Essential Vermeer 3.0
Looking for a painting by Vermeer? Find it with QUICK SEARCH!

Vermeer's Palette: Verdigris


Origin, History and Characteristics

(Grünspan, vert-de-gris, verderame)

Verdigris is the common name for a green pigment obtained through the application of acetic acid to copper plates or the natural patina formed when copper, brass or bronze is weathered and exposed to air or seawater over a period of time. It is usually a basic copper carbonate, but near the sea will be a basic copper chloride. Today, it is only rarely sold as an artists pigment due to its toxic nature. Verdigris was the most vibrant green available until the nineteenth century.

Green glazes of verdigris were commonly used in oil paintings of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries (fig. 1) for the depiction of saturated green colours of drapery and foliage. Today, these glazes are often covered with a brown layer and sometimes the whole glaze has become brown. Verdigris was consistency mixed with the same pigments; lead white, lead-tin-yellow and yellow ochre. Leonardo da Vinci had was not in favor of the use of verdigris in oil painting given that the pigment has a certain tendency to fade. He wrote around 1492:

Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder is a comprehensive study of the materials and painting techniques that made Vermeer one of the greatest masters of European art.

Bolstered by the author's qualifications as a professional painter and a Vermeer connoisseur, every facet of 17th-century and Vermeer's painting practices—including canvas preparation, underdrawing, underpainting, glazing, palette, brushes, pigments and composition—is laid out in clear, comprehensible language. Also investigated are a number of key issues related specifically to Vermeer's studio methods, such as the camera obscura, studio organization as well as how he depicted wall-maps, floor tiles, pictures-within-pictures, carpets and other of his most defining motifs. Each of the book's 24 topics is accompanied by abundant color illustrations and diagrams.

By observing at close quarters the studio practices of Vermeer and his preeminent contemporaries, the reader will acquire a concrete understanding of 17th-century painting methods and materials and gain a fresh view of Vermeer's 35 works of art, which reveal a seamless unity of craft and poetry.

While not written as a "how-to" manual, realist painters will find a true treasure trove of technical information that can be adapted to almost any style of figurative painting.

author: Jonathan Janson
date: 2020 (second edition)
pages: 294
illustrations: 200-plus illustrations and diagrams
formats: PDF | ePUB | AZW3

Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder


  1. Vermeer's Training, Technical Background & Ambitions
  2. An Overview of Vermeer’s Technical & Stylistic Evolution
  3. Fame, Originality & Subject Matte
  4. Reality or Illusion: Did Vermeer’s Interiors ever Exist?
  5. Color
  6. Composition
  7. Mimesi & Illusionism
  8. Perspective
  9. Camera Obscura Vision
  10. Light & Modeling
  11. Studio
  12. Four Essential Motifs in Vermeer’s Oeuvre
  1. Drapery
  2. Painting Flesh
  3. Canvas
  4. Grounding
  5. “Inventing,” or Underdrawing
  6. “Dead-Coloring,” or Underpainting
  7. “Working-up,” or Finishing
  8. Glazing
  9. Mediums, Binders & Varnishes
  10. Paint Application & Consistency
  11. Pigments, Paints & Palettes
  12. Brushes & Brushwork

The green colour made of rust of copper, Green made of copper, even when this colour is mixed with oil, loses its beauty like smoke if it is not quickly varnished. It not only goes up in smoke, but if it is washed with a sponge dipped in simple, ordinary water, the verdigris will disappear from the panel on which it has been painted, especially in humid weather. This comes about because verdigris is made from salt, which dissolves easily in rainy weather, and especially when it is bathed and washed with the sponge…

"In his encyclopedia of 1694, Pomet noted that French unrefined verdigris was mainly exported to Holland. After Pekstokk had refined it into a purer product it was re-exported to France. Thus Pomet claimed that all the distilled verdigris on sale in Paris actually came from either Holland or Lyon.

Jan van Eyckfig. 1 The Arnolfini Portrait
(detail of the green robe glazed with verdigris)
Jan van Eyck
Oil on oak, 82.2 x 60 cm.
National Gallery, London

"Yet, until well into the seventeenth century, it appears that artists seldom purchased this remarkably pure ready-to-use distilled verdigris. A price-list of pigments purchased by painters in the De Mayerne manuscript only mentions 'ordinary' verdigris and not the distilled pigment. Inventories of four seventeenth-century Dutch shops specializing in the sale of artists' materials suggest that there can hardly have been any demand for distilled verdigris from painters. These shops had increasingly taken over the sale of pigments from the apothecaries."1

In seventeenth-century Holland, verdigris was not among the most expensive pigments, such as ultramarine and high quality red lake, which ran into several guilders an ounce, but among the mid-price pigments, which included indigo and yellow lake.2

Verdigris in Vermeer's Painting

Verdigris has been found in only three of Vermeer's paintings, once over layer of natural ultramarine of the tablecloth of Maid and Mistress , which was orinally meant to have a green color, and again under a layer of brilliant blue paint of jacket of Woman in Blue Reading a Letter. Ige Verslype, who restored the latter work in 2010–2011, hypothesized that the underlying layer of verdigris was meant to intensify the upper layer of ultramarine of the woman's blue jacket. The conservator Robert Wald repoted that the cloth (fig. 2) which drapes over the front of the massive table in the foreground of Vermeer's The Art of Painting was underpainted in virdigris and then glazed with a semi-transparent layer of ultramarine blue, giviing its present teal color.

The Art of Painting (detail), Johannes Vermeerfig. 2 The Art of Painting (detail)
c. 1662–1668
Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna


  1. M.H. van Eikema Hommes, "Verdigris Glazes in Historical Oil Paintings: Instructions and Techniques," dissertation: Discoloration in Renaissance and Baroque Oil Paintings. Instructions for Painters, theoretical, Concepts, and Scientific Data, 2002, 85.
  2. M.H. van Eikema Hommes, 2002, 86.

EV 3.0 Newsletter ✉

Latest Article