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Before Pantone, there was this hand-painted 17th century color guide

A large and largely undocumented Dutch manuscript from 1692 was brought to the world's attention last week after a historian published images of some of its stunning pages, many of which are filled with block after block of hand-painted colors. Some reports have been calling the manuscript the "original Pantone," because — like the famous color catalog — the book documents hundreds of colors as they vary with different amounts of water. Titled Klaer lightende Spiegel der Verfkonst, it was hiding inside of a French library's collection for about a century before being published online under a listing that roughly translates to A guide to colors for watercolor painting.

According to medieval book historian Erik Kwakkel, the Leiden University researcher who brought attention to the book, the manuscript explains how to mix colors and change their tone by adding different portions of water. "In the 17th century, an age known as the Golden Age of Dutch Painting, this manual would have hit the right spot," Kwakkel writes on his blog. "It makes sense, then, that the author explains in the introduction that he wrote the book for educational purposes." The author is listed only as "A. Boogert," and very little attention appears to have been given to them or the book prior to last week. Kwakkel says that he's found one academic who's currently studying the book at the University of Amsterdam, but that he's otherwise seen no Dutch publications devoted to it.

The entire manuscript is available to browse online, and you can preview twenty of its most gorgeous pages below.

17th century 'Pantone' color catalog gallery


All images reprinted with permission of Bibliothèque Méjanes. Images from E-Corpus, reference Ms. 1389 (1228).