—A dense, deep-toned red, powerful in colour, and opaque. It is not so pure in tone as orange vermilion, and is of most service when used alone; it can, however, be thinned with white and with yellows.


Cobalt Blue.—A light-toned blue, clean and pure in tint, and semi-transparent. This is the lightest blue used in illuminating, and by the addition of white can he "paled" to any extent, the tints keeping clear and good. Mixed with lemon yellow, it makes a clean useful green. Its admixture with gamboge is not so satisfactory, and the green produced by its combination with Mars yellow is dirty and useless. With rose madder it produces middling, warm and cold purples (i.e., marones, and lilacs or violets); with crimson lake, strong and effective ones; with carmine, ditto. A series of quiet neutral tints can be produced by its admixture with orange vermilion. The tints in question are clean and good, and might occasionally be useful.

French Blue.—A deep rich blue, nearly transparent; is the best substitute for genuine ultramarine. The greens it makes with lemon yellow, gamboge, cadmium, and Mars yellow, are not very effective or useful. The violets and marones it forms with rose madder are granulous and unsatisfactory; with carmine they are somewhat better; but those formed with crimson lake are very good.

Smalt.—A brilliant, full-toned blue; deep in tone, and nearly transparent; luminous and very effective when used alone. It is granulous, and does not wash or mix well. The greens it makes are not particularly useful.


Mars Orange.—A brilliant orange of very pure tone, transparent and lighter in colour than burnt sienna; and is not so coarse or staring. An effective and useful colour.

Burnt Sienna.—A deep rich orange, transparent and effective; works well and mixes freely.


Indian Purple.—A rich deep-toned violet, or cold purple colour; most effective when used alone. Can be lighted with French blue or cobalt, and the tints will be found useful.

Burnt Carmine.—A rich deep-toned marone or warm purple colour; transparent and brilliant; luminous and effective when used alone; mixed with orange vermilion, it produces a strong rich colour, and a quiet fleshy one when mixed with cadmium yellow.


Emerald Green.—An extremely vivid and high-toned green, opaque. No combination of blue and yellow will match this colour, which is indispensable in illuminating. It can be "paled" with white, and the tints thus produced are pure and clean. The tints afforded by its admixture with lemon-yellow are also clear and effective.

Green Oxide of Chromium.—A very rich deep green, opaque, but effective. The tone of this green renders it extremely useful in illuminating; mixed with emerald green, it furnishes a series of rich semi-transparent tints. Mixed with lemon-yellow, it gives quiet, useful shades of green; and when this combination is brightened with emerald green, the shades are luminous and effective.


Vandyke Brown.—A deep, rich, transparent, brown, luminous and clear in tint; works, washes, and mixes well. The best of all the browns for illuminating.


Lampblack.—The most dense and deep of all the blacks, free from any shade of brown or grey.


Chinese White.—A preparation of oxide of zinc, permanent, and the white best adapted for illuminating. It is not only useful per se, but is indispensable for toning or reducing other colours.

In making the list of the colours just described, I have assumed as a sine quâ non that the colours used in illuminating should be permanent. All those enumerated are so (in water-colours), with the exception of carmine and crimson lake; and these, though theoretically not permanent, are yet found in practice to be very lasting, especially when not too much exposed to the light. It is a curious fact, that crimson lake, though a weaker colour than carmine, is yet more permanent, in consequence of its different base, and that it will better stand exposure to light.

I here take the opportunity of warning amateurs, allured by their evident brilliancy, against the use, in illumination, of the following five colours, viz.—pure scarlet, red lead, chrome yellow, deep chrome, and orange chrome. None of these are permanent; the first-named being fugitive, and the others in time turning black; but this is the less to be regretted, as there are permanent colours answering equally well for illumination. Of course, these are less fugitive in books, which are generally protected from the action of light and air, than they would be in pictures.

The preceding remarks on pigments apply, with no difference worth noting, to colours prepared either for oil or for water-colour; which may therefore be laid on, by varying the vehicle for their proper application, to the surfaces of any of those materials which have been specified in the Second Part of this Essay, as available for different kinds of illumination. I now proceed to notice the special processes requisite in each case, commencing with those which may be best employed for vellum. This substance consists of calf-skin, carefully cleansed and scraped, and repeatedly washed in diluted sulphuric acid. The surface is rubbed down with fine pumice-stone to a smooth face, and in that condition it is fit for working upon. It is sold, prepared for use, at all the principal shops. If it has not been previously strained, or if many tints are likely to be floated over the surface, it will be well to strain it down upon a strainer or board before attempting to draw upon it. This may be done by damping the vellum, and then either gluing or nailing its edges down. When dry, it will be found to lie perfectly flat and smooth. It may be well, then, to wash it over with a dilute preparation of ox gall, to overcome any possible greasiness, and prepare it to receive colour freely. Mr. Barnard, and, I believe, other artists' colourmen, supply vellum mounted in block-books, similar to those made up of drawing-paper for sketching on; and by providing himself with one of those, the amateur may avoid the trouble of having to mount his own vellum.

