The Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at Harvard Art Museums is not just your average museum – it houses some of the rarest and weirdest pigments ever created. From pigments created from mummy wrappings to a shade of yellow that can only be acquired from the urine of cows fed exclusively with mango leaves, the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies has it all.
The Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies of the Harvard Art Museums houses some of the rarest and weirdest pigments in the world
Established during the turn of the 20th century by former Fogg Art Museum Director Edward Forbes, the pigment collection served as his means to understand how paintings were made. Ultimately his passion led him to travel across the globe and collect samples of different colors in order to preserve and authenticate artworks and paintings. His travels brought him to exotic places like Pompeii and Afghanistan to sophisticated countries like Japan, all with the purpose of collecting samples such as the highly valuable lapis lazuli and the completely bizarre mummy brown, which was extracted from the wrappings of ancient Egyptian mummies.
Established by Edward Forbes, some of the pigments are still stored in its original glass containers
This rare color, the mummy brown, was named after the brown resin material extracted from ancient Egyptian mummy wrappings
Cadmium yellow, from the toxic heavy metal cadmium, was introduced during the mid-19th century and was used by many impressionist painters
To date, the collection has amassed more than 2,500 pigments, with current Straus Director Narayan Khandekar adding modern pigments to the collection. Currently, the Forbes pigment collection is used for the purpose of providing standard pigments for the scientific analysis of unknown colors. Conservation scientists at the Straus Center use spectrometry, gas chromatography, and electron microscopy to determine the composition of unknown pigments.
According to Director Khandekar, “Every pigment has a story”, and it has indeed. Behind each pigment included in the Forbes collection is a backstory and colorful history – one that we can truly appreciate.
For more information about this awesome collection, watch the video below, or you may visit their pigment database here
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