Theory of Color
Theory of colours
Leonardo's theory of colours is even more intimately connected with his principles of light and shade than his Perspective of Disappearance and is in fact merely an appendix or supplement to those principles, as we gather from the titles to sections 264, 267_, and 276, while others again_ (Nos. 281, 282_) are headed_ Prospettiva.
A very few of these chapters are to be found in the oldest copies and editions of the Treatise on Painting, and although the material they afford is but meager and the connection between them but slight, we must still attribute to them a special theoretical value as well as practical utility—all the more so because our knowledge of the theory and use of colours at the time of the Renaissance is still extremely limited.
The reciprocal effects of colours on objects placed opposite each other
The hue of an illuminated object is affected by that of the luminous body.
The surface of any opaque body is affected by the colour of surrounding objects.
A shadow is always affected by the colour of the surface on which it is cast.
An image produced in a mirror is affected by the colour of the mirror.
OF LIGHT AND SHADE.
Every portion of the surface of a body is varied [in hue] by the [reflected] colour of the object that may be opposite to it.
If you place a spherical body between various objects that is to say with [direct] sunlight on one side of it, and on the other a wall illuminated by the sun, which wall may be green or of any other colour, while the surface on which it is placed may be red, and the two lateral sides are in shadow, you will see that the natural colour of that body will assume something of the hue reflected from those objects. The strongest will be [given by] the luminous body; the second by the illuminated wall, the third by the shadows. There will still be a portion which will take a tint from the colour of the edges.
The surface of every opaque body is affected by the colour of the objects surrounding it. But this effect will be strong or weak in proportion as those objects are more or less remote and more or less strongly [coloured].
The surface of every opaque body assumes the hues reflected from surrounding objects.
The surface of an opaque body assumes the hues of surrounding objects more strongly in proportion as the rays that form the images of those objects strike the surface at more equal angles.
And the surface of an opaque body assumes a stronger hue from the surrounding objects in proportion as that surface is whiter and the colour of the object brighter or more highly illuminated.
OF THE RAYS WHICH CONVEY THROUGH THE AIR THE IMAGES OF OBJECTS.
All the minutest parts of the image intersect each other without interfering with each other. To prove this let r be one of the sides of the hole, opposite to which let s be the eye which sees the lower end o of the line n o. The other extremity cannot transmit its image to the eye s as it has to strike the end r and it is the same with regard to m at the middle of the line. The case is the same with the upper extremity n and the eye u. And if the end n is red the eye u on that side of the holes will not see the green colour of o, but only the red of n according to the 7th of this where it is said: Every form projects images from itself by the shortest line, which necessarily is a straight line, &c.
[Footnote: 13. This probably refers to the diagram given under No. 66.]
The surface of a body assumes in some degree the hue of those around it. The colours of illuminated objects are reflected from the surfaces of one to the other in various spots, according to the various positions of those objects. Let o be a blue object in full light, facing all by itself the space b c on the white sphere a b e d e f, and it will give it a blue tinge, m is a yellow body reflected onto the space a b at the same time as o the blue body, and they give it a green colour (by the 2nd [proposition] of this which shows that blue and yellow make a beautiful green &c.) And the rest will be set forth in the Book on Painting. In that Book it will be shown, that, by transmitting the images of objects and the colours of bodies illuminated by sunlight through a small round perforation and into a dark chamber onto a plane surface, which itself is quite white, &c.
But every thing will be upside down.
Combination of different colours in cast shadows.
That which casts the shadow does not face it, because the shadows are produced by the light which causes and surrounds the shadows. The shadow caused by the light e, which is yellow, has a blue tinge, because the shadow of the body a is cast upon the pavement at b, where the blue light falls; and the shadow produced by the light d, which is blue, will be yellow at c, because the yellow light falls there and the surrounding background to these shadows b c will, besides its natural colour, assume a hue compounded of yellow and blue, because it is lighted by the yellow light and by the blue light both at once.
Shadows of various colours, as affected by the lights falling on them. That light which causes the shadow does not face it.
[Footnote: In the original diagram we find in the circle e "giallo" (yellow) and the cirle d "azurro" (blue) and also under the circle of shadow to the left "giallo" is written and under that to the right "azurro".
