Painting the Figure with Terre Verte


What is Terre Verte?

Terre Verte, or ‘Green Earth’, was commonly used from Medieval Times and through the Renaissance for the underpainting of flesh tones. The Romans used this pigment on their wall paintings even before then.

The green is complimentary to the warm reds and pinks of the flesh and makes the skin appear more natural.

The pigment is made from iron silicates and the most famous was mined in Verona, Italy. It’s a transparent, non-toxic pigment with a low-tinting strength and high oil absorption.


Winsor & Newton Artist's Quality Terre Verte
Winsor & Newton Artist’s Quality Terre Verte. I’ve had this tube for quite a while.


I particularly love this colour for touching up areas of the verdaccio. It’s a fairly muted green, so not too overpowering. The Artist’s Quality Winsor & Newton brand that I used, had a fairly low tinting-strength, so if I applied too much, it was easy to wipe off with a cloth or even my fingers.


The Old Masters’ method

Cennino Cennini mentioned going over the verdaccio with this pigment, particularly in the shadows.

In my last blog, Painting the Verdaccio, I used Cennini’s traditional technique of mixing black, yellow ochre, white, and a little bit of Venetian red. No green pigment was added to the verdaccio at all.

The greenish olive colour comes from mixing the black (which has a blueish tone) and the ochre (which is yellowish).

Terre verte accentuates the dried verdaccio layer beautifully, and is applied as a transparent glaze. Due to the high oil absorption of this pigment, it works well in the earlier stages of the painting, adhering nicely to the ‘fat over lean’ rule.

It’s a very stable pigment, and extremely lightfast; not affected by sunlight and doesn’t react to solvents. Good to know, especially as I’m using it as part of my underpainting.

I pretty much only used one brush here. One of my absolute favourites. A beautiful Rosemary & Co. handmade hogshair filbert. I was done in less than an hour.

I must say, she’s looking a little bit ghoulish at the moment. In the next blog, I’ll be Painting the Flesh Tone and bring out more of the higher values, and get the flesh ready for the colour glazing stages.


Check out my figure paintings here.



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