As it is by no means easy to remove pencil-marks from vellum (and indeed it is never wise to attempt it, for the black-lead unites with the animal fat, which can never be entirely got out of the material, and rubs under the action of Indian-rubber or bread into a greasy smudge), it is always well to set out the design in the first instance upon drawing-paper. The best mode for good work is to complete the outline on drawing-paper, and then to trace it carefully with a hard pencil on a piece of tracing-paper, about one inch larger each way than the entire surface of the vellum; then cut out, the exact size of the vellum, a piece of tracing or tissue paper, rubbed evenly over with powdered red chalk.[15] Lay the tracing down (pencilled side upwards) in its right place upon the vellum, and fasten down one edge with pins, gum, or mouth-glue. Then slip the transfer-paper, with the chalked side downwards, between the vellum and the tracing until it exactly covers the former—touching the back of the transfer-paper with two or three drops of gum on its margin. Then lay the tracing over, and fasten down another of its edges. The gum drops will prevent the transfer-paper slipping away from the tracing-paper, when the drawing-board or strainer is placed upon a sloping desk or easel. Taking care to keep a piece of stout card or pasteboard under the hand, go over all the lines of the tracing with a blunted etching-point, or very hard pencil cut sharp. This having been done, on removing both the tracing and the transfer-paper, it will be found that a clear red outline has been conveyed to the surface of the vellum. At this stage of the work, as nothing dirties more readily than this material, it will be well to fasten over the surface a clean sheet of paper with a flap cut in it, by raising up and folding back portions of which, the artist may get to the part of the surface upon which he may desire to work without exposing any of the rest. As the effect of the writing on the page gives as it were the key-note for the general effect of the illuminated ornaments, it will be well to complete the former before proceeding to the latter.[16]

Technical Manual. Plate No X.
XVITH Century.

Plate X

From the Missal of Ferdinand & Isabella of Spain.
British Museum, Add. 18,851.

If the lines of the writing fixed upon are fine and delicate, they will look best, and work most freely with Indian ink; but if they are bold and solid, involving some extent of black surface, they will present a better appearance if wrought in lampblack; the principal difference between the two being that Indian ink is finer, and, if good, always retains a slight gloss, while lampblack gives a fuller tint, and dries off quite mat, or with a dead surface, corresponding with that of most other body-colour tints used in illuminating. Great care must be taken to keep the writing evenly spaced, upright, and perfectly neat, as it is almost impossible to erase without spoiling the vellum, and as no beauty of ornament will redeem an untidy text. If a portion of the writing is to be in red, it should be in pure vermilion; and if in gold, it should be highly burnished, as will be hereafter directed. The writing being satisfactorily completed, the artist may proceed to lay in his ground tints, generally mixing them with more or less white to give them body and solidity. Colours prepared with water are best adapted for illumination on vellum; and those known as moist colours are to be preferred for this work, as they give out a greater volume of colour, and possess more tenacity or power of adhering to the surface of the material on which they are used than the dry colours. Of moist colours there are two descriptions, viz., solid and liquid; and of these I give the preference to the former, as some colours, such as lemon yellow and smalt, will not keep well in tubes; added to which, there is waste in using them in this form where only small quantities are required, as the colour cannot be replaced in the tube when once squeezed out. The tube colours possess, however, the valuable property of being always clean when a bit of pure colour is required. The solid moist colours are apt to get dirtied in rapid working, and occasionally mislead an eye which is not quick at detecting a lowered tint. Mr. Barbe's body-colours, which are of very good quality, are prepared in powder, combined with a glutinous substance, on moistening which with water, the tints are fit for application. Messrs. Winsor & Newton's body-colours are also very excellent. Flatness of tint is best secured by using the first colour well mixed with body, and put on boldly; this forms the brightest tint; then shade with pure transparent colour, and finish off with the high lights.

Very useful models, both on a small scale for book illumination, and on an enlarged one for wall decoration, are now prepared by several of the artists' colour-men, for teaching amateurs the different modes of shading, &c. They consist of outline plates partially coloured by hand. The beginner will find it a very useful exercise to complete a few of these before trying his hand upon more original works upon vellum. The greatest care must be taken to have every implement perfectly clean. Experience alone can teach the artist the value of what are called glazing or transparent colours, such as the lakes, carmine, madders, gamboge, &c. Some tints may be used either as glazing colours, or as body-tints, according to their preparation, and according to the degree of thickness with which they are applied. As a general principle, all shades should be painted in transparent colour, all lights in opaque. Reflected lights may often be best given by scumbling thin body-colour over transparent shade. In order to prepare the tints for these operations, it may be well to use a little of Newman's or Miller's preparations with them. The less tints are retouched after the first application, the more clear and brilliant they are likely to remain. Above all things never let the paint-brush go near the mouth, and never attempt to correct or retouch a tint while it is in process of drying, as doing so will infallibly make it look streaky and muddy. In all these processes of manipulation, however, practice, good example, and good tuition, must teach what the minutest directions would fail to satisfactorily convey. The principal colours having been applied, the next difficulty will be to heighten them with gold and silver. Any large surfaces of gilding it will be well to apply previously to commencing colouring, and as much as possible intended for burnishing.

The principal metallic preparations used in illumination may be enumerated as follows:—gold leaf, gold paper, shell gold, saucer gold, gold paint, silver leaf, shell silver, and shell aluminium. Of these, the leaves, paper, and paint, are of English, and the shells and saucers of French manufacture. Occasionally gold and silver powder and German-metal leaf are employed, though too rarely to make them important enough to claim general notice.