In the second diagram where four circles are placed in a row we find written, beginning at the left hand, "giallo" (yellow), "azurro" (blue), "verde" (green), "rosso" (red).]
The effect of colours in the camera obscura
The edges of a colour(ed object) transmitted through a small hole are more conspicuous than the central portions.
The edges of the images, of whatever colour, which are transmitted through a small aperture into a dark chamber will always be stronger than the middle portions.
OF THE INTERSECTIONS OF THE IMAGES IN THE PUPIL OF THE EYE.
The intersections of the images as they enter the pupil do not mingle in confusion in the space where that intersection unites them; as is evident, since, if the rays of the sun pass through two panes of glass in close contact, of which one is blue and the other yellow, the rays, in penetrating them, do not become blue or yellow but a beautiful green. And the same thing would happen in the eye, if the images which were yellow or green should mingle where they [meet and] intersect as they enter the pupil. As this does not happen such a mingling does not exist.
OF THE NATURE OF THE RAYS COMPOSED OF THE IMAGES OF OBJECTS, AND OF THEIR INTERSECTIONS.
The directness of the rays which transmit the forms and colours of the bodies whence they proceed does not tinge the air nor can they affect each other by contact where they intersect. They affect only the spot where they vanish and cease to exist, because that spot faces and is faced by the original source of these rays, and no other object, which surrounds that original source can be seen by the eye where these rays are cut off and destroyed, leaving there the spoil they have conveyed to it. And this is proved by the 4th [proposition], on the colour of bodies, which says: The surface of every opaque body is affected by the colour of surrounding objects; hence we may conclude that the spot which, by means of the rays which convey the image, faces—and is faced by the cause of the image, assumes the colour of that object.
On the colours of derived shadows
ANY SHADOW CAST BY AN OPAQUE BODY SMALLER THAN THE LIGHT CAUSING THE SHADOW WILL THROW A DERIVED SHADOW WHICH IS TINGED BY THE COLOUR OF THE LIGHT.
Let n be the source of the shadow e f; it will assume its hue. Let o be the source of h e which will in the same way be tinged by its hue and so also the colour of v h will be affected by p which causes it; and the shadow of the triangle z k y will be affected by the colour of q, because it is produced by it.  In proportion as c d goes into a d, will n r s be darker than m; and the rest of the space will be shadowless . f g is the highest light, because here the whole light of the window a d falls; and thus on the opaque body m e is in equally high light; z k y is a triangle which includes the deepest shadow, because the light a d cannot reach any part of it. x h is the 2nd grade of shadow, because it receives only 1/3 of the light from the window, that is c d. The third grade of shadow is h e, where two thirds of the light from the window is visible. The last grade of shadow is b d e f, because the highest grade of light from the window falls at f.
[Footnote: The diagram Pl. III, No. 1 belongs to this chapter as well as the text given in No. 148. Lines 7-11 (compare lines 8-12 of No. 148) which are written within the diagram, evidently apply to both sections and have therefore been inserted in both.]
OF THE COLOURS OF SIMPLE DERIVED SHADOWS.
The colour of derived shadows is always affected by that of the body towards which they are cast. To prove this: let an opaque body be placed between the plane s c t d and the blue light d e and the red light a b, then I say that d e, the blue light, will fall on the whole surface s c t d excepting at o p which is covered by the shadow of the body q r, as is shown by the straight lines d q o e r p. And the same occurs with the light a b which falls on the whole surface s c t d excepting at the spot obscured by the shadow q r; as is shown by the lines d q o, and e r p. Hence we may conclude that the shadow n m is exposed to the blue light d e; but, as the red light a b cannot fall there, n m will appear as a blue shadow on a red background tinted with blue, because on the surface s c t d both lights can fall. But in the shadows only one single light falls; for this reason these shadows are of medium depth, since, if no light whatever mingled with the shadow, it would be of the first degree of darkness &c. But in the shadow at o p the blue light does not fall, because the body q r interposes and intercepts it there. Only the red light a b falls there and tinges the shadow of a red hue and so a ruddy shadow appears on the background of mingled red and blue.
The shadow of q r at o p is red, being caused by the blue light d e; and the shadow of q r at o' p' is blue being caused by the red light a b. Hence we say that the blue light in this instance causes a red derived shadow from the opaque body q' r', while the red light causes the same body to cast a blue derived shadow; but the primary shadow [on the dark side of the body itself] is not of either of those hues, but a mixture of red and blue.
