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A Puzzle in a Paintbox: A Painter’s Solution to Ferdinand Bauer’s Colour Code for the Flora and Fauna Graeca 1786–1794

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journal contribution
posted on 17.11.2022, 07:09 authored by Jane Jelley


The numeric colour codes used by the natural history painter Ferdinand Bauer (1760–1826) have remained resistant to interpretation. However, a practical approach, and an appreciation of historical painting methods and materials, have led to a solution to the code he devised for the Flora and Fauna Graeca. It is suggested that Bauer related the process of viewing, identifying, and conceptualising qualities of colours to the intrinsic properties of his pigments, and their sequence in his paintbox; also that his codes provided directions as to their moderation and mode of use. This study proposes that rather than being a mechanical reference system, Bauer’s code was a flexible mnemonic, reaching into the heart of artistic process.