The first-mentioned preparation of gold—gold-leaf—is the pure metal beaten into very thin leaves, generally 3⅛ inches, 3¼ inches, or 3⅜ inches square; but for illuminating purposes it should be still smaller—say 2½ inches square, as it is easier to handle than a larger size. For the same reason it is better to have the leaf double as thick as it is usually beaten. Gold leaf is sold in "books," each of which contains twenty-five gold "leaves," and for ordinary and general purposes, it is by far the best and most useful metallic preparation; but the difficulty of handling and laying it on deters amateurs from employing it, and it is difficult in writing to furnish a practical description of the modus operandi. The following is the usual mode:—

"Carefully open the book of gold, and if in so doing you disturb the leaf, gently blow it down flat again. If a whole leaf be required, take a rounded 'tip,' and quietly so place it on the leaf that the top of the tip be close to the edge of the leaf. In so doing, the sides of the tip will be brought down upon the side edges of the leaf, which then can be securely taken up and placed where required. If a small piece of gold leaf only be wanted, cautiously take up a leaf from the book by passing a 'gilder's knife' underneath, and place it on a 'gilders cushion;'[17] lay it flat with the knife, with which then cut the piece of the size required. If when you have laid gold leaf down with the tip it be wrinkly, blow it down flat."

The "gilder's tip" spoken of in the above extract is a very thin camel-hair brush, and for unskilled hands a semicircular tip is to be preferred to one of the ordinary form; as with it a leaf of gold may be firmly laid hold of, balanced, adjusted, and placed, without needing any particular knack. For long narrow pieces of gold, the ordinary gilder's tip is probably the best.

Gold paper consists of leaves of gold placed upon thin paper, a sheet of which, measuring about 19 inches by 12¾ inches, requires one book of gold. The mat or dead gold is most frequently used in illumination; but, when required, the bright or burnished gold can be procured. Gold paper is usually plain at the back, and when used, is required to be gummed on to the work; but it is far better to have it prepared on the back with a mixture of clear glue, sugar, &c., which can be laid on evenly and thickly, and yet is very strong. Paper thus prepared needs only to have a wet flat camel-hair brush passed over the back; it can then be laid down, and will adhere very firmly. In laying down gold paper, it is well to place a piece of white glazed paper on its face, then firmly to pass over it the edge of a flat rule or burnisher, in order to press down all inequalities and render the surface perfectly smooth.

Shell gold is gold powder mixed up and placed in mussel-shells for use. It is removed from the shell by the application of water, like moist colours, and is adapted for small work and fine lines, in which latter case a quill or reed pen will be found useful. When the work is dry, the gold can be brightened with a burnisher. Saucer gold only differs from shell gold in being placed in china saucers instead of shells.

Gold paint is a preparation of bronze in imitation of gold, and is usually sold in two bottles, one of powder and the other of liquid; which two ingredients, when mixed together, form the "paint," the use of which I do not recommend, as in course of time it turns black. The same objection unfortunately applies more or less, also, to the preparations of silver, which, however, are still occasionally used in illumination.

Silver leaf is made in the same manner as gold leaf, and the remarks made in reference to that are generally applicable to silver leaf.

Shell silver is not really silver, but an amalgam of tin and mercury prepared and placed in mussel-shells, and used with water in the same way as gold shells.

Shell aluminium is a preparation of aluminium placed in mussel-shells for use, and is warranted to keep its colour without tarnishing. If this be the case, it will form a valuable addition to the list of materials for illumination, as it will be the only white metal known that can be depended upon for not tarnishing. The preparation is at present a comparatively new one, but bids fair to be very serviceable.

Water-mat gold size is a preparation for laying down gold leaf, i.e., causing it to adhere to a given surface. The mode of using it is as follows:—Take a small brush saturated with water, and thoroughly charge it with the size. With the brush so charged, trace out the required form or pattern, and upon this lay the gold leaf, pressing it lightly down with cotton-wool. When all is dry, gently rub off the superfluous gold with cotton-wool.

"Burnish gold size" is a preparation for laying down the gold leaf that is intended afterwards to be burnished (i.e., polished with a tooth or agate burnisher). That prepared by Messrs. Winsor & Newton may be used as follows:—Place the bottle in warm water to dissolve its contents, which, however, must not be allowed to get hot, but merely be made liquid. Stir up the preparation with a hogs-hair brush, which then thoroughly charge with the mixture; with it trace out the pattern required to be burnished, then let the work dry. When quite dry, let the surface of the pattern be wetted with clean cold water, and on it (while damp) place the gold leaf. Let all get perfectly dry, and then burnish as required. When a very bright surface is wanted, two coats of the size should be used; the second being put on after the first is dry.

Technical Manual. Plate No XI.
XVITH Century.

Plate XI

From the Missal of Ferdinand & Isabella of Spain.
British Museum, Add. 18,851.

Technical Manual.
Outline for coloring.
Plate No XII.
XVITH Century.

Plate XII

From the Missal of Ferdinand & Isabella of Spain.
British Museum, Add. 18,851.

The "raising preparation" made by the same firm, is adapted for raising the surface of the work, so as to obtain relief, and is particularly required for imitating rich MSS. of the 14th and 15th centuries. It is used as follows:—Place the bottle in hot water, and when its contents are dissolved, stir it well up with a small hogs-hair brush, then fully charge it, draw out the form intended to be raised, and deposit the "raising" on the surface. If the height thus attained be not sufficient, wait till the preparation is dry, and go over it again, and so on until you gain the height you require, when it must be allowed to become quite hard; then go over it with the water-mat gold-size, and while this is wet put on the gold; press gently down with cotton-wool, and when dry brush off the superfluous gold with cotton-wool; when putting on the "raising," take care to keep the surface level, unless it may be required to be hollowed or indented.

