Grisaille – Dead Colour Underpainting

There are many different ways to construct a painting. With this painting I used grisaille or dead colour underpainting. Grisaille is a French term for painting executed entirely in monochrome or near-monochrome, usually in shades of grey. It is particularly used in large decorative schemes in imitation of sculpture. A grisaille may be executed for its own sake or as an underpainting for an oil painting in preparation for glazing layers of colour over it.

In the Low Countries a continuous tradition of grisaille paintings can be traced from Early Netherlandish painting of Pieter Brueghel the Elder to the circle of Rembrandt, and Jan van Goyen.

In this painting when I applied coloured glazes over the grisaille, I used a more restricted colours such as the Apelles palette.
For 2000 years Apelles of Cos was known as the greatest of painters. Praised for his grace and sensuality – he was not only Alexander the Great’s exclusive portrait painter, but was the single greatest influence on what we know as the Renaissance and Baroque.

Albrecht Durer was known as the “German Apelles”. Botticelli bragged he was Apelles reincarnated and repeated his compositions. Rembrandt, late in life, adopted the four color “Apelles palette” striving for his graceful harmony. And Titian unabashedly recreated Apelles’ “Armor-bearer” which now hangs at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The Old Masters were proud to be “behind the times”, unoriginal, and earnest pupils of Apelles.

Today modern painters such as Norwegian painter, Odd Nerdrum, also work with this classical technique.

The basic constituents of the ancient four-colour palette were therefore Red Ochre, Yellow Ochre, Chalk White (Gypsum White) and Vine Black (Blue Black). A notable feature of the palette was the absence not only of blue but also of green and purple, and all the brighter pigments.

However, I have not remained fixed to this exact selection of colours and and used a selection close to this. The Blue Black was the most interesting of all of the colours for me to use, as a great variance can be achieved with it.

Details of the painting used in this video can be found on the artwork page, “The Muse”.

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  1. […] video shows you the technique I used to create the original […]

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