In Italian, there's 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,
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 (like the color of the
Asian shrub Rhamnus cathartica), also
called verde di vescica —bladder green!
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.
When I look around the
city, I do see a few “outlaw” shades of electric blue, but
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 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.