Mr. Barnard has also prepared a gold size and raising preparation, adapted for laying gold on vellum or paper, which answers well both for mat and burnish gilding. The mode of using it is as follows:—Wash a little of the gold size off with a brush dipped in water, using it thinly for the flat parts of your design, and in greater body for that portion of the drawing which you wish to appear raised; after allowing it to remain for a few minutes, till nearly dry, apply the gold, and press it down with a piece of cotton-wool. It must now remain untouched for about an hour, when the superfluous gold may be removed by means of the wool, and in case of defect, the gold size and gold must be again applied. Preparations of a somewhat similar nature are sold by Messrs. Rowney, Newman, and other artists' colourmen.[18]

Very pretty effects may be obtained by partial burnishing of the gold in patterns, and dotting it over with the point of the sharp burnisher in indentations, arranged in geometrical forms. The best manuscripts of the Edwardian period were often highly wrought after this fashion.

When finished, it is scarcely necessary to recommend that the vellum sheet should be either put carefully away until enough of others corresponding with it are done to make up a volume, or should be glazed so as to protect its surface. One dirty or greasy finger laid upon it, and the effect of much beautiful work, which may have taken weeks to elaborate, is fatally marred.

All the above instructions apply as well for working on paper or cardboard as on vellum. The amateur who has once succeeded on vellum, is not likely to take again to the humbler practice of working on the less noble materials, which, however, will always be exceedingly useful for practising and sketching upon. I have occasionally seen printed volumes gracefully illustrated by hand with borders, and with elegant inventions, in the form of head and tail pieces, insertions, &c., applicable to the subject of the volume. Many of the works of old English authors are peculiarly suited for this class of embellishment. How beautiful might not a Walton's "Angler" or a Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" be made if appropriately enriched in this style.

Tracing-paper, and the facilities it offers to those little gifted with talents for drawing, I have already noticed. It remains, however, to observe, that it possesses an additional practical convenience in being ready for taking colour, either with oil, water, or varnish, as vehicles, without the previous application of any special preparation. Hence it may be fastened up when completed, either by pasting as ordinary paper, by gluing, if for attachment to wood, or by paying over the back with boiled oil and copal varnish, or with white lead ground in oil with some litharge, and then pressing down until it may be made to lie perfectly flat and adhere to any surface previously painted in oil-colour. Being very thin, its edges will scarcely show at all, even if applied to the middle of a flat panel; but, to make sure, it is always well to run a line with a full brush of thick colour, either in oil or distemper, over the edge, extending for one half of its width upon the tracing-paper, and for the other half upon the surface to which it may have been applied.

Of the remaining materials on which illumination for the decoration, not of books but of apartments, may be readily executed, canvas, stone, metal, and wood, are generally wrought upon by the ordinary processes of oil-painting; while plaster, especially in the form of ceilings, is more frequently treated by means of distemper-painting. I propose, therefore, to give, firstly, some general directions as to the setting out work, &c., applicable to both methods; secondly, a notice of the processes generally required for oil-colour illumination; thirdly, a brief description of the mode of working in distemper; and fourthly, to wind up with some instructions as to the application of varnish which may be employed to heighten and preserve illumination executed by either of the above methods.

The operation of setting out lines upon walls or other surfaces is by no means easy. It involves care and judgment, a quick eye, and a very steady hand. It is the indispensable preliminary before ornamental work or illumination can be executed, as it can alone correctly give the forms of panels, borders, &c., for which cartoons may have to be prepared. Lines may be either drawn with pencil or prepared charcoal, or chalk, or else struck by means of a chalked string. For lines which are vertical, a weight called a plumb-bob must be attached to one end of the string. The best shape for this is that of half an egg, as the flat side will then lie close to the wall. Two persons are required in setting out these lines,—one working above and the other below. The one at the top marks the points at the distance each line is required to be from others. The string being chalked either black or white,—according as the line has to show upon a light or dark ground,—he holds it to one of the points, and lets fall the weighted end, which, when quite steady, the person who is below strains tight, and raising the string between his finger and thumb in the middle, lets it fall back sharply on the wall. The result, if carefully executed, is a perfectly straight and vertical line. The horizontal lines require to be drawn with a straight-edge or ruler, and may be either set out at a true right angle to the vertical lines geometrically by the intersection of arcs of circles, or by a large square, or may be defined, irrespectively of mathematical correctness, by measuring up or down from a ceiling or floor line. The distances apart are as before measured out, but in long lines must be marked as many times as the length of the straight-edge may require. This being set at each end to the points marked, the line is drawn along it. Circles and curved lines may be struck from their proper centres with large wooden compasses, one leg carrying a pencil. Drawing lines with the brush requires great practice. A straight-edge is placed upon the chalk lines, with the edge next the line slightly raised, and the brush, well filled with colour, drawn along it, just touching the wall, the pressure being never increased, and the brush refilled whenever it is near failing; but great care must be taken that it be not too full, as in that case it will be apt to blotch the line, or drop the colour upon the lower portions of the wall. Drawing lines in colour overhead upon a ceiling is even more difficult, and is beyond the capabilities of most amateurs.

The patterns of ornament are executed either by means of stencils cut in oiled paper, according to the method which will be next described, or else by pounces, which are the full-sized drawings pricked along all the lines with a needle upon a flat cushion; powdered charcoal, tied up in a cotton bag, is then dabbed upon the paper which has been set up on the wall, or else the back is rubbed over with drawing-charcoal and brushed well with a flat brush, like a stove brush. In both cases the result is that the dust passes on to the walls through the pricked holes, and forms are thus sufficiently indicated to the painter.

Stencilling is a process by which colour is applied through interstices cut in a prepared paper, by dabbing with a brush. The design to be stencilled is drawn upon paper which has been soaked with linseed oil and well dried. The pattern is then cut out with a sharp knife upon a sheet of glass, care being taken to leave such connections as will keep the stencil together. The next tint is then to be laid on in the same manner, and so on till the darkest tint is done, each tint being allowed to dry before a second is applied.

