Paint History

In general, paints can be defined as a combination of substances intended to change the color of an item. In human life, paints are found at every step. Without even thinking about it, we see the result of the “activity” of paint everywhere: from paintings painted by great artists to painted facades of houses and fences. Any of us, after a little thought, can name more than ten names of paints used in different areas of life.

The appearance of paints

The role of paint is difficult to overestimate. Without bright colors, the world and objects would be very boring and dull. No wonder people try to imitate nature, creating clean and rich shades. Paints have been known to mankind since primitive times.

Primitive times

Bright minerals attracted the eyes of our distant ancestors. It was then that a person guessed to grind such substances into powder and, adding some elements, receive the first in the history of paint. Colored clay was also used. The more people developed, the greater the need became to capture and transmit their knowledge. At first, walls of caves and rocks were used for this, as well as the most primitive paints. It is believed that the oldest of the discovered cave paintings are more than 17 thousand years old! At the same time, the painting of prehistoric people is quite well preserved.

Basically, the first paints were made from ferruginous natural ocher minerals. The name has Greek roots. For light shades, a pure substance was used, to obtain darker black charcoal was added to the mixture. All solids were triturated by hand between two flat stones. Then directly the paint was mixed on animal fats. Such paints fell well on the stone and did not dry out for a long time due to the peculiarities of the interaction of fat with air. The resulting coating, as mentioned earlier, was very durable and resistant to the damaging effects of the environment and time.

For cave painting, yellow ocher was used predominantly. Reddish shades were left for ritual drawings on the bodies of deceased tribal residents.

Presumably, these rituals gave the modern name to the mineral red iron ore hematite, from the Greek language translated as “blood”. Red color gives the mineral anhydrous iron oxide.

Ancient Egypt

Time passed, and humanity was discovering new types and methods of producing paints. About five thousand years ago, cinnabar appeared a mercury mineral that gives the paint a scarlet color. Cinnabar gained the most popularity among the ancient Assyrians, Chinese, and Egyptians.

The Egyptians at the dawn of the heyday of their civilization discovered the secret of making purple (violet-red) paint. Secretion was isolated from a special type of snail, which was then added to the standard composition of coloring substances.

Since ancient times, people used lime to create white paint, which is the end product of burning limestone minerals, oysters, chalk and marble. This paint was one of the cheapest and easiest to make. In addition, white lime can argue with ocher in the question of the antiquity of the recipe.

Egyptian tombs and pyramids of the pharaohs transferred from the heyday of Egyptian civilization a surprisingly beautiful and pure shade lapis lazuli, natural ultramarine. Even after several thousand years, the drawings did not lose their brightness and did not fade. The main coloring pigment in such paint is a mineral powder called lapis lazuli. In ancient Egypt, lapis lazuli was very expensive. Most often, priceless paint was used to depict the sacred symbol of the Egyptians the scarab beetle.

I must say that since ancient times, the methods of paint production have not undergone significant changes. Solids are also ground into powder, however, using special installations. Instead of natural fats, polymer substances are now used. But to obtain dark shades, soot is still used, but it has already been cleaned with modern methods.

Ancient China

Chinese civilization is palm in the making of paper. Here, behind the Great Wall of China, light watercolor paints appeared. In addition to dyes and oils, they include honey, glycerin, and sugar.

To create paintings from watercolor paints you need a suitable foundation. Canvases, wood, stones and other traditional objects on which paints are applied cannot be used for this purpose: watercolor will not lie on them well. Therefore, when drawing with watercolors, the only paper is used. This explains the fact that such paints appeared in China, which is the progenitor of paper production.

Middle Ages

The Middle Ages gave the world oil paints. Their advantage was their great durability and reliability, as well as their relatively short drying time. The basis for such paints is natural vegetable oils: nut, poppy, linseed, and others.

During the Middle Ages, people learned to apply oil paints precisely in thin layers. The resulting picture acquired due to this depth and volume. The color rendition also improved.

However, not all masters of medieval painting created their paints based on vegetable fats. Someone kneading dyes on egg white, someone on casein, which is one of the derivatives of milk.

Due to the unique features of the production of various paints, there were some historical incidents. The Last Supper, created by the famous medieval master Leonardo da Vinci, began to collapse during the life of the artist. This was because oil paints based on vegetable fats were mixed with paints based on egg white diluted in water. The chemical reaction that arose, in this case, interfered with the reliability of the coating and the preservation of the picture.

Natural components, coupled with manual production, made paints a rather expensive material. This was especially true of natural lapis lazuli. The mineral lapis lazuli used in the manufacture of ultramarine paint was imported to Europe from the Middle East. The mineral was very rare and, accordingly, expensive. Artists used lapis lazuli only when the customer of the work paid for the paint in advance.

New discoveries

The situation began to change at the beginning of the 18th century. A German chemist by the name of Diesbach was engaged in improving the quality of red paint. But once a scientist received, instead of the expected scarlet color, a shade paint very close to ultramarine. This discovery can be considered a revolution in the manufacture of paints.

The new paint was called “Prussian blue.” Its cost was many times lower than that of natural ultramarine paint. It is not surprising that Prussian blue quickly gained popularity among artists of that time.

A century later, “cobalt blue” appeared in France a paint that turned out to be even cleaner and brighter than Prussian blue. In appearance, cobalt blue appeared even closer to natural lapis lazuli.

The pinnacle of scientists and researchers in this area was the invention of an absolute analog of natural ultramarine. The new paint, which was received in France almost a quarter-century after cobalt blue, was called “French ultramarine.” Pure blue colors are now available to all artists.

However, there was one important circumstance that significantly reduced the popularity of artificial paints. The components used in their composition were often harmful or even deadly to human health.

As it was found out in the 70s of the 19th century, the emerald green paint was a particularly big threat. It included vinegar, arsenic and copper oxide indeed, a terrible mixture. There is a legend that in fact the former emperor Napoleon Bonaparte died, having been poisoned by vapors of arsenic. After all, the walls in his house, located on St. Helena, where Bonaparte was in exile, were covered with green paint.

Mass production

As already known, paints were used by cavemen when creating cave paintings. However, the mass production of paints was begun less than two centuries ago. Previously, all paints were made by hand: minerals were ground into powder, mixed with binders. Such paints did not last long. Already a day later they became unusable.

At the dawn of the development of the paint and varnish industry, both ready-to-use paints and raw materials for their manual manufacture were on sale, as many people held conservative views and made paints “the old fashioned way”. But with the development of industry and new technologies, finished paints gradually replaced manual production.

With the development of the paint industry, paints became better and safer to use.

Many harmful substances for example, arsenic and lead, which were part of cinnabar and red minium, respectively were replaced by less dangerous synthetic components.

Inorganic substances give the paint resistance to destruction, and also help maintain the brightness of the color due to the constant composition, which is important in the manufacture of paint on an industrial scale.

However, recently the demand for natural paints has returned. Most likely, this is due to their environmental friendliness and safety due to the natural components included in the composition. The transition to environmentally friendly technologies is due to the general environmental situation on the planet.