Sunday, April 27, 2014


The disinformation artistes over at Tony Watts' Salon des Refus├ęs have jumped the scientific tracks entirely. Ignoring CERN's experimental downsizing of the impact of cosmic rays on cloud nucleation, they've turned to art history in an effort to resuscitate the theory that cosmic rays modulate global warming more than man.  After a decade of obsessively recounting the rings of a single tree,  Canadian Tar Patch geographer turned art historian  Tim Ball has come up with a climate proxy that borders on the surreal.

He theorizes that changes in the style of landscape painting mirror cosmic ray induced changes in cloud cover, signifying that blue skies gave way to gray in the baroque era, thus linking cosmic rays to the cloudy skies of the Little Ice Age:

Svensmark’s Cosmic Theory and Cloud Cover Depictions in Little Ice Age Art.

Guest essay by Dr. Tim Ball
Correlation between sunspot numbers and global temperature was known for decades, but with no proven mechanism it was correctly set aside. That changed when Henrik Svensmark proposed his Cosmic Rays hypothesis...There is a basic for landscape artists because they paint what they see before them... Their work provides evidence of conditions such as the snow and cold of the Little Ice Age by Breughel  or Grifier . There was an exhibition of the work of Hendrick Avercamp titled the Little Ice Age at the National Gallery in Washington from March to July 2010... Constable’s works do not, in themselves, provide support for Svensmark, but when put with a 1970 study by Neuberger (republished in Weather on 30 April 2012) it provides independent confirmation. Neuberger’s hypothesis was that,
…a statistically adequate sample of paintings executed by many painters living during a given period in a given region should reveal meteorological features significantly different from those of a similar sample of paintings produced during the same epoch in a climatically different region.

Before you swallow Ball's spin on art history, let alone climate, take a look at the economic history of artists' materials- the Blue Sky laws may not govern climate blogs, but the laws of supply and demand apply to blue skies, and for centuries, blue was the most expensive color on the artist's palette.

At the time of the Little Ice Age, even the low end copper pigment azurite was pricey, but it paled in comparison to a color that was the stuff of legend. Grind the silicate gemstone Lapis Lazuli exceeding fine, and you end up with the best and brightest blue known to man. Seven centuries ago Cennino Cennini wrote of it:
"Ultramarine blue is a color illustrious, beautiful, the most perfect, beyond all other colors; one could not say anything about it, or do anything with it, that its quality would not still surpass."
It was also fabulously expensive and hard to get and process. Lapis lazuli was found only at the end of a serious detour off the Afghan Silk Road, in mines three miles above sea level in the remote mountains of Badakshan. Cennini described how the gem rough had to be pounded harder than a bad lawyer's table, mixed with melted resin, wax and oil, wrapped in fine cloth, and kneaded three times in a lye bath to produce a pigment worth its weight in gold and fit for the painted robes of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

The extraordinary cost of ultramarine often figured in artists contracts, and has made the pigment an objects of intense study-- art historians long ago noted that artists economized on blue skies when prices were high by using azurite. 
"Economic considerations played a decisive role of the artist’s working procedures." notes The Vermeer Newsletter observng that imported azurite became a Venetian monopoly once French deposits were exhausted, making the pigment more costly outside of Italy, and that this inflation continued through the16th and 17th century as Venice's wars with the Ottoman Empire squeezed imported supplies. 

Absent azurite, demand for ultramarine increased too, so how could northern Europe's new school of Big Sky artists prosper as blue pigment prices soared on the eve of the Little Ice Age?  Here's one alternative to Ball's baroque theory: