17th-Century Dutch Painters Didn't Have Pantone. They Had This Gorgeous Book.

Slate’s design blog.
May 9 2014 9:15 AM

A Gorgeous 17th-Century Dutch Watercolor Manual That Stands the Test of Time

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This 898-page watercolor mixing manual from 1692 is handwritten and illustrated in Dutch.

Courtesy of Bibliothèque Méjanes via Colossal

Earlier this week Dutch medieval book historian Erik Kwakkel stumbled upon a gorgeously illustrated 1692 tome devoted to the art of mixing watercolors in an online database from the Bibliothèque Méjanes in Aix-en-Provence and posted the images on his Tumblr.

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The watercolor mixing tome is believed to be one-of-a-kind.

Courtesy of Bibliothèque Méjanes via Colossal

The more than 898-page book—handwritten in Dutch by an author identified as “A. Boogert”—is a nuanced guide to mixing watercolor paints. A long introduction currently being translated by Kwakkel is accompanied by beautiful illustrations and a comprehensive index of subtly varying colors that’s a 17th-century answer to the Pantone color guide.

“In the 17th century, an age known as the Golden Age of Dutch Painting, this manual would have hit the right spot,” Kwakkel writes. “It makes sense, then, that the author explains in the introduction that he wrote the book for educational purposes.”

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Dutch book historian Erik Kwakkel stumbled on the guide in an online database.

Courtesy of Bibliothèque Méjanes via Colossal

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The historian points out that “because the manual is written by hand and therefore literally one of a kind, it did not get the ‘reach’ among painters—or attention among modern art historians—it deserves.”

Kwakkel notes in an update on his blog that the photos have been picked up on Gizmodo and Colossal, and he has since learned that the book is being studied by a Dutch scholar at the University of Amsterdam. In the meantime, zoomable images of the exquisite book can be viewed here.

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The author of the 17th-century watercolor mixing book is identified only as A. Boogert.

Courtesy of Bibliothèque Méjanes via Colossal

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