Εἷς μὲν οὖν τρόπος τῆς γενέσεως τῶν χρωμάτων οὗτος, εἷς δὲ τὸ φαίνεσθαι δι᾿ ἀλλήλων, οἷον ἐνίοτε οἱ γραφῆς ποιοῦσιν, ἑτέραν χρόαν ἐφ᾿ ἑτέραν ἐναργεστέραν ἐπαλείφουσιν

Another theory is that they appear through one another, as sometimes painters produce them, when they lay a colour over another more vivid one (Trans. W.S. Hett, 1957).

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L'autre (théorie) consiste à faire paraître les couleurs l'une à travers l'autre, comme les peintres le font parfois, en posant une autre teinte sur une teinte plus vive. (Traduction : A. Reinach, 1921 modifiée)

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Commentary

  1. The passage is part of a larger discussion in which Aristotle outlines his own theories on colours and vision. This passage discusses the theory of emanation that circulated in his time and was supported by Aristotle's predecessors (Leucippus, Democritus and maybe Empedocles) which holds that colours are obtained by superposition. Since Homeric times, colours had been understood in terms of luminosity (Sassi 2003, pp. 18-23) so, in order to obtain darker or brighter colors, one would have to add more darkness or luminosity by superimposing colors – the colors are " appearing through one another" (phainesthai) (Mugler 1964, pp. 410-413; Sassi 2015; 2009; Carastro 2009; Grand-Clément 2011, pp. 16-49). Aristotle refutes this theory in lines 440 a16-18; Aristotle actually understood colours in terms of proportions and mixing (i.e. chemical blending). In other words, he saw colours as the result of the right mathematical ratio of dark/darkness (melan) and white/brightness (leukon), just like how (musical) notes work in a harmony (Sorabji, 1972, pp. 294-298; 2004, pp. 129-130; a comparison between colours and music is found in Pliny, N.H. 35.29-30; see Pollitt 2014, pp. 293-295).
  2. Although Aristotle's interest is mainly theoretical, the technique of layering certain colours to produce others (i.e. "mixed colours" as green, orange, purple, violet etc.) is known from Ancient Greek painting (Pliny, 35.45; Lucien, Imagines 7 = text 54; Bruno, 1977, pp. 41-44; 1985, pp.31-41; Brécoulaki, 2006, pp.440-450; Bourgeois-Jockey, 2007, p. 180; on colors of the rainbow and color's theory in Hellenistic times, see Aristotle, Meteorology 3.43375a4-11; De coloribus; Gottschalk 1964, pp. 75-85; Saltz-Merker 1967; Rouveret, 2007, pp. 73-78). One can find examples in Macedonian tomb painting, from the simplest (one or two layers) to the more sophisticated (five layers) examples, such as the pediment of the "Tomb of the Palmettes" (Lefkadia Tomb VII) - end of the 4th century-early 3rd century BC. (Brécoulaki 2006, pp. 173-204, esp. pp. 185-191 and plates 64-67; 2010, pp. 148-150; Miller 2014, pp. 226-227, fig. 5.4). This doesn't mean that ancient painters were not aware of the pigment-mixing technique. On the contrary, recent studies show that they did use pigment mixing (as in the "Tomb of Eurydice" in Vergina-Agai, see Brécoulaki 2006, pp. 75-76). However, the technique was disregarded (and even scorned) by philosophers since they considered that mixed pigments were impure (Brécoulaki 2006, pp. 445-450).
  3. For more on colors in Antiquity, see here
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Bibliography

Aristote, Oeuvres complètes 2014, Pierre Pellegrin (dir.), Flammarion, Paris;

Aristote, petits traités d'histoire naturelle 1965, texte établi et traduit par René Mugnier, 2e ed., Les Belles Lettres, Paris;

Aristotle. On the Soul. Parva Naturalia. On Breath. 1957, Translated by W. S. Hett. Loeb Classical Library 288. Harvard University Press,Cambridge;