I do not purpose dwelling in detail on the preparation, or "bringing forward," as it is called, of surfaces to receive oil-colour; since, for such mechanical work, it will be always well to employ a good house-painter. I may observe, however, that the first operation, where the surface is absorbent, is to stop the suction, either by a plentiful application of boiled oil alone, boiled oil and red lead, or size. Several successive coats of paint should then be applied, and in order to obtain smoothness, the surface of each should be well rubbed down. The last coat should be mixed with turpentine, and no oil, in order to kill the gloss, or, as it is termed, to "flat" the surface. For most decoration and illumination, the work should be brought forward in white, as, by shining partially through most of the pigments ultimately applied, it will greatly add to their brilliancy. Zinc white will stand much better than white lead. Messrs. Roberson, of Long Acre, prepare an excellent wax medium, which dries with a perfectly dead encaustic surface, and answers admirably for mural-painting of all kinds. I caused it to be employed for all the decoration executed under my direction at the Sydenham Crystal Palace. Miller's glass medium will also be found very useful to artists and amateurs. In laying on all ground tints, great care should be taken to keep them flat; and the less, as a general rule, tints are mixed, worked over and over, and messed about, the brighter they will be. The principal colours having dried, the setting out of the lettering, &c., may be proceeded with; the following directions being duly attended to.

The Setting-out of Letters.[19]

In regard to the proportion of Roman capital letters, it may be taken as a general rule, that the whole of the letters, with the exception of S, J, I, F, M, and N, are formed in squares. The top and bottom of the letters should project the width of the thick line. The letters I and J are formed in a vertical parallelogram, half the width of the square; the letters M and N in a horizontal parallelogram, one third larger than the square. The letters A, B, E, F, H, X, and Y, are either divided, or have projections from the middle. This rule may be varied, and the division placed nearer the top than the base of the square. Capitals in the same word should have a space equal to half a square between them; at the beginning of a word, a whole square, and between the divisions of a sentence two squares should be left.

This is the general rule for the proportions of the letters; but they may be made longer or wider, as may be deemed expedient.

The small letters are half the size of the capitals; the long lines of the letters b, d, f, h, k, and l, are the same height as the capitals; the tails of j, p, q, and y, descending in like proportion. The letter s is founded on the form of two circles at a tangent to each other. These rules are applicable to sloping as well as to upright letters. In italic letters it is usual to make the capitals three times the height of the smaller letters, and the long strokes of the small letters nearly equal to the capitals.

The letters having been duly set out, and painted on the walls, the amateur must next either himself encounter, or employ some experienced hand to overcome, the technical difficulties of successfully gilding those portions of his work he may desire to remain in gold. The following directions may assist him; but he is not likely to succeed until practice shall have given him considerable dexterity and confidence:—

Gilding for Walls, &c.

The implements with which the gilder should provide himself are not numerous, nor are they expensive, as they consist merely of a cushion of particular form, a knife for cutting the gold-leaf, a tip for transferring it, and a cotton ball or pad for pressing it down; these and a few brushes are all the requisites, with the addition of an agate burnisher when burnish gilding is desired.

The cushion is a species of palette made of wood, about 9 inches by 6 inches, having on the upper surface a covering of leather stuffed with wool, and on the under side a loose band, through which the thumb being passed, the cushion is kept firmly resting on the left hand. To prevent the gold flying off (for, being extremely light, this very readily takes place), a margin of parchment is fixed on the edge of the cushion, rising about three inches, and enclosing it on three sides. The knife very much resembles a palette-knife, the blade is about four inches long and half an inch wide, perfectly straight, and cutting on one edge only.

The "tip" is the brush with which the gold-leaf is applied. It is formed by placing a line of badger-hair between two thin pieces of cardboard, and is generally about three inches wide. The "dabber" is merely a pinch of cotton-wool, lightly tied up in a piece of very soft rag, or, what is better, the thin silk called Persian. It is often used without covering, but is then very apt to take up the uncovered gold-size, and so to soil the leaf already laid down. Camel-hair brushes are useful for intricate parts, and for cleaning off the superfluous gold a long-haired brush, called a "softener," is requisite.

There should be also at hand a small stone and muller (these are also made in glass, which is cleaner) for grinding up the oil and gold-size.

The operator, having stocked himself with the above tools, may now proceed to lay the gold-leaf upon the work he desires to gild. There are two methods of doing this, known in the trade as "Oil-gilding" and "Water-gilding;" and so called from the composition of the size which serves as a vehicle for making the gold-leaf adhere to the work.

The following is the usual process in oil-gilding:—This method costs less and will wear much better than water-gilding, which will be presently described; but has not its delicate appearance and finish, nor can it be burnished or brightened up. Though the oil gold-size can always be purchased of good quality, it may be well to describe the fat oil of which it is principally composed.

Linseed oil, in any quantity, is exposed during the summer in the open air, but as much away from dust as possible, for about two months, during which time it must be often stirred, and it will become as thick as treacle. It is a good practice to pour into the pot a quantity of water, so that the oil may be lifted from the bottom of it, as all the impurities of the oil sink into the water, and do not again mix when it is stirred. When of the consistency above mentioned, the oil is separated from the water, and being put into a bottle, is subjected to heat till it becomes fluid again, when all remaining impurities will sink, and the oil, being carefully poured off from the sediment, forms what is termed "fat oil." The gilder commences by priming the work, should it not have been painted, using for the purpose a small portion of yellow ochre and vermilion, mixed with drying oil. When this is quite dry, a coat of the oil gold size, compounded with the fat oil just described, japanner's gold-size, and yellow ochre, is laid on, and when this is perfectly dry, a second should be given, or even a third. A superior finish is produced by going over the work, before using the size, with Dutch rushes or fish-skin, which gives a finer surface to it. After the last coat of size is applied, the work must be left for about a day, to set, taking care to keep it from dust; and the proper state for receiving the gold-leaf is known by touching the size with the finger, when it should be just "tacky," that is adhesive, without leaving the ground on which it has been laid.

