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Illuminating Colour

Robert Grosseteste (Bishop of Lincoln 1235–1253) has been described as ‘The greatest mind you’ve never heard of’. Scientists, historians and artists from the Universities of Oxford, Durham and Sunderland have worked together to explore Grosseteste’s theories on light and colour in his treaties on colour and the rainbow, De Colore and De Iride, culminating in an exhibition of new work created by Colin Rennie and Cate Watkinson. 


The exhibition provided an opportunity for the artists to explore the relationship between colour, light and glass. Artworks created colour using only glass and light were exhibited alongside others using digital technology, allowing visitors to the exhibition to interact with and alter the nature of the works.

“When the sun’s light is added to an existing colour in the medium through which it passes, for example to the colour of the glass, it will necessarily incorporate itself to that colour, and draws the colour with itself, and the colour becomes the nature of the light, and the light in the nature of the colour; it will be a ray of yellow or green or red, according to the colour that it passed through.” Robert Grosseteste (d. 1253)

‘What is understood in this way about the essence of colours and their multiplication, becomes apparent not only by reason but also by experience to those who thoroughly understand the depth of the principles of natural science and optics. And this is because they know how to make the diaphanous medium either pure or impure, so that in it they can receive bright light, or dim if they prefer, and through the shape formed in the diaphanous medium itself they can make scarce light, or increase that same light at will; and so through skilful manipulation they can show visibly, as they wish, all kinds of colours.’

                                                                                                                                                                                                Robert Grosseteste (d. 1253)

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