Bourgeois, B. and Jockey, P. 2007, "Le marbre, l'or et la couleur : nouveaux regards sur la polychromie de la sculpture hellénisitque de Délos" in Descamp-Lequime, S. (ed.),Peinture et couleur dans le monde grec antique, Actes des journées, Auditorium du Louvre, 10 et 27 ,mars 2003, Musée du Louvre, Paris, pp.163-192;

Brécoulaki, H. 2006, La peinture funéraire de Macédoine : emploi et fonction de la couleur, IVe-IIe siècles av. J.-C., Fondation nationale de la recherche scientifique, Athènes : Centre de recherches de l'antiquité grecque et romaine;

Bruno, V. 1977, Form and colour in Greek painting, W.W. Norton and Company Inc., New-York;

Bruno, V. 1985, Hellenistic painting techniques : the evidence of the Delos fragments, Brill, Leiden;

Carastro, M. 2009, "La notion de Khros chez Homère. Éléments pour une anthropologie de la couleur en Grèce ancienne" in L'Antiquité en couleurs : catégories, pratiques, représentations. Actes des journées d'études organisées à Paris en 2005, par l'atelier « Antiquité et sciences sociales » du Centre Louis Gernet de recherches comparées sur les sociétés anciennes, Grenoble, pp. 301-313;

Gottschalk, H.B. 1964, "The de Coloribus and Its Author" in Hermes 92 n.1, p. 59-85;

Grand-Clément, A. 2011, La fabrique des couleurs. Histoire du paysage sensible des grecs anciens (VIIIe s.- déb Ve s. av. n. è), De Boccard, Paris;

Miller, S. G. 2014, "Hellenistic painting in the Eastern Mediterranean, mid-fourth to mi-first century B.C." in Pollitt J.J. (ed) The Cambridge History of painting in the classical world, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 170-237;

Mugler, C. 1964, Dictionnaire historique de la terminologie optique des Grecs : douze siècles de dialogues avec la lumière, Klincksieck, Paris;

Pollitt, J.J. 2014, " Painting in Greek and Greaco-roman art criticism" in Pollitt J.J. (ed) The Cambridge History of painting in the classical world, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 288-301;

Rhomiopoulou, K and Schmidt-Dounas, B. 2010, Das Palmettengrab in Lefkadia, (AM-BH);

Rouveret, A. 2007, "La couleur retrouvée. Découvertes de Macédoine et textes antiques" in Descamp-Lequime, S. (ed.),Peinture et couleur dans le monde grec antique, Actes des journées, Auditorium du Louvre, 10 et 27 ,mars 2003, Musée du Louvre, Paris, pp. 69-80;

Saltz-Merker, G. 1967, " The Rainbow Mosaic at Pergamon and Aristotelian Color Theory" in American Journal of Archaeology 71 n.1, p. 81-82;

Sassi, M.M. 2003, "Il problema del colore fra stria e antropologia" in Beta Simone and Sassi Maria M. (ed.), I colori nel mondo antico: esperienze linguistiche e quadri simbolici : atti della giornata di studio, Siena, 28 marzo 2001, Fiesole, pp. 9-23;

Sassi, M.M. 2009, "Entre corps et lumière : réflexions antiques sur la nature de la couleur" in L'Antiquité en couleurs : catégories, pratiques, représentations. Actes des journées d'études organisées à Paris en 2005, par l'atelier « Antiquité et sciences sociales » du Centre Louis Gernet de recherches comparées sur les sociétés anciennes, Grenoble, pp. 275-300;

Sassi, M.M. 2015, "Percieving colors" in Destrée & Murray (eds.) A companion to ancient aesthetics, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 262-273;

Sorabji, R. 1972, " Aristotle, mathematics and colour" in Classical Quarterly 22 n.2 , pp. 293-308;

Sorabji, R. 2004, " Aristotle on colour, light and imperceptibles" in Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 47, pp. 129-140;

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