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At almost 200 years of age, 'Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours' gets a digital update

Long before Pantone colors or standardized color codes existed, and even before color photography was a thing, all shades were described in words. Reference guides, however, were still available, especially in the world of Arts and Science. Werner's is probably one of the most universally important and renowned guides of this kind.

Published in 1814 by German mineralogist Abraham Werner, the ‘Nomenclature of Colours’ was a set of detailed descriptions of colors: all possible values were put together with a specific explanation of where to find them in nature. This classification was revised and completed at the end of the 19th century by Scottish painter Patrick Syme, who added swatches of color next to each description, thus simplifying the task of working out each tone.

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Werner, A., (1821), Werner's nomenclature of colours, Edinburgh: Printed for William Blackwood, Edinburgh, and T. Cadell, Strand, London

Almost two hundred years later, even Syme's contribution seems insufficient to match the technological advances of the present day, especially considering that the descriptions and examples of the colors must be looked up in an ancient tome, (scanned and digitized by Internet Archive, but still a book nonetheless). To fix this, American designer and artist Nicholas Rougeux has created Werner's Nomenclature of Colours, an improved online version of this ancient and highly important reference guide.

Rougeux's project is faithful to the original, but also includes a further investigative effort and the addition of details aimed at identifying the colors described by Werner and later painted by Syme with even more precision.
The digital version of the classic manual includes photos of the objects, animals, and plants Werner described in the original book, giving the opportunity to explore different tonalities by merely clicking on each color.

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Recovering an invaluable piece of work and making it accessible to the public from a contemporary and updated perspective, while maintaining its traditional and conservative nature, is a truly romantic gesture. It is also a reminder that we all need to preserve the cultural heritage we have been handed down by our ancestors. By digitizing most, if not all, of their catalogs with this goal in mind, museums have started a trend. In the case of Rougeux's project, this trend has acquired an even more significant value.

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Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours – Nicholas Rougeux


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