This life work was more or less an injury and loss to me in many ways.
—Albert Abendschein, author of The Secret of the Old Masters, published in 1909
As such, I wouldn’t dare be the one to spoil Mr. Abendshein’s efforts by readily revealing the “secret.” It’s actually a fascinating read: the author spends most of the book walking you through his torment (via his many experiments in pursuit of the secret) until he gets to the end and reveals the discovered secret in a couple of paragraphs.
You can find a link to this book in PDF format in the Bibliography.
Below are the annotations I made while reading this book on the iPad:
Annotation Summary for: ocr-secretsofoldmasters-abeniala
Page 13: Chapters
Page 23: Looking for an elephant where a mouse should have been.
Page 25: The grand old masters…
Page 26: Content: “… been a great artist, he may not have been an equally great craftsman, and exer·”
Page 26: Connection between art and craft
Page 28: Artistic heresy
Page 30: Technical copies
Page 35: Wax advantages
Page 37: Proof masters Did Not use color + varnish only
Page 37: Reynolds flesh trick – that yellows
Page 38: Resins, wax, oil tests
Page 40: Cracking
Page 41: Mastic yellows quickly
Page 41: On Dammar
Page 42: Copal is superior resin
Page 47: Turpin varnish is worthless
Page 50: The three oils & “linolein”
Page 55: Some changed color…ashamed?
Page 56: The white of egg yellow… Tell Matt
Page 56: Oil alone as medium?
Page 58: Medium is still a mystery….
Page 58: Ground must be white
Page 60: Heavy under painting like Titian
Page 66: Grounds, gesso, will he describe what I learned from Odd?…
Page 68: Durer letter on ground
Page 72: Avoid absorbent grounds
Page 72: Use of copal over white ground
Page 73: Or, put glue over the surface…
Page 75: Varnish grounds, Reynolds
Page 75: Ground of copal varnish + white
Page 77: the pure white ground…
Page 78: The end sought…
Page 79: The first veil….!
Page 83: Influence of ground color on eye
Page 84: Rubens did not want black in shadows
Page 84: Formula for the veil…
Page 85: Is the odd ground an absorbent ground?
Page 86: The effect of copal…
Page 87: Titian and Time saving…
Page 87: Reddish ground used by Innes!
Page 87: Innes stained with Venetian red
Page 88: Turners ground…
Page 90: Velazquez maintained his style…
Page 91: The Venetian secret
Page 93: Blue-black and white in tone…
Page 94: After the “dead color”
Page 95: Exceptional Titian quote, “he who improvises…”
Page 98: Van Dycks treatment of blacks: first paint a warm tint, then black all a prima
Page 99: Red drapery: start colder and lighter than final.
Page 99: Painting green drapery
Page 100: Dead coloring Does Not preclude “alla prima”
Page 100: On painting hair…
Page 100: Most beautiful hair: titian Mary magdalene
Page 101: Paint Anna with Venetian method…?
Page 102: Superior of dead coloring…
Page 102: Good paintings like good wine…
Page 105: Van dyck on quality of oil…
Page 105: Titian: three colors: whit, red, black.
Page 107: Titian unfinished works
Page 107: What is the Titian red? Not indian red, nor Vermilion…
Page 108: Speculation on Titian red…
Page 109: V’s foundation is vermillion, Reynold’s Indian Red
Page 110: Black and white alone is unwise…
Page 110: First-hand description of Titian method
Page 111: Titian on flesh
Page 113: Du fresnoy: titian middle phase is best…?
Page 114: Is Caravaggio’s Christ in the Entombment a good exemplar of dead coloring?
Page 114: The four color “cool” palette
Page 118: …Assuming it was correct in form and modeling!
Page 120: With proper dead coloring, “the glazings should work”
Page 121: Titian jealously guarded his secrets
Page 125: Veronese technique…
Page 125: Our theory of practice is founded on close observation of nature & analysis of masters
Page 126: THE foundation tint is red, white and black
Page 127: SO: no yellow in the first tint!
Page 127: No yellow allows dead coloring to shine through.
Page 128: Veronese: highlights and accents were transparent and warmer.
Page 129: Van Dyck affected by the redder painting of Titian.
Page 131: The painter as magician!!!
Page 132: As Odd says: it is so simple
Page 133: Reynolds diaries prove he was consumed with technical difficulties..
Page 133: Gainsborough knew something Reynolds did not!
Page 136: Aha! He used a Lake for his “dead color” red… And it was fugitive!
Page 137: Titian and Rubens return to their graves to keep warm…! Lol
Page 138: Reynolds ensures destruction…
Page 140: 1781, 11 years before his death…
Page 141: Again, Titian quote:
Page 142: Turner studies Reynolds…
Page 144: William Etty Technique, complete
Page 144: …secure with Copal glaze…ask Piero about this.
Page 146: Keep the foundation painting soft and broad.
Page 146: What makes a “master”…
Page 148: The True medium
Page 150: The vanishing Hungarian
Page 153: The quip of chemist: “artists were phenomenally ignorant of their materials, but did not lack confidence.”
Page 156: When you cover varnish or semi glaze there is deterioration
Page 158: Find this book: art of oil painting by j f l merimee
Page 160: Sunlight is the secret
Page 162: Direct sunlight… But where?
Page 162: Good honest color becomes more brilliant… Madder disappears, poor vermilion disappears
Page 164: Is there a letter of proof…?
Page 165: The evidence!
Page 165: Largest collections of artist letters
Page 166: Letter from Titian
Page 166: “without placing in the sun (varnish) cannot dry”!!!
Page 168: Vasari – this is the letter Odd refered to! Not in Venice! In Rome!!
Page 170: Letter from Rubens…
Page 171: The magic of the sun!!!
Page 172: Second letter from Rubens…
Page 173: Proof that Rubens used only oil… And the sun for the “heart disease”
Page 174: More letters from Rubens…
Page 176: The secret in the medium is the “drying”
Page 179: The magic trinity: Knowledge, Ability, and Vitality
Page 180: Bone brown! Color used by V
Page 180: Linseed, poppy, nut
Page 183: Only use madders when they are light proof…
Page 183: Reynolds joke of “flying Colors”
Page 185: On vermilion and white lead
Page 187: Proof that Rubens used lead white
Page 187: The old masters had one ochre… A deep red… Mine from Africa??
Page 188: Nudes were painted in absence of strong reds and yellows… So what then?
Page 191: List of durable colors…
Page 193: Strength of Indian red increases in time
Page 194: Raw and burnt sienna
Page 195: Burnt terre vert…. Good for breaking red or yellow.
Page 197: Testing color
Page 201: The sunlight test…
Page 205: Rubens final varnish… What is “litharge”?
Page 205: White palette: what odd does with foam core
Page 206: White palettes force the artist to work unconsciously in a higher key.
Page 207: Trumbull portrait of Hamilton
Page 208: Common sense
Page 208: Because titian painted with his fingers…
Page 209: Titian: Red veil over white canvas…
Page 209: “Art is no longer art when it is shackled” hmmm not sure I fully agree.
Page 210: Do not put light cold over warm?? Like Eclisse?
Page 211: “coming through” something V did not avoid.
Page 211: Veils are made of: raw umber, raw sienna, ultramarine, burnt sienna, madders, bone brown, ivory black
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