Robert Grosseteste, Leon Battista Alberti, Leonardo da Vinci

Robert Grosseteste, first chancellor of Oxford University, was interested in the phenomenon of colour in an entirely fundamental way. He had no practical intentions and saw light as a «prima materia». Grosseteste developed a system of colours as part of his «grandiose metaphysical interpretation of light». The painter Leonardo da Vinci and the architect Leon Battista Alberti are more pragmatic in this respect, and seek a system that is suitable for the mixing of colours. (Detailed text)

Date: Middle Ages to Early Renaissance.

Country of origin: Grosseteste: England; Alberti and da Vinci: Italy

Basic colours: Robert Grosseteste: 7 (unknown) basic colours between “Lux clara” and “Lux obscura”; Alberti: yellow, green, blue, red; Leonardo da Vinci: white, yellow, green, blue, red, black.

Related systems: PythagorasAguiloniusNewtonHayterChevreulFieldHeringEbbinghausAstrological connectionsArs magnaIslamic Tradition

Bibliography: R. Grosseteste, «De colore», ca. 1230; L. B. Alberti, «Della pittura», 1435; L. B. Alberti, «Opere volgari», 3 volumes., edited by C. Grayson, 1960 / 1973; Ch. Parkhurst and R. L. Feller, «Who invented the Color Wheel?, Color Research and Application 7», 217-230 (1982); Th. Lersch, «Farbenlehre», in: «Reallexikon zur Deutschen Kunstgeschichte», published by the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte Münschen, Munich, 1981; John Gage, «Colour and Culture, Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction», Thames and Hudson, 1993, (mention and comment), p. 117-120.