The gilder then, taking on his left hand his cushion, transfers to it the gold-leaves from the books in which they are purchased. This is not very easy to a beginner, as the gold cannot be touched except by the knife. Gilders manage it by breathing under the leaf in the direction it is desired to send it, and flatten it on the cushion by the same gentle blowing or breathing. It is now cut to the required shape, and applied to the sized surfaces by means of the tip, which, if drawn across the hair or face each time it is used, will slightly adhere to the gold. The whole leaves are sometimes transferred from the books to the work at once; and when there is much flat space, it facilitates the process. As the leaves are laid on the size, they are pressed gently down with the cotton ball, or in sunken parts with camel-hair brushes; and when perfectly dry, the loose leaf is removed by gently brushing over the work with the softener, when if there should be found any places ungilt, such spots are touched with japanners' gold-size, and the leaf applied as before. The process of oil-gilding is then complete.

Water or burnish-gilding differs from the former in the use of parchment instead of oil size, and has received its name from being moistened with water in rendering the size adhesive, and also from its fitness for burnishing. Its superior beauty, however, is balanced by its being less durable than oil-gilding, and, unlike the latter, unfit to be exposed to damp air; it is therefore only used for indoor work or ornamentation. The parchment size is made by boiling down slips of parchment or cuttings of glovers' leather, till a strong jelly be formed, the proportions being one pound of cuttings to six quarts of water, which must be boiled till it shrinks to two quarts. While hot, the liquid should be strained through flannel; and when cold, the jelly required will be fit for use.

The work to be gilded will require several coats of composition: the first, or priming coat, is made of size thinned with water, and a little whiting; with this the work is brushed over, using a thicker mixture when there are defects which need to be stopped. Successive coats are then laid on to the number of seven or eight, and the last, being moistened with water, is worked over and smoothed on the plain parts with Dutch rushes. After this is completed, a coating is laid on, composed of bol ammoniac 1 pound, black lead 2 ounces, ground up on the stone with 2 ounces of olive oil. This is one out of many receipts; all, however, are diluted for use with parchment size warmed up with two-thirds water, and forming what is called water gold-size. Two coats of this should be laid on; the part about to be burnished should then be again rubbed with a soft cloth till quite even, and care taken that each coat be perfectly dry before the subsequent one be laid on. The work is now moistened in successive portions with a camel-hair brush and water, and while moist covered with gold-leaf in precisely the same manner as described in the directions for oil-gilding, great caution being observed in order to avoid wetting the leaf already laid down, as a discoloration would be the result. The work is now left for about four-and-twenty hours, when the parts which are to be burnished may be tried in two or three places. Care should be taken not to let the work get too dry, as in that case it would require more burnishing, and yet not give a good result. This state is known by its polishing slowly, and if it be too wet it will peel off; but should the places where the trials are made all polish quickly and evenly, the work may then be finished; for which purpose agates cut in proper forms and set into handles, are sold at the artists' colour-shops.[20]

The gilding satisfactorily accomplished, the artist or amateur has only to add the finishing tints and touches to his work, and then either to leave it alone, or to varnish it in accordance with the directions which will be given presently. If the work has been executed on canvass, it will remain only to apply it to the surface for which it may have been destined. This may be done by painting that surface with thick white lead, in two or three coats, and by also similarly painting the back of the canvass. The latter being then pressed evenly down upon the former, while the white lead upon both is still tacky, and, left for a few days, will be found to have attached itself with the greatest tenacity. Scrolls and panels cut out of zinc sheets may be painted upon just as though they were cut out of canvass, and may be fixed in their places by nails or screws. In illuminating on wood, pretty effects may be obtained by varnishing partially with transparent colours, such as the lakes, umber, Prussian blue, burnt sienna, &c., so as to allow the grain of the wood to show through,—restricting the use of opaque colour and gilding to a few brilliant points.

Distempering is a method of colouring walls and ceilings in which powder colour, ground up in water, and mixed with sufficient size to fix the colour, is used instead of paint made with oil. The most simple employment of distemper is in whitening ceilings, but it is also very much used in theatrical decoration and scene-painting; and rooms are sometimes so ornamented, the process being much less expensive than oil-painting. The foundation of all the colours is whiting, which, having been set to soak in water and break up of itself, is (when the top water is poured off) in a fit state for use; common double size is then added, with as much of the colour as will make the desired tint; but as this, when dry, will be many shades lighter than it appears when wet, trials should be made on paper, and dried by the fire till the colour required be attained. A gentle heat is required for melting the size. Old walls are prepared for distemper by being scraped and cleaned, and a coat of "clearcole" given to them. This is merely thin size and water with a little whiting: it serves to wash and smooth the walls and stop suction. Should there be any cracks or holes, a thick paste of size-water and whiting is laid in them with a palette-knife, and, when dry, smoothed down with pumice-stone, and another coat of clearcole given, when the wall is in a proper state to receive the ground tint; for new walls one coat of clearcole is sufficient. If it is intended to lay on lines of various colours, the wall is, previous to the laying on of the ground tint, set out as previously described; and the appropriate colours put on in succession, according to the design to be followed. All the colours required should be ground up, and kept ready prepared in galley-pots well covered over, so as to be at hand at once. The colour should be of the consistency of thick cream, and should run from the brush on being raised from the pot in one thread; if it run in several, it is too thin. If too thick, add more size and water; if too thin, more whiting. The pots used are the common red paint-pots.


