Chemical Description: Natural iron oxide
Pigment Number: PY43
Lightfastness Rating: ASTM I
Pigment Opacity: Transparent
Paint Opacity: Semi-Transparent
For millennia people saw the variations in yellowish earths as being the nature of things. Little or no differentiation was made between colours we see as being quite distinct, such as Yellow Oxide and Raw Sienna or Raw Umber.
Because ancient artists were often painting on bare rock surfaces they probably found the slightly darker tone of Raw Sienna was beneficial when painting, as in many places it would show up better on cave walls while a lighter yellow might work better in another location. Ether way they were all regarded as simply Yellow Oxide.
It was the ancient Greeks and the Romans in the Roman period who began to value the various yellow earths for their variations to paint alongside each other and developed the desire to use each for the subtlety of colors in landscape. Thus it was the Italian earths, which they were using, that would become the standard colors we still use today.
The colour we now call Raw Sienna was known in earlier times as Terra di Siena - the earth of Siena - because it was around Siena (Italy) that large deposits of this color were found. The deposits used since Roman times finally became depleted in the 1940’s and now the major sources of the pigment are in Sardinia, Sicily and in the eastern United States. It is browner than Yellow Oxide and matches the many brownish yellows found in nature. Its distinctive colour was formed over a long period of time with most of the deposits being from the Precambrian period, which ended 542 million year ago. Being a natural product this colour is represented by a range of color variation just as natural as Yellow Oxide is and the variation is so great that the two pigments overlap and it is an arguable point as to whether or not the brownest versions of Yellow Oxide should really be called Raw Sienna, and conversely whether the yellowest shades of Raw Sienna should really be called Yellow Oxide. It is this uncertainty, which is the reason why the Raw Sienna made by Matisse is officially designated as PY43 - which is the color index name for natural Yellow Oxide.
Matisse chooses its pigments based on the beauty of the color and how well it works with the other pigments used in the range. In the case of Raw Sienna the colour is a Raw Sienna of extraordinary beauty. It is warm with a delicious undertone. Many manufacturers provide a weak and uninspiring Raw Sienna and as a consequence it is often a colour not used very often. Matisse Raw Sienna, on the other hand, is a very popular colour, which proves to be very useful on the palette. It has the richness of oiled timber. Raw Sienna with Burnt Sienna or Raw Umber or Burnt Umber can create the majority of the brown colors found in nature.
Raw Sienna type colours abound in the natural world and often this colour is used with only small modification but it has many roles to play. Mixed with Cadmium Yellow Medium it makes the golden colors of wheat fields or mixed with Matisse Emerald it makes beautiful olive greens and a color surprise is found by mixing it with Magenta light. The warm light tans that mixture makes is quite unlike any other because of the pinkish component to the color. Raw Sienna has been used for at least 30,000 years and yet it is as fresh and useful a color today as it was to an artist from all that time ago.
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