B is for Blueprint


The 6-minute cartoons about a frustrated building contractor battles with Pink Panther over the design of a house being built remind me will posterity remember us conservators for our successes or our mistakes?


Pink Panther Cartoon”The Pink Blueprint “

Conservation experiences gave me possibility work with many objects but as a conservator I am always fascinated story behind them. One of them is story about blueprints.  Its fascinated story about luck and about man who all life believes that will be able to transmute lead into gold. I want just give some details, blue print process also known as cyanotype process and it was invented by Sir John Hershel in 1842.


Joe Struble of the Photography Department holding a print of Julia Margaret Cameron’s portrait of Sir John Herschel (1867)

He was an astronomer and he wanted an inexpensive way copying his notes.  He was precursor of the modern blueprint process. The process was popular in engineering circles well into the 20th century. The simple and low-cost process enabled them to produce large-scale copies of their work, referred to as blueprints. I promised fascinating story and where is this fascinated story. Let’s start from beginning with some litter scary place known as the Castle Frankenstein.


Tower and ruins of Castle Frankenstein

Here in 1673 was born Johann Konrad Dippel who was born in Castle Frankenstein, about 5 km south of Darmstadt in Germany.

He was labelled an indifferent fanatic, and found himself persecuted by the clergy and threatened by the mob. His unorthodox interests had by now broadened to include palmistry and astrology, and after reading the writings of Ramon Llull, the medieval Spanish mystic, Dippel came to believe in his own ability to transmute lead into gold. Moving to Berlin, he created a palatial laboratory in which he sought to achieve that other alchemical dream: a universal remedy. Dippel believed that the secret to this lay in the oil created by the destructive distillation of animal parts. Leather, hoofs, and horns were boiled down into a malodorous treacle that became known as “Dippel’s Oil” and which he claimed could cure fevers, colds, and epilepsy. He created an animal oil known as Dippel’s Oil which was supposed to be the equivalent to the alchemists’ dream of the “elixir of life.” At one point, Dippel attempted to purchase Castle Frankenstein in exchange for his elixir formula, which he claimed he had recently discovered; the offer was turned down. Dippel’s oil had a number of uses which are now mostly obsolete. It could be used as an alcohol denaturant, an ingredient in sheep dips, an animal repellent, aninsecticide, a chemical warfare harassing agent, and also had medicinal uses.


Prussian blue reaction. Painting of a student and teacher observing the Prussian blue reaction

In  1704 in Berlin Dippel shared  laboratory with some German painter and dye-maker  Henrich Diesbach  , he was in the midst of creating a batch of cochineal lake—a deep red—formulated by the boiling of insects and the addition of alum, green vitriol, and potash.

Discovering that he had no potash to hand, he borrowed some from his colleague and added it to his heavily pestled insects. As he mixed and mingled he discovered, to his astonishment, that what he was creating was not a deep red, but instead a dark, ungodly blue.

Upon being informed of this uncalled-for transmutation, Dippel tried to piece together the reason for it. The potash Diesbach had used had previously been employed in the creation of Dippel’s Oil. It was thus contaminated with animal blood. When mixed with the green vitriol (iron sulfate), this blood caused a reaction, and a blue that had never before been seen on Earth was brought into existence. He named the new-born colour Berlin Blue


The ingredients he needed were iron sulphate and potash. In a move that’ll bring a smile to any artist’s who’s ever tried to save money by buying cheap materials, he obtained some contaminated potash from the alchemist in whose laboratory he was working, Johann Konrad Dippel. The potash had been contaminated with animal oil and was due to be thrown out. Dippel’s blue had steadfastness, vividness, and simplicity of creation that surpassed them all. In 1710 it was described as being “equal to or excelling ultramarine”. Being about a tenth of the price of ultramarine, it’s not wonder that by 1750 it was being widely used across Europe. Unlike its creator, it was immediately welcomed by the world.
 Blue colour have become inspiration for many artist and designers.


Yves Klein, Blue Monochrome 1961,Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection

and me too.


The pigment was available to artists by 1724 and was extremely popular throughout the three centuries since its discovery. Artists flocked to use it. Famous artists who have used it include Gainsborough, Constable, Monet, Van Gogh, and Picasso (in his ‘Blue Period’). Japanese printmakers dismissed their beloved indigo for it, while in France the Impressionists used it lavishly in their plein air compositions ,only Renoir abstained, declaring he was “horrified” by the this colour.


Vincent van Goght in the letter to his brother Theo wrote One should not work Prussian blue into one’s drawing of a face; for then it ceases to be flesh and becomes wood. Soon this “Blue” was working its way into every nook and cranny of society, becoming a pigment in printing inks, typewriter ribbons, and cosmetics.
 What happened with Dippel. Johann Konrad Dippel remained fatefully trapped within his own time and antagonistic personality. In 1707, after years of luckless alchemical xperimentation, he left Berlin and became a student of medicine in Leyden. For reasons unknown, he was jailed for seven years on the Danish island of Bornholm, where he spent his incarceration convincing himself that ancient Egyptians had once inhabited the same land. European royalty’s well-known weakness for alchemists saw him freed after seven years, and he became physician to the Swedish court in Stockholm, but once again his argumentative character brought this role to a premature end. His last years were spent as a guest at the Castle Wittgenstein where he engaged in further theological controversies and alchemical research. In 1733, he predicted that he would live until he was 135 years old. With characteristic exactitude, he was found dead in his bed the following spring.


Frankenstein 1931 horror monster film from Universal Pictures directed by James Whale and adapted from the play by Peggy Webling, which in turn is based on the novel of the same name by Mary Shelley

Posterity has been no kinder to Dippel than the age in which he lived. Recent attempts to recognize the alchemist who was born in Castle Frankenstein, who worked with animal parts, and who attempted to defy the laws of nature, as the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein have been deemed highly improbable by scholars.


Many people were passionate about this blue colour , Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in his theory of colours described the Prussian blue as a colours which approach the dark side, and consequently, blue in particular, can be made to approximate to black; in fact, a very perfect Prussian blue, or an indigo acted on by vitriolic acid appears almost as a black.Ludwig van Beethoven in Conversation-book from 1820 mentioned “Can you lend me the Theory of Colours for a few weeks? It is an important work. His last things are insipid”. It’s hard to imagine now such is the tale of Johann Konrad Dippel, whose ineradicable achievement—the creation of this Blue known as Prussian Blue —was of little interest to him when placed beside his grand magical dreams.


This is end incredible story about colour mistakes and success.

……..more about blue , blueprints advise to store and how not turn the cyan to yellow in next post.



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