Abraham Gottlob Werner (1749-1817) was a devoted geologist. A German mining inspector and a professor of mineralogy, one of his most eccentric works was the development of a theory on the origins of minerals of the earth, one that came to be known as Neptunism. In the final years of his life, Werner devoted himself to a task more inclined towards the worlds of art and aesthetics than any other of his earlier works: Nomenclature of Colours, with Additions, arranged so as to render it useful to the Arts and Sciences. As such, it was used by Darwin himself during his observations of nature, admired by the poet Novalis, and, more recently, converted into a digital platform by the designer Nicholas Rougeux.

Like A. Boogert’s catalog of colors, Werner’s nomenclature (which delightfully describes 11 shades of blue) might be considered a predecessor to other systems of the classifications of the most modern of colors, such as the Pantone scale. But in Werner’s case, his descriptions are based on the tones of the minerals, a fact which inaugurated an entire language for describing colors, each of which carries in its very nature a quality almost unnamable.

nomeclatura1
As its title indicates, Werner’s nomenclature was designed for use by both scientists and artists and, in its first version, it relied exclusively on words to describe the 110 colors contained therein. Descriptions, based on nature, animals, plants, and minerals, provide explanations as detailed as “the reverse of the petals of the purple Hepatica.”

In 1821, the Scottish painter Patrick Syme updated Werner’s guide with samples of each of the colors. Most of them were made with the minerals given in the descriptions by the German author. In fact, it was a second edition of the guide, illustrated by Syme, which accompanied Darwin on his 1831 trip aboard the HMS Beagle, and was used to catalog the flora and fauna that would later be part of his theory of natural selection. This book would help many later scientists to distinguish between species, as the color of a plant, for example, reveals information about the species and subspecies to which it belongs, as well as on the evolution of subspecies within distinct regions.

After Werner’s guide, others emerged and these always aspired to the level of detail and categorization of the geologist’s earlier nomenclature. All of this has now been replaced by digital information, on computers and printers, but that makes the sheer simplicity of describing a color entirely by means of words profoundly enjoyable (and even poetic).

The digital version of Werner’s nomenclature has some additions to the original. These include photographs of animals, plants, and minerals showing each of the tones described by the original text, something its creator could never have imagined. In addition, Rougeux created a public document in which the digital codes of each of the colors are shared. Although a new version of the old nomenclature may lack the poetics of the original, its merit lies in making available to anyone this information which, for some 200 years, has fueled the imaginations of artists and scientists alike.

You can explore the digital version of Werner’s nomenclature through this link

 

 

 

Images: Internet Archive

Abraham Gottlob Werner (1749-1817) was a devoted geologist. A German mining inspector and a professor of mineralogy, one of his most eccentric works was the development of a theory on the origins of minerals of the earth, one that came to be known as Neptunism. In the final years of his life, Werner devoted himself to a task more inclined towards the worlds of art and aesthetics than any other of his earlier works: Nomenclature of Colours, with Additions, arranged so as to render it useful to the Arts and Sciences. As such, it was used by Darwin himself during his observations of nature, admired by the poet Novalis, and, more recently, converted into a digital platform by the designer Nicholas Rougeux.

Like A. Boogert’s catalog of colors, Werner’s nomenclature (which delightfully describes 11 shades of blue) might be considered a predecessor to other systems of the classifications of the most modern of colors, such as the Pantone scale. But in Werner’s case, his descriptions are based on the tones of the minerals, a fact which inaugurated an entire language for describing colors, each of which carries in its very nature a quality almost unnamable.

nomeclatura1
As its title indicates, Werner’s nomenclature was designed for use by both scientists and artists and, in its first version, it relied exclusively on words to describe the 110 colors contained therein. Descriptions, based on nature, animals, plants, and minerals, provide explanations as detailed as “the reverse of the petals of the purple Hepatica.”

In 1821, the Scottish painter Patrick Syme updated Werner’s guide with samples of each of the colors. Most of them were made with the minerals given in the descriptions by the German author. In fact, it was a second edition of the guide, illustrated by Syme, which accompanied Darwin on his 1831 trip aboard the HMS Beagle, and was used to catalog the flora and fauna that would later be part of his theory of natural selection. This book would help many later scientists to distinguish between species, as the color of a plant, for example, reveals information about the species and subspecies to which it belongs, as well as on the evolution of subspecies within distinct regions.

After Werner’s guide, others emerged and these always aspired to the level of detail and categorization of the geologist’s earlier nomenclature. All of this has now been replaced by digital information, on computers and printers, but that makes the sheer simplicity of describing a color entirely by means of words profoundly enjoyable (and even poetic).

The digital version of Werner’s nomenclature has some additions to the original. These include photographs of animals, plants, and minerals showing each of the tones described by the original text, something its creator could never have imagined. In addition, Rougeux created a public document in which the digital codes of each of the colors are shared. Although a new version of the old nomenclature may lack the poetics of the original, its merit lies in making available to anyone this information which, for some 200 years, has fueled the imaginations of artists and scientists alike.

You can explore the digital version of Werner’s nomenclature through this link

 

 

 

Images: Internet Archive