Advice from 15th Century Florence Italy

"Art is a labor of love, but it is still a labor."

I was browsing in a used bookstore and found this little paperback written by Cennino d'Andrea Cennini who told the secrets and techniques of the great masters.

This was his Art Students Instruction Book to the ways of the craft of all manner of painting.

Here's a 500 year old piece of useful advice from this book:

(Clip from book)

Naturally I went out and photographed the first rock in my backyard that sort of looked like a mountain (easy to find as I live in the "granite state" where giant rocks litter the landscape).

Thanks for the tip Cennino.

Could it be that these rocks were in Andrea Mantegna's back yard?

Raphael painted this one above - maybe he was the one who gave Cennino the rock/mountain tip for his book.

(Another clip from this book)

This piece of advice really made me laugh. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to eat at Cennino's house with all that trash under his table. 


Do you think the charcoal used in this old drapery study came from under an artist's dining table?

Locating and properly preparing materials appeared to consume about 95% of the effort of painting in the 15th century.

(Detail from a  painting by Cennini)

We are so lucky to be able to buy a tube of paint, use it right away and then put a cap on it and save the rest for later.

Five hundred years ago, it seems, we would have to find some goat urine (how would one go about finding a cooperative goat?), egg yolks, garlic and then grind some rocks before we were good to go.

Now I really can appreciate Dick Blick and my local art store.

Cennino d'Andrea Cennini gave a lot of advice in this amazing little book - here are some of his topics:
How to paint water.
How to paint a dead man.
How to paint green (and other colored) drapery.
How to paint faces.
How buildings are to be painted.
How to do velvet, wool and silk.
How to make a painting look as it it were varnished.

Two works (above) by Cennini that show his skill in painting yellow and green drapery.

The how-to's excerpted from this wonderful little book are still vibrant five hundred years after it was composed. The details also unwittingly reveal something of contemporary everyday life, where the art came from. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh when I read the section in Cennini and posted in on a thread on lapis lazuli:

"When you find that it is dry, put it in leather, or in a purse, and leave it alone, for it is good and perfect. And keep it to yourself, for it is an unusual ability to know how to make it properly. And know that making it is an occupation for pretty girls rather than for men; for they are always at home, and reliable, and they have more dainty hands. Just beware of old women. When you get around to wanting to use some of this blue,take as much of it as you need."

mmm. by 14 century standards I'm already an old woman...