Vermeer’s Palette

The number of pigments available to the 17th c. Dutch painter were few indeed when compared to those available to the modern artist. While the current catalogue of one of the most respected color producers (Rembrandt) displays more than a hundred pigments, less than 20 pigments have been detected in Vermeer’s oeuvre. Of these few pigments only ten seemed to have been used in a more or less systematic way. In Vermeer’s time, each pigment was different in regards to permanence, workability, drying time, and means of production. Moreover, many pigments were not mutually compatible and had to be used separately. The following study examines the history and origin of each pigment and how they were employed by Vermeer and his contemporaries as well as essential aspects of the artist’s palette.

All Known Vermeer’s Pigments

azurite, carmine, charcoal black, green earth, indigo, ivory black, lead white, lead-tin yellow, madder lake, red ocher, smalt, ultramarine, umber, weld, verdigris, vermillion  and yellow ocher.

It is extrremely unlikely that Vermeer had on his palette in any given work session all the pigments that were available to him. Painters were known to use specific palettes set out each day according the passage to be painted. The wooden palette to the left represents the seven principle pigments which Vermeer commonly employed; 1. white lead, 2. yellow ochre, 3. vermillion, 4. red madder, 5, green earth, 6. raw umber and 7. ivory balck.