In Italian, there is a color named Terra
di Siena Naturale.
In olden times it was called Scyricum or Sil
Pressum. In English it is “Raw Sienna Earth”The highly
technical name for the color is “brownish” or “like, you
know, uh…sorta brown”. It is toxic; that is, if you eat
the paint, you die. (That may
be true of many other colors of paint, as well.) If you
paint your house that color, however, you may raise fewer
eyebrows than if you go with Naples yellow (something like
ochre) or chrome yellow (something like chrome) or spincervino yellow (something like the
color of the Asian shrub Rhamnus cathartica),
which is also called verde di vescica—bladder
green! Indeed, if you paint your house to make it resemble
a bladder and you live next door to me, you and my
spray-paint cans are not going to get along.
Why should I care? I’m
not sure. I was confused by Goethe’s Farbenlehre
(Theory of Colors) before I got to page number chartreuse.
It’s just that someone in the newspaper this morning was
moaning about the colors that buildings are painted in
Naples; a “kaleidoscope of anarchy” he called it. Or maybe
it was a “stethoscope of oligarchy”—whatever, it was bad.
There is no attempt, said the whiner, to adhere to the
published and official color guidelines. Well, there is no
attempt to adhere to the published and official
traffic-code definitions of red, green, and yellow,
either, so maybe the whole city is color-blind. That city
color code for painting buildings, by the way, was
published in 1942, and, in fairness, it wasn’t that
restrictive. You could paint your house white, grey, sand,
hazel-brown, straw yellow, “ancient pink,” salmon, clear terra di Siena, or Pompeian red.
So when I look around the
city, although I do see a few “outlaw” shades of electric
blue, generally I don’t see a lot of outrageous, garish
colors, except perhaps the church of Santa Maria delle Catene
(top photo, left). It was just redone in bright mustard.
Also, in Bagnoli, they have recycled part of the old
cement factory as a public venue and painted it “pimp
scarlet.” White is making a comeback: the entire 300-yard
long façade of the Albergo dei Poveri has been restored
to its original white, and the restored Mergellina train station is
back to its gleaming white. Pompeian red is still the
default color of regal buildings and those with regal
pretensions, such as the royal
palace and the Naples
prefecture. The colors of natural stone—marble,
trachyte, tufa—have always been popular, and the newer and
unpainted “natural” colors of metal are evident in many
recent buildings—the Civic
Center, for example.
Some colors in Naples seem too bright just by
comparison with some of the adjacent buildings that are
still wearing that coat of WWII grime grey. I would rather
see one of the most historic Spanish buildings in Naples,
the palazzo Cellammare (photo, right), any color than what
it is at present —Pompeian red, but only if you can
imagine Pompeii right after Mt. Vesuvius got through with
it. This is because the condo dwellers within are too
tight to pay for a decent paint job.