This 800-Page Book Of Colors Predates Pantone By 271 Years

Brilliance | Dec. 18, 2017

In 1963, Lawrence Herbert published the Pantone Color Guide, a comprehensive system of identifying and matching colors. But 271 years before that in 1672, a Dutch artist compiled Traité des couleurs servant à la peinture à l'eau, a nearly 800-page book that did pretty much the same thing. One got a bigger audience than the other; we'll let you guess which.

A Book Shrouded In Mystery

For something that took so much work to create, the book's author sure didn't try very hard to get their due credit. The author is listed only as A. Boogert, and scholars are at a loss as to any other biographical details. Whoever the author is, the book itself seems to have been created as an educational tool, teaching young painters how to mix watercolor paint and change their tone (by adding "one, two, or three portions of water"). Each page shows several colors in various shades, with a name and a listing in an index. The result is nearly 800 pages of vivid hues and beautiful Dutch script—pages that have only been seen by a precious few, until now.

The "Traité" Today

The timing of the book makes sense—the 17th century was known as the Golden Age of Dutch Art, and as many as 10 million works were created during that time. Despite the book's aim as an educational guide, there was only a single copy made, so scholars guess that only a handful of people were ever able to read it. But today, we have a little thing called the internet. That means that nearly three centuries after writing it, "A. Boogert" is getting his or her just desserts: thousands of people can now admire the hard work that went into making this book a reality. The source of the original digital images seems to have vanished from the web, but you can still admire some of the author's handiwork here.

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