From the Graveyard: Formulas for Flesh – Part I: Caravaggio, Guercino, Reni and Caracci

August 19th, 2018 – Rome

I was looking back through some drafts of posts that I had never published, and came across one that I had started back in January of 2015.

Entitled “Formulas for Flesh – Part 1”, I was clearly still convinced at that time that such a thing existed, despite the Delacroix quote to the contrary.

I publish this now as I see there are many good details from a show I had just seen (I believe at Palazzo Barberini) on Caravaggio, Guercino, Guido Reni and Caracci.

Today I am less convinced that there is a formula for the color of flesh… but I do think there are strategies to be considered in terms of managing luminosity and temperature.

What do you think?


January 28th, 2015 – Rome

I believe there is a case to be made for “flesh formulas.”

Delacroix has a curious quote regarding flesh color:

Give me some mud, I will make of it the skin of Venus, if you leave to me the choice of the surroundings.¹

What exactly does this mean?  On the surface it appears to say that flesh color is ultimately the result of a contextual relationship between the color chosen for the flesh and the color that surrounds it.  Below the surface it could be read as a taunt: folly be upon you if it is a formula for flesh you seek!

But what if I reverse-engineer the quote?

Is it folly to hope for a flesh-tone formula?  And what exactly would a flesh-tone formula look like?  Would it be something like 2 parts Lead White + 1 part Vermilion + 1 part Yellow Ochre?

¹ Jehan-Georges Vibert, “The Science of Painting,” page 55.


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