Cobalt pigments

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Dutch candlestick
MFA# 08.475


Cobalt pigments are very stable, inert, unaffected by most chemicals and are not light sensitive. The most common cobalt pigment, Cobalt blue, is a cobalt aluminate and it was discovered in 1802. Cerulean blue is also a cobalt pigment (cobalt stannate). Cobaltic oxide is a black powder, cobalt black, that was used since the 8th century to give a brilliant blue color glaze and enamel. Cobalt green(cobalt oxide with some zinc oxide), [[cobalt_violet|cobalt violet] (cobalt phosphate or cobalt arsenate) and Cobalt yellow (potassium cobalt nitrite) were discovered by the mid-nineteenth century. Smalt, the earliest cobalt containing pigment, is actually glass which is colored with cobalt oxide and reduced to a powder.

Synonyms and Related Terms

pigmentos de cobalto (Esp., Port.); pigments de cobalt (Fr.); pigmenti al cobalto (It.)

Examples include: cobalt blue; Thenard's blue; Leithner blue; kings blue; zaffre; smalt; cobalt green; Rinman's green; zinc green; cobalt violet; cobalt red; cobalt yellow; aureolin; Dumont's blue; royal blue; cerulean blue; cobalt black;


  • In general, cobalt pigments are moderately toxic.
  • Skin contact may cause allergies, especially on elbows, neck and ankles.
  • Chronic inhalation may cause asthma.
  • Ingestion may cause vomiting, diarrhea and sensation of hotness.

Resources and Citations

  • R. J. Gettens, G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)
  • Michael McCann, Artist Beware, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York City, 1979