The derived shadows will be equal in depth if they are produced by lights of equal strength and at an equal distance; this is proved. [Footnote 53: The text is unfinished in the original.]
[Footnote: In the original diagram Leonardo has written within the circle q r corpo obroso (body in shadow); at the spot marked A, luminoso azzurro (blue luminous body); at B, luminoso rosso (red luminous body). At E we read ombra azzurra (blue tinted shadow) and at D ombra rossa (red tinted shadow).]
On the nature of colours
No white or black is transparent.
[Footnote 2: See Footnote 3] Since white is not a colour but the neutral recipient of every colour [Footnote 3: il bianco non e colore ma e inpotentia ricettiva d'ogni colore (white is not a colour, but the neutral recipient of every colour). LEON BATT. ALBERTI "Della pittura" libro I, asserts on the contrary: "Il bianco e'l nero non sono veri colori, ma sono alteratione delli altri colori" (ed. JANITSCHEK, p. 67; Vienna 1877).], when it is seen in the open air and high up, all its shadows are bluish; and this is caused, according to the 4th [prop.], which says: the surface of every opaque body assumes the hue of the surrounding objects. Now this white [body] being deprived of the light of the sun by the interposition of some body between the sun and itself, all that portion of it which is exposed to the sun and atmosphere assumes the colour of the sun and atmosphere; the side on which the sun does not fall remains in shadow and assumes the hue of the atmosphere. And if this white object did not reflect the green of the fields all the way to the horizon nor get the brightness of the horizon itself, it would certainly appear simply of the same hue as the atmosphere.
On gradations in the depth of colours
Since black, when painted next to white, looks no blacker than when next to black; and white when next to black looks no whiter than white, as is seen by the images transmitted through a small hole or by the edges of any opaque screen …
Of several colours, all equally white, that will look whitest which is against the darkest background. And black will look intensest against the whitest background.
And red will look most vivid against the yellowest background; and the same is the case with all colours when surrounded by their strongest contrasts.
On the reflection of colours
Every object devoid of colour in itself is more or less tinged by the colour [of the object] placed opposite. This may be seen by experience, inasmuch as any object which mirrors another assumes the colour of the object mirrored in it. And if the surface thus partially coloured is white the portion which has a red reflection will appear red, or any other colour, whether bright or dark.
Every opaque and colourless body assumes the hue of the colour reflected on it; as happens with a white wall.
That side of an object in light and shade which is towards the light transmits the images of its details more distinctly and immediately to the eye than the side which is in shadow.
The solar rays reflected on a square mirror will be thrown back to distant objects in a circular form.
Any white and opaque surface will be partially coloured by reflections from surrounding objects.
[Footnote 281. 282: The title line of these chapters is in the original simply "pro", which may be an abbreviation for either Propositione or Prospettiva—taking Prospettiva of course in its widest sense, as we often find it used in Leonardo's writings. The title "pro" has here been understood to mean Prospettiva, in accordance with the suggestion afforded by page 10b of this same MS., where the first section is headed Prospettiva in full (see No. 94), while the four following sections are headed merely "pro" (see No. 85).]
WHAT PORTION OF A COLOURED SURFACE OUGHT IN REASON TO BE THE MOST INTENSE.
If a is the light, and b illuminated by it in a direct line, c, on which the light cannot fall, is lighted only by reflection from b which, let us say, is red. Hence the light reflected from it, will be affected by the hue of the surface causing it and will tinge the surfacec with red. And if c is also red you will see it much more intense than b; and if it were yellow you would see there a colour between yellow and red.
On the use of dark and light colours in painting
WHY BEAUTIFUL COLOURS MUST BE IN THE [HIGHEST] LIGHT.
Since we see that the quality of colour is known [only] by means of light, it is to be supposed that where there is most light the true character of a colour in light will be best seen; and where there is most shadow the colour will be affected by the tone of that. Hence, O Painter! remember to show the true quality of colours in bright lights.
An object represented in white and black will display stronger relief than in any other way; hence I would remind you O Painter! to dress your figures in the lightest colours you can, since, if you put them in dark colours, they will be in too slight relief and inconspicuous from a distance. And the reason is that the shadows of all objects are dark. And if you make a dress dark there is little variety in the lights and shadows, while in light colours there are many grades.