Varnish is a solution of resin in oil or spirits of wine.[21]

Surfaces which are to be varnished should be of the greatest smoothness and polish which it is possible to attain. Dark colours are best calculated for varnishing; the lighter colours, such as sky-blue, apple-green, rose-colour, delicate yellow, &c., will not bear varnishing so well, and in spite of the greatest care are liable to get dirty.

The best preparation for stopping suction in absorbent surfaces, and so rendering them fit to take varnish, is made of isinglass or parchment size; for the darker colours it may be made of common clear glue. Four or five coats will be necessary for the brighter colours; two or three will be sufficient for the darker ones. Great care must be taken not to wash up water or distemper colours in laying on the first coat, nor to lay on a second coat before the first is perfectly dry; nor must the varnishing be proceeded with before the last coat of size is thoroughly dry. Varnish may be applied on surfaces brought forward in oil without any special preparation, provided the oil has become thoroughly dry and hard.

This process serves both to enhance and preserve the beauty of the colours, and in some degree to counteract the destructive influence of the atmosphere and of insects.
Varnishes suitable for the work in hand, such as clear copal spirit varnish, oil copal varnish, white hard varnish, &c., may be procured from any one who supplies drawing materials. The varnishing itself requires some little care. It should be performed in a place perfectly free from dust, in a bold manner with large brushes, steadily, rapidly, and uniformly, not returning too frequently to the same spot, more especially when using spirit varnish, which loses its fluidity much sooner than oil varnish. Whichever varnish is used, it should be very thin: if spirit varnish, the room must be of a moderate temperature; for if too cold, the varnishing is apt to be rough, white, and unequal; if too hot, it is liable to have air-bladders, and to crumble and spoil. Oil varnishing may be done in a room of warmer temperature. A second coat of varnish must on no account be laid on before the first coat is quite dry. If the work is to be polished, the spirit varnish must be applied from five to eight times, oil varnish three or four; but if the work is not to be polished, then four coats of the former and two of the latter will generally be found sufficient.

When thoroughly dry, the face of the varnish may be polished with pumice-stone, tripoly, water, and sweet oil. If it be an oil varnish, procure some of the finest pulverized pumice-stone, and mix it with water to about the consistence of cream; with a piece of linen rag dipped in this mixture rub the work till all inequalities disappear, and the surface is as smooth as glass; then dry it with a cloth, and polish once more with tripoly and sweet oil; then dry it with a piece of soft linen, rub it with starch reduced to a fine powder, and finish with a clean soft linen cloth, until the varnish assumes a dazzling appearance. If it is a spirit varnish, omit the pumice-stone, and begin with the tripoly and water; after this use the tripoly and sweet oil, and finish as before described for the oil varnish.

The difference is so striking between the polished and unpolished surfaces, as to amply repay the additional trouble required in the polishing. The polishing powders must be kept in thoroughly clean vessels, a single grain of sand being sufficient to spoil the polish.


37, Tavistock Place, W.C.
April, 1861.

