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Micro Color Theory: A Close Up on Rembrandt

February 29, 2012

My last post was about color theory on a macro scale–how colors are used to create the larger composition. This post is about composing with color on a micro scale–the close up. And more specifically, the face, which can be a tricky problem to navigate. Thanks to artist Peter Sakievich for providing these Rembrandt details.

Rembrandt detail

I’d like to suggest that Rembrandt employs a triad color scheme to compose within the face. Let’s ignore the orange numbered circles for now, and examine the red, blue, and yellow circles.

Rembrandt detail

The red circles mark areas where Rembrandt uses red tones–in a triangle–to create unity and eye movement. Similarly, Rembrandt uses three patches of yellow in a triangle, and three patches of blue in a triangle. Of course, Rembrandt’s colors are muted–desaturated variants of the primary colors. And his triangles aren’t obvious, and they extend patches and dabs of colors beyond the main triangle to create a broader reach of unified color. But the principle stands–repetition in threes. The orange circles represent a variant of reds repeated within the immediate area of the eye.

Scroll back up to the first image and look for triangles of color. Then scroll down to the third image and look for triangles of color. The first image is from late in Rembrandt’s career–much more loose. The third image is from early in his career, with transitions that are much more controlled. I find it interesting that both images utilize triangles of color from the primary triad–yellow areas, red areas, and blue areas. It seems that while his paint application and brushwork changed over the years, the principles behind his color choices seem to have remained the same.

Rembrandt detail

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 29, 2012 11:32 am

    fascinating! i did not realize the pattern. thanks!

  2. tony permalink
    April 21, 2014 2:10 pm

    aye, brilliant observation

  3. mark hughes permalink
    July 7, 2014 6:08 am

    Illuminating , thanks

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