Friday, November 10, 2006

Victorians and Color

Before getting into the pre-history of the Victorian Era, I thought it relevant to discuss several related topics: Colour and images of the Victorians. Prior to the advent of coal tar dyes, the available color choices for artists were fairly dull. True, chromium compounds produced a vivid (and toxic) yellow color, but intense reds, purples and blues were either so expensive they were financially out of reach or not possible with the pigments an artist could grind from minerals at the end of the 18th century.

All of this was to change when a chemistry student botched an attempt to syntheisize quinine. What he produced was mauvine, a purple-red dye that was the first of the synthetic dyes. Mauvine is no longer available commercially, but if someone asks I can forward them the procedure for making a batch of it at home in the sort of lab that a moderately competent alchemist would have available to them. There's a certain amount of evidence that mauvine was the dyestuff used to back mirrors of the sort used by mystics in the middle to late 19th century, so this would be a useful choice for folks looking to make tools with a sympathetic resonance factor.

The Victorian Era brought us multi-colored houses --"Painted Ladies". The use of color in the Golden Dawn reflects their interest in vivid colors. Extending this notion to the 21st century, one arrives at new options for sigils and symbols. There's no reason that a lodge could not use neon signage to make glyphs, and the Golden Dawn discovery of flashing colors could be more fully realized on computer screens. It is certainly possible and useful to consider constructing Ogham glyphs that unfold in fractal patterns, mutating into a second, third and fourth iteration on a screen as foci for meditations. Transitions between concepts, words or letters can be easily managed with the same sort of software that results in the image display function in Itunes.Computer graphics would allow a similar treatement of alchemical symbols. This can naturally be joined to audio as well.

Photography begins with the 18th century discovery that silver nitrate blackens on exposure to sunlight. It was not much of a stretch for inventors to put paper coated with silver nitrate into a camera obscura or similar device and produce an image. The difficulty was that the image inevitably degraded when viewed in sunlight. Hershel, the great scientist of the 19th century would discover the fixative agent sodium thiosulphate ("hypo") as the result of a mistake in the lab. By 1819 at the latest, semi-permanant images were available to inventors. (There's a strong possibility that a fiber artist named Fulghame (spelling may be wrong) invented photo textile processes prior to this date.) Once Fox Talbot, a failed artist, married Hershel's hypo to his camera obscura and lenses, art and science united for a time through the medium of photography. Later processes (no longer very popular) would include gum bichromate and casein bichromate. The cyanotype process (blueprint for those of you over the age of 40) was another invention of Hershel's. Rather conveniently he also invented stainless steels, which proved useful in lab work.

Photography was a hazardous business early on, and photographers had short lifespans. Bending over pans of heated mercury, rinsing images in cyanide compounds and potassium oxalate took a toll, and I suspect for this reason, many 19th century photographers were fascinated with Spiritualism.

Silver photographic images were and are subject to fading. A Victorian Committee ("The Fading Committee") looked into the matter circa 1870 and discovered that images could be made archival by replacing the silver salts in the paper with gold, platinum or palladium salts. These prints aren't black and white--they reveal themselves in subtle shades of purplish blacks and rich browntones. (What we think of as black and white photographs date roughly to the 1930's and the "F64" school of photography in the States. )

At roughly the same time aniline dyes were being invented, physiologists and toy makers were discovering and applying the phenomenon known as "persistence of vision". There were any number of toys like the zoetrope that could show a small cartoon figure or line drawing move from position to position. Joining this understanding with celluloid film resulted in the invention of motion pictures in France. (Even color film was possible via handpainting of single frames.)

Next time, I'll get into the prehistory of the Victorian Era. I'd like to say a big "Hello!" to the founders of my fan club in West Bremerton, Violet, Ivy and their friend Captain Morgan. Keep those cards and letters coming.

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