Ulisse Aldrovandi’s Color Sensibility: Natural History, Language and the Lay Color Practices of Renaissance Virtuosi
Famed for his collection of drawings of naturalia and his thoughts on the relationship between painting and natural knowledge, it now appears that the Bolognese naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522–1605) also pondered specifically color and pigments, compiling not only lists and diagrams of color terms but also a full-length unpublished manuscript entitled De coloribus or Trattato dei colori. Introducing these writings for the first time, this article portrays a scholar not so much interested in the materiality of pigment production, as in the cultural history of hues. It argues that these writings constituted an effort to build a language of color, in the sense both of a standard nomenclature of hues and of a lexicon, a dictionary of their denotations and connotations as documented in the literature of ancients and moderns. This language would serve the naturalist in his artistic patronage and his natural historical studies, where color was considered one of the most reliable signs for the correct identification of specimens, and a guarantee of accuracy in their illustration. Far from being an exception, Aldrovandi’s ‘color sensibility’ spoke of that of his university-educated nature-loving peers.