All the colors of the Gutenberg Bible

All the colors of the Gutenberg Bible

Using Raman spectroscopy, London-based chemist Robin Clark and his collaborators analyzed the pigments used for the miniatures illustrating various copies of Gutenberg’s Bible .

Raman spectroscopy

The Raman effect is due to the incidence of a photon incident on a molecule and the consequent interaction with the electron cloud of its bonds, exciting the molecule to a virtual state.

Thanks to this we know what the colors of the Bible are made of:

  • Red: probably cinnabar (mercury sulfide) or hematite (iron oxide).
  • Blues: azurite, lapis lazuli or indigo.
  • Oranges: minium or realgar.
  • Greens: malachite (basic copper carbonate) or verdin (basic copper acetate).
  • Yellow: basic lead carbonate or lead stanate.
  • Ocher: goethite (a basic oxide of iron).
  • Blacks: charcoal.
  • Whites: calcite.
Gutenberg Bible

As Santiago Álvarez explains in Of women, men and molecules: "A splendid palette that resists the passing of the centuries wonderfully".

The Gutenberg Bible is an edition of the Vulgate, printed by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany, in the 15th century.