  1. "Materials for a History of Oil-painting," by Charles Lock Eastlake: London, 1847.
  2. The most copious text of Heraclius is contained in the Le Bègue collection of writers on art, brought together by Master John Le Bègue, of Paris, in the 15th century.
  3. Sir Charles Eastlake does not place Heraclius so early as Raspe and Mr. Hendrie do. I incline to agree with the last-named critics.
  4. The text of Heraclius is given not from the Le Bègue manuscript, but from one less perfect, formerly at Cambridge, but now in the British Museum, Egerton 840 A, in Raspe's work—"A Critical Essay on Oil-painting." London, 1781.
  5. Muratori, "Antiq. Ital. Medii Ævi," p. 269.
  6. The title he himself gives to his work illustrates its comprehensive character—"Theophili qui et Rugerus, Presbyteri et Monachi Libri III. de diversis Artibus, seu diversarum Artium Schedula." Translations, with excellent critical comments, have been made by the Count de l'Escalopier into French, and by Mr. Robert Hendrie into English. In the extracts here given I have followed the accurate text of the last-named gentleman.
  7. I cannot take leave of this good old monk, the influence exercised by whose writings during the whole of the Middle Ages is proved by the numerous transcripts of them executed at different periods, still preserved in most of the chief European libraries, without giving him credit for a pure and liberal philanthropy worthy of imitation in all ages. Nothing can be more dignified and noble than the words in which he concludes the introduction to his work. After reciting the various arts he has endeavoured to illustrate, and the sufferings and labour through which the knowledge he desires to convey to others had been acquired by himself, he winds up by saying:— "When you shall have re-read this often, and have committed it to your tenacious memory, you shall thus recompense me for this care of instruction, that, as often as you shall successfully have made use of my work, you pray for me for the pity of omnipotent God, who knows that I have written these things which are here arranged, neither through love of human approbation, nor through desire of temporal reward, nor have I stolen anything precious or rare through envious jealousy, nor have I kept back anything reserved for myself alone; but, in augmentation of the honour and glory of His name, I have consulted the progress and hastened to aid the necessities of many men."
  8. It will be found given in extenso in the 32nd vol. of "The Archæologia," pp. 183-244, with an elaborate letter from its possessor.
  9. There is some confusion about this word, for it is used to denote mixtures which would produce real rose-colour, light warm yellow, and a perfect drab.
  10. That is, the mineral green with the vegetable madder.
  11. A beautiful example may be found in Dan Lydgate's legends of St. Edmund and St. Fremund, MS. Harleian, 2278.
  12. "Materials for a History of Oil-painting," by Charles Lock Eastlake (Lond. 1847), pp. 127, 128.
  13. Mr. Edwin Jewitt's little "Manual of Illuminated and Missal Painting," Mr. Randle Harrison's, Mr. Albert Warren's, and Mr. Henry M. Lucien's, published by Messrs. Barnard, of Oxford-street; Mr. J. W. Bradley's, and Mr. T. G. Goodwin's, published by Messrs. Winsor & Newton, of Rathbone Place; and Mr. Noel Humphrey's hand-book on the same subject, have no doubt proved useful to many, and helped to produce the quantity of good illumination now executed.
  14. For illumination in water-colour on paper, cardboard, or vellum, Messrs. Winsor & Newton, Rowney, Barnard, Newman, and others, fit up boxes with special selections of all requisite materials; including all that can be wanted for the application and burnishing of gold and other metals. Messrs. Miller's "Glass Mediums, Nos. 1 and 2," and Newman's "Preparation for sizing albumenized papers," are exceedingly useful for mixing with illuminating colours; giving great hardness and body to them, and preventing them from "washing up," in working over with glazing and other tints. I have found Mr. Barbe's powder body-colours give remarkably solid tints, with great freedom in working.
  15. This had better be bought ready prepared, since some experience is requisite in so applying the red chalk as to prevent its depositing under the weight of the hand, and yet coming off sufficiently in the line traced by the point.
  16. The experienced illuminator will generally do his writing before he gets in the outline of his ornament, and he will frequently dispense with the transferring process altogether; but it would be by no means safe for a beginner to do so.
  17. Both the cushion and tip will be described in detail under the head of Oil-gilding.
  18. The amateur may of course prepare mordants of different degrees of tenacity and body for his own use, by the employment, and various combinations, of leather and parchment size, isinglass, red lead, gum arabic, sugar, honey, glycerine, borax, plaster of Paris, bol ammoniac, glaire, and similar substances; but his time will be more profitably spent in improving himself in design than it could be (nowadays) in experimenting on the "materia technica" of art.
  19. This information is principally derived from Nathaniel Whittock's "Decorative Painter's and Glazier's Guide." It gives the usual practice of "Writers to the trade," but must, of course, be modified according to the specialities of any of the historical styles adopted.
  20. Japanners' gilding is a branch of oil-gilding, the size or ground being made with 1 pound of linseed oil, to which, while boiling, is added gradually 4 ounces of gum animi in powder, the whole being stirred until the gum is completely dissolved, and kept boiling till the mixture is of a thick consistence, in which state it should be strained through a thick flannel, and stored in a wide-mouthed stoppered bottle. Vermilion is ground up with the size before it is applied, to render it opaque; and if it does not leave the brush freely, it should be thinned with oil of turpentine. The gold powder may be either real gold, or what is called Dutch metal, or imitation gold. Gold powder is produced by grinding the leaf gold with pure honey on the stone till it is perfectly reduced to powder, and afterwards dissolving the mixture in water till the honey is completely removed, and for this several waters are necessary; the water is then poured off, and the powder dried. If this gold be mixed up with weak gum-water and spread upon cockle-shells, it is then called shell gold, which is used in drawings only. The Dutch gold powder is made by reducing the Dutch leaf gold by exactly the same process; and if well protected by varnishing, its appearance is little inferior to the genuine metal. There is another method of procuring gold powder, which is by precipitating grain gold into powder by means of aqua regia, which is made by dissolving four parts of pure spirit of nitre and one part of sal ammoniac in powder. This process was (as has been already stated) well known to the mediæval illuminators. In 4 ounces of this compound, ½ an ounce of grain gold is dissolved under the action of a slight heat; a solution of green vitriol, consisting of copperas 1 dram, water 1 ounce, being gradually added. When the precipitation has ceased, the gold powder must be carefully washed and dried, and will be found to be more brilliant than that made from leaf gold. The use of japanners' gold-size is very similar to oil-gilding, and is equally simple. If the material to be gilded is brought to a smooth and clean face, the size may be laid on at once without other preparation; using great care, however, not to touch any part but what you wish to gild, as the gold will adhere wherever there is size. Priming with a mixture of chalk and size is sometimes used for a first coat, but not by the best japanners, as the work is liable to chip off; no material should therefore be japanned which cannot be made smooth. For hard or close-grained wood, metal, leather, or paper, one or two coats of varnish will answer all requirements; very great care being observed that each coat of varnish be perfectly dry and hard before it is again touched. It is a good practice to allow the work to stand a day or two between the applications; then the japanners' gold-size may be added, and touching with the finger as before described will indicate the proper state for applying the gold, whether in leaf or powder. Either may be employed; but in the case of colours being intermixed and subsequently varnished, the powder is usually adopted; it is easily laid on by means of a camel-hair brush, the work being set aside to get thoroughly dry, when the superfluous metal is removed with a soft brush. In case more size should have been prepared than is needed, the remainder, if water be poured over it, will keep for future use.
  21. The superiority of the Chinese and Japanese varnishing is chiefly owing to the excellence of a particular species of resin found in China and Japan. The varnishes made with oil are longer drying than those made with spirits of wine, but are of greater durability. The spirits of wine should be highly rectified: if oil is used, it should be linseed. It is safer to purchase the varnish ready prepared than to attempt the making of it, as the solution of resin, particularly in oil, is somewhat dangerous.