Michelangelo's Color Palette

Michelangelo's Color Palette

Mark Chamberlain
Aug 24, 2010
The Torment of Saint Anthony, Michelangelo

Unveiled last year at the Met — a painting ascribed to Michelangelo and one of only four known to be of his hand. According to The New York Times announcement, one of the telltale characteristics distinguishing his authorship was the palette, which suddenly made me appreciate the Sistine Chapel more, but now I'm running before my horse to market…

Michelangelo painted The Torment of St. Anthony at the ripe old age of 14, and this is considered to be his first painting. It was a copy of a widely circulated print of the period by Martin Schongauer, though of course Michelangelo lent it his hand. He added fish scales to a demon, gave the piece a distinctly Italian landscape beneath the figures and, of course, imbued it with color.

The palette features apple green, lavender, salmon and aubergine; the grotesques contain the pigments malachite, copper sulphite, vermillion and azurite, which give them a rich tapestry of textures. This is lovely in and of itself, but my mind immediately leapt to the palette of the Sistine Chapel, its controversial cleaning and restoration during the 80s and the broader context of the artist's pursuits. I was one of those people who preferred the pre-cleaning colors of the chapel, which seemed umber and red sienna; the cleaned fresco was almost garish to me by comparison. But now I see it — the same palette of green, purple and salmon persists throughout a brilliant career.

But what might this have to do with interiors? When designing color for a home, I want all our final color chip choices to look good together in the hand. Why not this: green apple in the foyer, aubergine in the living room, salmon in the kitchen (ha!) and a lavender boudoir?

Possible color recommendations:
• From Benjamin Moore — Dark Basalt 2072-10, Luscious 1369, Golden Delicious 390, Old World 2011-40.
• From Ralph Lauren — Approaching Storm VM176, Salmon Pink VM50, Temptation VM43, Sage Sweater VM105.

Artwork info:
Michelangelo Buonarroti (Florence 1475 - Rome 1564)
The Torment of Saint Anthony, ca. 1487–88
Oil and tempera on panel, 18 1/2 x 13 3/4 inches
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth
Photograph Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

- Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter

Re-edited from a post originally published 7.14.09 - JL

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