Colours seen in shadow will display more or less of their natural brilliancy in proportion as they are in fainter or deeper shadow.
But if these same colours are situated in a well-lighted place, they will appear brighter in proportion as the light is more brilliant.
The variety of colours in shadow must be as great as that of the colours in the objects in that shadow.
Colours seen in shadow will display less variety in proportion as the shadows in which they lie are deeper. And evidence of this is to be had by looking from an open space into the doorways of dark and shadowy churches, where the pictures which are painted in various colours all look of uniform darkness.
Hence at a considerable distance all the shadows of different colours will appear of the same darkness.
It is the light side of an object in light and shade which shows the true colour.
On the colours of the rainbow
Treat of the rainbow in the last book on Painting, but first write the book on colours produced by the mixture of other colours, so as to be able to prove by those painters' colours how the colours of the rainbow are produced.
WHETHER THE COLOURS OF THE RAINBOW ARE PRODUCED BY THE SUN.
The colours of the rainbow are not produced by the sun, for they occur in many ways without the sunshine; as may be seen by holding a glass of water up to the eye; when, in the glass—where there are those minute bubbles always seen in coarse glass—each bubble, even though the sun does not fall on it, will produce on one side all the colours of the rainbow; as you may see by placing the glass between the day light and your eye in such a way as that it is close to the eye, while on one side the glass admits the [diffused] light of the atmosphere, and on the other side the shadow of the wall on one side of the window; either left or right, it matters not which. Then, by turning the glass round you will see these colours all round the bubbles in the glass &c. And the rest shall be said in its place.
THAT THE EYE HAS NO PART IN PRODUCING THE COLOURS OF THE RAINBOW.
In the experiment just described, the eye would seem to have some share in the colours of the rainbow, since these bubbles in the glass do not display the colours except through the medium of the eye. But, if you place the glass full of water on the window sill, in such a position as that the outer side is exposed to the sun's rays, you will see the same colours produced in the spot of light thrown through the glass and upon the floor, in a dark place, below the window; and as the eye is not here concerned in it, we may evidently, and with certainty pronounce that the eye has no share in producing them.
OF THE COLOURS IN THE FEATHERS OF CERTAIN BIRDS.
There are many birds in various regions of the world on whose feathers we see the most splendid colours produced as they move, as we see in our own country in the feathers of peacocks or on the necks of ducks or pigeons, &c.
Again, on the surface of antique glass found underground and on the roots of turnips kept for some time at the bottom of wells or other stagnant waters [we see] that each root displays colours similar to those of the real rainbow. They may also be seen when oil has been placed on the top of water and in the solar rays reflected from the surface of a diamond or beryl; again, through the angular facet of a beryl every dark object against a background of the atmosphere or any thing else equally pale-coloured is surrounded by these rainbow colours between the atmosphere and the dark body; and in many other circumstances which I will not mention, as these suffice for my purpose.
'Prospettiva de' colri' (Perspective of Colour)
'Prospettiva aerea' Aerial Perspective
Leonardo distinctly separates these branches of his subject, as may be seen in the beginning of No. 295. Attempts have been made to cast doubts on the results which Leonardo arrived at by experiment on the perspective of colour, but not with justice, as may be seen from the original text of section 294.
The question as to the composition of the atmosphere, which is inseparable from a discussion on Aerial Perspective, forms a separate theory which is treated at considerable length. Indeed the author enters into it so fully that we cannot escape the conviction that he must have dwelt with particular pleasure on this part of his subject, and that he attached great importance to giving it a character of general applicability.
The variety of colour in objects cannot be discerned at a great distance, excepting in those parts which are directly lighted up by the solar rays.
As to the colours of objects: at long distances no difference is perceptible in the parts in shadow.
OF THE VISIBILITY OF COLOURS.
Which colour strikes most? An object at a distance is most conspicuous, when it is lightest, and the darkest is least visible.
An exceptional case.
Of the edges [outlines] of shadows. Some have misty and ill defined edges, others distinct ones.
No opaque body can be devoid of light and shade, except it is in a mist, on ground covered with snow, or when snow is falling on the open country which has no light on it and is surrounded with darkness.
