Prior to the proliferation of photography-based reference guides, naturalists and scientists relied on elaborate taxonomic descriptions to identify flora and fauna. One of those invaluable materials was Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, a universal catalog originally arranged by German geologist Abraham Gottlob Werner in 1814 and updated with more detail by Patrick Syme just a few years later.
The rich volume, which was the preeminent guide for artists, zoologists, botanists, and others working with pigments and the natural world throughout the 19th Century, is filled with hundreds of simple swatches and notes on where the various shades can be found around the globe. The head of a golden pheasant, for example, is King’s Yellow, while Hepatica flowers are Berlin Blue and some speckles in iron ore are Greyish Blue.
A forthcoming volume published by Princeton University Press celebrates the 200th anniversary of the chromatic catalog with a 288-page expanded edition. Introduced by Patrick Baty, Nature’s Palette: A Color Reference System from the Natural World pairs Syme’s 110 simple swatches with more than 800 illustrations of the animals, plants, and minerals detailed in the descriptions. The resulting book is a comprehensive visual compendium that ranges from large renderings of red coral to full-page charts spanning fine-grained marble to smoky quartz.