The Alchemy of Colour at The John Rylands Library

Sara Jaspan, Exhibitions Editor
The Alchemy of Colour at The John Rylands Library
The John Rylands Library/The University of Manchester

The Alchemy of Colour at John Rylands Research Institute and Library, City Centre, 15 March–27 August 2018, free entry

Did you know that the remarkable yellows of J.M.W Turner’s shimmering, sun-lit seascapes derived from the urine of mango-fed cows? That the rich reds that decorate some of Raphael, Rembrandt and Rubens’ greatest masterpieces were made using pigment from cochineal (a type of insect found on prickly-pear cacti in Mexico, and which is still controversially used by the food and cosmetic industry today)? Or that the ultramarine blue that Giotto described as the most illustrious, beautiful and perfect of all colours – and which helped win him timeless fame – comes from lapis lazuli, a gem stone that could only be sourced from in a single mountain range in Afghanistan and rivalled the price of gold?

While artists today can buy their paints in neat tubes online, the vibrant colours of their forefathers were not achieved with nearly as much ease. The alchemy of colour was an art in itself, and it is the strange, curious and often highly dangerous recipes and processes (some involving lethal levels of arsenic and mercury) that were used to create many of the most vivid colours of the past that forms the focus of The John Rylands Library’s latest exhibition.

The Alchemy of Colour will explore the fascinating stories behind the history of colour in art through the library’s renowned collection of rare illuminated manuscripts. Using examples from around the world – such as the vivid greens and blues that still leap from the pages of a 15th-century French text, and the unwaveringly bright yellows of an 18th-century Indian painting – visitors will not only learn more about the often ‘cloak-and-dagger’ methods behind the medieval and Renaissance palette, but also have the chance to encounter the intense beauty of some of the most important highlights of The John Rylands Library collection.

Prepare to have your understanding of colour altered for good.

The Alchemy of Colour at John Rylands Research Institute and Library, City Centre

15 March–27 August 2018
Free entry

Things to do right now

Powered by culturehosts
Cinema Until 3 October 2022, from £9.95

Not Just Bollywood at HOME

Music Until 5 October 2022, from £5.50

Sounds of Nature at The Stoller Hall

The Glass Menagerie at the Royal Exchange
Theatre Until 8 October 2022, from £10.00

The Glass Menagerie at the Royal Exchange

Women in Comedy Festival 2022
Comedy Until 10 October 2022, from £3.00

Women in Comedy Festival 2022

Electric Gamebox at the arndale
Childrens Until 22 October 2022, from £5.00

Electric Gamebox at The Arndale

Victoria Baths Guided Tour
Activity Until 26 October 2022, from £6

Victoria Baths Guided Tour

Illustration entitled ‘Because you cannot tame something so happily wild’ by Emily Hughes showing painted animals in a woodland setting
Exhibitions Until 30 October 2022, FREE

Picture This at The Lowry

vegan super club
Activity Until 25 November 2022, from £50

Supper Club at the Vegetarian Society Cookery School

Elizabeth Gaskell's House garden. Photo by Chris Tucker
Literature Until 11 December 2022, from £4.50

Book sale at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

autumn season at z-arts
Families Until 30 December 2022, FREE

Autumn season at Z-arts

skyliner
Activity Until 31 December 2022, from £9

Skyliner: Alternative Tours of Manchester