And this occurs [only] in spherical bodies, because in other bodies which have limbs and parts, those sides of limbs which face each other reflect on each other the accidental [hue and tone] of their surface.
ALL COLOURS ARE AT A DISTANCE UNDISTINGUISHABLE AND UNDISCERNIBLE.
All colours at a distance are undistinguishable in shadow, because an object which is not in the highest light is incapable of transmitting its image to the eye through an atmosphere more luminous than itself; since the lesser brightness must be absorbed by the greater. For instance: We, in a house, can see that all the colours on the surface of the walls are clearly and instantly visible when the windows of the house are open; but if we were to go out of the house and look in at the windows from a little distance to see the paintings on those walls, instead of the paintings we should see an uniform deep and colourless shadow.
The practice of the prospettiva de colori.
HOW A PAINTER SHOULD CARRY OUT THE PERSPECTIVE OF COLOUR IN PRACTICE.
In order to put into practice this perspective of the variation and loss or diminution of the essential character of colours, observe at every hundred braccia some objects standing in the landscape, such as trees, houses, men and particular places. Then in front of the first tree have a very steady plate of glass and keep your eye very steady, and then, on this plate of glass, draw a tree, tracing it over the form of that tree. Then move it on one side so far as that the real tree is close by the side of the tree you have drawn; then colour your drawing in such a way as that in colour and form the two may be alike, and that both, if you close one eye, seem to be painted on the glass and at the same distance. Then, by the same method, represent a second tree, and a third, with a distance of a hundred braccia between each. And these will serve as a standard and guide whenever you work on your own pictures, wherever they may apply, and will enable you to give due distance in those works.  But I have found that as a rule the second is 4/5 of the first when it is 20 braccia beyond it.
[Footnote: This chapter is one of those copied in the Manuscript of the Vatican library Urbinas 1270, and the original text is rendered here with no other alterations, but in the orthography. H. LUDWIG, in his edition of this copy translates lines 14 and 15 thus: "Ich finde aber als Regel, dass der zweite um vier Funftel des ersten abnimmt, wenn er namlich zwanzig Ellen vom ersten entfernt ist (?)". He adds in his commentary: "Das Ende der Nummer ist wohl jedenfalls verstummelt". However the translation given above shows that it admits of a different rendering.]
The rules of aerial perspective
OF AERIAL PERSPECTIVE.
There is another kind of perspective which I call Aerial Perspective, because by the atmosphere we are able to distinguish the variations in distance of different buildings, which appear placed on a single line; as, for instance, when we see several buildings beyond a wall, all of which, as they appear above the top of the wall, look of the same size, while you wish to represent them in a picture as more remote one than another and to give the effect of a somewhat dense atmosphere. You know that in an atmosphere of equal density the remotest objects seen through it, as mountains, in consequence of the great quantity of atmosphere between your eye and them—appear blue and almost of the same hue as the atmosphere itself
[Footnote 10: quado il sole e per leuante (when the sun is in the East). Apparently the author refers here to morning light in general. H. LUDWIG however translates this passage from the Vatican copy "wenn namlich die Sonne (dahinter) im Osten steht".] when the sun is in the East [Footnote 11: See Footnote 10]
Hence you must make the nearest building above the wall of its real colour, but the more distant ones make less defined and bluer. Those you wish should look farthest away you must make proportionately bluer; thus, if one is to be five times as distant, make it five times bluer. And by this rule the buildings which above a [given] line appear of the same size, will plainly be distinguished as to which are the more remote and which larger than the others.
The medium lying between the eye and the object seen, tinges that object with its colour, as the blueness of the atmosphere makes the distant mountains appear blue and red glass makes objects seen beyond it, look red. The light shed round them by the stars is obscured by the darkness of the night which lies between the eye and the radiant light of the stars.
Take care that the perspective of colour does not disagree with the size of your objects, hat is to say: that the colours diminish from their natural [vividness] in proportion as the objects at various distances dimmish from their natural size.
On the relative density of the atmosphere
WHY THE ATMOSPHERE MUST BE REPRESENTED AS PALER TOWARDS THE LOWER PORTION.
