Friday, 16 November 2012

Berlin Blues - A very short history of Prussian Blue

 Mauritius 1847 "Post Office" 2d. deep blue, unused.

In the collection of the British Library.

The famous Blue Mauritius 2p stamp from 1847 (of which only 12 survive) was printed in the pigment 'Prussian Blue' [Fe4[Fe(CN)6]3], also known as Berlin Blue and, occasionally, as Parisian Blue. It is an iron compound and was probably invented by the German chemist and colourman Heinrich Diesbach in Berlin in 1706 (hence the name). At the time he was working and experimenting with the alchemist Johann Konrad Dippel.  Prussian Blue is often considered the first 'modern' colour, i.e. anorganic and synthetically produced and was a good alternative to the expensive pigment mineral pigment ultramarine. The earliest example of Prussian blue used in oil painting is believed to be The Entombment of Christ, painted by either Adriaen or Pieter van der Werff in 1709. Other early users were Canaletto and Watteau. 

Pieter or Adriaen van der Werff: Detail of  Entombment of Christ
(Picture Gallery, Sanssouci, Inv. No. GK I 10008) 
By the 1720s the pigment was widely available in Europe and was mentioned by the English chemist John Woodward in 1726. From then on it was used in painting as well as as an architectural colour in the production of block-printed wallpaper.

Prussian Blue is found in some wall decorations of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton dating from the early nineteenth century.
Prussian blue block-printed wallpaper  in the Banqueting Room of the Royal Pavilion.

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