Opulence was all the rage in Sweden during the 1600s. In palaces, on estates, in the homes of rich burghers and everywhere it was affordable, people competed in magnificence and splendor.
Vasa was no exception.

When the ship sailed, its upper works were painted a deep , regal red color, and then there were the decorations: nearly 1200 sculptures, painted in a variety of strong and clear colors. Everything was intended to reflect a king and an international power with strength and ambition.

When Vasa was salvaged it was hard to discern the ship’s original colors, even though there were traces of paint and gilding on many of the sculptures. One theory was that the ship and sculptures were gilt or painted yellow against a blue background. In the early 1990s, the color scheme was examined more closely. Over one thousand paint samples were taken from parts of the ship and the sculptures were searched for paint fragments under a microscope. Simultaneously, historical archives were examined and comparisons were made with painted sculptures from the same time period. It all resulted in the discovery that Vasa was ornately painted, very much in the traditional style of the 1620s.

Some parts of the sculptures hair, costumes, jewelry and weapons were covered in gold leaf. Gilding was also used more extensively on the Royal coat of arms and the figurehead lion. On some sculptures yellow ochre was used as a cheaper substitute for gold leaf. Other parts were painted white, green, red, brown, violet and blue. Researchers found traces of cinnabar, which is one of the oldest known red pigments and has been in use in Sweden since medieval times. Even the blue pigment indigo, known since antiquity, has been found in samples from Vasa.