Because the atmosphere is dense near the earth, and the higher it is the rarer it becomes. When the sun is in the East if you look towards the West and a little way to the South and North, you will see that this dense atmosphere receives more light from the sun than the rarer; because the rays meet with greater resistance. And if the sky, as you see it, ends on a low plain, that lowest portion of the sky will be seen through a denser and whiter atmosphere, which will weaken its true colour as seen through that medium, and there the sky will look whiter than it is above you, where the line of sight travels through a smaller space of air charged with heavy vapour. And if you turn to the East, the atmosphere will appear darker as you look lower down because the luminous rays pass less freely through the lower atmosphere.
OF THE MODE OF TREATING REMOTE OBJECTS IN PAINTING.
It is easy to perceive that the atmosphere which lies closest to the level ground is denser than the rest, and that where it is higher up, it is rarer and more transparent. The lower portions of large and lofty objects which are at a distance are not much seen, because you see them along a line which passes through a denser and thicker section of the atmosphere. The summits of such heights are seen along a line which, though it starts from your eye in a dense atmosphere, still, as it ends at the top of those lofty objects, ceases in a much rarer atmosphere than exists at their base; for this reason the farther this line extends from your eye, from point to point the atmosphere becomes more and more rare. Hence, O Painter! when you represent mountains, see that from hill to hill the bases are paler than the summits, and in proportion as they recede beyond each other make the bases paler than the summits; while, the higher they are the more you must show of their true form and colour.
On the colour of the atmosphere
OF THE COLOUR OF THE ATMOSPHERE.
I say that the blueness we see in the atmosphere is not intrinsic colour, but is caused by warm vapour evaporated in minute and insensible atoms on which the solar rays fall, rendering them luminous against the infinite darkness of the fiery sphere which lies beyond and includes it. And this may be seen, as I saw it by any one going up [Footnote 5: With regard to the place spoken of as M'oboso (compare No. 301 line 20) its identity will be discussed under Leonardo's Topographical notes in Vol. II.] Monboso, a peak of the Alps which divide France from Italy. The base of this mountain gives birth to the four rivers which flow in four different directions through the whole of Europe. And no mountain has its base at so great a height as this, which lifts itself almost above the clouds; and snow seldom falls there, but only hail in the summer, when the clouds are highest. And this hail lies [unmelted] there, so that if it were not for the absorption of the rising and falling clouds, which does not happen twice in an age, an enormous mass of ice would be piled up there by the hail, and in the middle of July I found it very considerable. There I saw above me the dark sky, and the sun as it fell on the mountain was far brighter here than in the plains below, because a smaller extent of atmosphere lay between the summit of the mountain and the sun. Again as an illustration of the colour of the atmosphere I will mention the smoke of old and dry wood, which, as it comes out of a chimney, appears to turn very blue, when seen between the eye and the dark distance. But as it rises, and comes between the eye and the bright atmosphere, it at once shows of an ashy grey colour; and this happens because it no longer has darkness beyond it, but this bright and luminous space. If the smoke is from young, green wood, it will not appear blue, because, not being transparent and being full of superabundant moisture, it has the effect of condensed clouds which take distinct lights and shadows like a solid body. The same occurs with the atmosphere, which, when overcharged with moisture appears white, and the small amount of heated moisture makes it dark, of a dark blue colour; and this will suffice us so far as concerns the colour of the atmosphere; though it might be added that, if this transparent blue were the natural colour of the atmosphere, it would follow that wherever a larger mass air intervened between the eye and the element of fire, the azure colour would be more intense; as we see in blue glass and in sapphires, which are darker in proportion as they are larger. But the atmosphere in such circumstances behaves in an opposite manner, inasmuch as where a greater quantity of it lies between the eye and the sphere of fire, it is seen much whiter. This occurs towards the horizon. And the less the extent of atmosphere between the eye and the sphere of fire, the deeper is the blue colour, as may be seen even on low plains. Hence it follows, as I say, that the atmosphere assumes this azure hue by reason of the particles of moisture which catch the rays of the sun. Again, we may note the difference in particles of dust, or particles of smoke, in the sun beams admitted through holes into a dark chamber, when the former will look ash grey and the thin smoke will appear of a most beautiful blue; and it may be seen again in in the dark shadows of distant mountains when the air between the eye and those shadows will look very blue, though the brightest parts of those mountains will not differ much from their true colour. But if any one wishes for a final proof let him paint a board with various colours, among them an intense black; and over all let him lay a very thin and transparent [coating of] white. He will then see that this transparent white will nowhere show a more beautiful blue than over the black—but it must be very thin and finely ground.
[Footnote 7: reta here has the sense of malanno.]
Experience shows us that the air must have darkness beyond it and yet it appears blue. If you produce a small quantity of smoke from dry wood and the rays of the sun fall on this smoke, and if you then place behind the smoke a piece of black velvet on which the sun does not shine, you will see that all the smoke which is between the eye and the black stuff will appear of a beautiful blue colour. And if instead of the velvet you place a white cloth smoke, that is too thick smoke, hinders, and too thin smoke does not produce, the perfection of this blue colour. Hence a moderate amount of smoke produces the finest blue. Water violently ejected in a fine spray and in a dark chamber where the sun beams are admitted produces these blue rays and the more vividly if it is distilled water, and thin smoke looks blue. This I mention in order to show that the blueness of the atmosphere is caused by the darkness beyond it, and these instances are given for those who cannot confirm my experience on Monboso.
When the smoke from dry wood is seen between the eye of the spectator and some dark space [or object], it will look blue. Thus the sky looks blue by reason of the darkness beyond it. And if you look towards the horizon of the sky, you will see the atmosphere is not blue, and this is caused by its density. And thus at each degree, as you raise your eyes above the horizon up to the sky over your head, you will see the atmosphere look darker [blue] and this is because a smaller density of air lies between your eye and the [outer] darkness. And if you go to the top of a high mountain the sky will look proportionately darker above you as the atmosphere becomes rarer between you and the [outer] darkness; and this will be more visible at each degree of increasing height till at last we should find darkness.
That smoke will look bluest which rises from the driest wood and which is nearest to the fire and is seen against the darkest background, and with the sunlight upon it.
A dark object will appear bluest in proportion as it has a greater mass of luminous atmosphere between it and the eye. As may be seen in the colour of the sky.
The atmosphere is blue by reason of the darkness above it because black and white make blue.
In the morning the mist is denser above than below, because the sun draws it upwards; hence tall buildings, even if the summit is at the same distance as the base have the summit invisible. Therefore, also, the sky looks darkest [in colour] overhead, and towards the horizon it is not blue but rather between smoke and dust colour.
The atmosphere, when full of mist, is quite devoid of blueness, and only appears of the colour of clouds, which shine white when the weather is fine. And the more you turn to the west the darker it will be, and the brighter as you look to the east. And the verdure of the fields is bluish in a thin mist, but grows grey in a dense one.
The buildings in the west will only show their illuminated side, where the sun shines, and the mist hides the rest. When the sun rises and chases away the haze, the hills on the side where it lifts begin to grow clearer, and look blue, and seem to smoke with the vanishing mists; and the buildings reveal their lights and shadows; through the thinner vapour they show only their lights and through the thicker air nothing at all. This is when the movement of the mist makes it part horizontally, and then the edges of the mist will be indistinct against the blue of the sky, and towards the earth it will look almost like dust blown up. In proportion as the atmosphere is dense the buildings of a city and the trees in a landscape will look fewer, because only the tallest and largest will be seen.
Darkness affects every thing with its hue, and the more an object differs from darkness, the more we see its real and natural colour. The mountains will look few, because only those will be seen which are farthest apart; since, at such a distance, the density increases to such a degree that it causes a brightness by which the darkness of the hills becomes divided and vanishes indeed towards the top. There is less [mist] between lower and nearer hills and yet little is to be distinguished, and least towards the bottom.
The surface of an object partakes of the colour of the light which illuminates it; and of the colour of the atmosphere which lies between the eye and that object, that is of the colour of the transparent medium lying between the object and the eye; and among colours of a similar character the second will be of the same tone as the first, and this is caused by the increased thickness of the colour of the medium lying between the object and the eye.
307. OF PAINTING.
Of various colours which are none of them blue that which at a great distance will look bluest is the nearest to black; and so, conversely, the colour which is least like black will at a great distance best preserve its own colour.
Hence the green of fields will assume a bluer hue than yellow or white will, and conversely yellow or white will change less than green, and red still less.