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Throughout history, ancient civilizations have been using all kinds of ingenious ways to create pigments for the coloring of clothing, objects and even buildings. While some of the pigments were truly magnificent and striking, many were also deadly.
Prior to the early modern period, most pigments were obtained from natural sources, either of organic or inorganic origin. With the advent of the scientific and industrial revolutions, the range of synthetic pigments was greatly increased.
Bright but Deadly: Lead White
One of the most commonly used pigments that has posed a threat to human health is lead white (also known as white lead), which can be traced back at least 2,500 years, making it among the earliest synthetic pigments produced by human beings.
This color is mentioned by the 4th / 3rd century BC philosopher Theophrastus of Eresos, who states in his work, On Stones , that lead white may be obtained by mixing metallic lead with vinegar.
This particular recipe is repeated by other Classical authors, including Pliny, who gave the following description in his work Natural History :
“It is made from very fine shavings of lead, placed over a vessel filled with the strongest vinegar; by which means the shavings become dissolved. That which falls into the vinegar is first dried, and then pounded and sifted, after which it is again mixed with vinegar, and is then divided into tablets and dried in the sun, during summer.”
Around the same time, i.e. the 4th century BC, a similar procedure was being used by the Chinese to produce lead white.
While lead white was a favorite among European painters, more tragically, it was used by ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans in the preparation of ointments and cosmetics, with dire consequences.
The chemical element of lead white, with the formula 2PbCO3.Pb(OH)2, is extremely harmful to humans and animals and can be introduced into the body via one of three ways – inhalation, skin absorption, and ingestion.
Symptoms of lead poisoning (referred to also as ‘painters’ colic’ or ‘plumbism’) vary depending on age groups. An adult exposed to lead, for instance, may experience headaches, abdominal pains, joint and muscle pain, and high blood pressure, whereas children may suffer from developmental delays, learning difficulties, and weight loss.
Venetian ceruse was a 16th-century cosmetic used as a skin whitener. It used white lead as a pigment causing lead poisoning, damaging the skin and causing hair loss. (Jdforrester / )
Lead white was used by European painters well beyond the Classical period. The importance of this pigment is evident in the fact that up until the 19th century, lead white was the only white pigment used in European easel painting. It was only during the 20th century that an alternate white pigment, titanium dioxide whites, became available to painters.
Compared to lead white, this new pigment is non-toxic. Nevertheless, lead white has certain advantages over its titanium counterpart.
For instance, lead white is a warmer and softer white than titanium white, which means that it is more suitable for painting flesh tones. Thus, lead white is still in use even today. Be that as it may, by taking the necessary precautions, an artist can avoid poisoning himself / herself while using this pigment.
The Dread of Red Lead
Lead white is not the only pigment containing lead. Another pigment with this chemical element is red lead, which has the chemical formula Pb3O4. This pigment is also known as minium, which is derived from the Minius River in northwest Spain.
It was from there that the naturally occurring mineral minium was mined in antiquity. The use of natural lead red ceased once a synthetic form of the pigment was discovered.
Vitruvius reports that red lead was discovered by chance when lead white was cast into a fire, and notes that the synthetic product was much better than the natural one. Synthetic lead red was also being produced in China as early as the Han dynasty, and there is no evidence that the natural form of this pigment was ever used there.
The earliest example of red lead being used directly (as opposed to being mentioned in a literary source) comes from Egypt. This pigment is found to have been applied on the Fayum mummy portraits , which date to between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD. The use of red lead has also been identified further east, for instance, on wall paintings in central China (dating to between the 5th and 9th centuries AD), and Buddhist wall paintings from Afghanistan (6th century AD).
Red lead was also used extensively in medieval manuscripts, and the word ‘miniature’ is connected to ‘minium’ through the Latirn verb ‘miniare’, which means ‘to write with minium’. In ancient times, red lead was often used to adulterate cinnabar, another deadly pigment that will be discussed later on.
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The Códice del Escorial (1272-1284) from Spain. Medieval manuscripts often used red-orange minium pigment in the letters of the text and for small illustrations, called miniatures. (Escarlati / )
Never Use Naples Yellow
Yet another dangerous pigment where lead is present is lead antimonate yellow, known also as Naples yellow. The pigment has the following chemical formula, Pb3(SbO4)2 and it is a salt of two highly toxic metals, lead and antimony, and is therefore extremely poisonous.
Naples Yellow was initially used in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia as a yellow colorant and opacifier in glasses and glazes.
Unlike some other pigments, lead antimonite yellow was lost and re-discovered several times throughout history, reaching its height of popularity in European art between 1750 and 1850 and, during this time, it was the dominant yellow pigment used by landscape artists. After this period, lead antimonate yellow was slowly replaced first by chrome yellow and then by cadmium yellow.
Roman glass beaker from second half of the 4th century. The yellow pigment is derived from lead antimonate. (MatthiasKabel / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Toxic Mercury in Vermilion
Lead is not the only chemical element that is dangerous to human beings. Mercury is another element known today for its lethality, and is found in cinnabar, a mineral used in ancient times for the production of a bright red / scarlet pigment known as vermilion.
Mercury exists in three forms – elemental, organic, and inorganic. The mercury found in cinnabar is inorganic, and the least dangerous form of the three. Nevertheless, it is still poisonous and may enter the body in ways similar to lead, i.e. inhalation, skin absorption, and ingestion.
Symptoms of mercury poisoning in adults include muscle weakness, lack of co-ordination, and difficulties in speech and hearing. On the other hand, children and infants exposed to high levels of mercury may suffer from retardations in speech and language development, cognition, and visual-spatial awareness.
In spite of its toxicity, cinnabar has been used, either on its own as a mineral, for the production of vermilion since ancient times. As an example, ground cinnabar is said to have been used in early Chinese burials.
During the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, i.e. 2nd and 1st millennia BC, ground cinnabar was scattered in graves, due to the belief that it was capable of preserving the bodies of the dead. Cinnabar was also an important mineral in ancient Chinese alchemy and was one of the ingredients required for the making of the legendary philosopher’s stone.
The red pigment cinnabar was used in this Chinese carved lacquerware, from the late Qing dynasty. (Danieliness / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Cinnabar was also known to the ancient Romans. Vitruvius, for instance, wrote about the process of producing vermilion from cinnabar. According to the ancient author, the extracted mineral is first dried and crushed. After this it is washed and heated repeatedly so as to remove impurities and to bring out the color.
Once the pigment is ready, it may be used for coloring the polished stucco of interior walls, as the pigment is stable so long as it is not exposed to sunlight. Exposure to sunlight causes a chemical reaction in the pigment which results in color loss. Hence, there are cases where vermilion changes from its original bright red color to brown, black, or grey over time.
Synthetic vermilion appeared during the 8th century AD, and it is thought that the process was discovered by the Chinese. It is likely that this knowledge was brought to the West by the Arabs. In the centuries following its discovery, synthetic vermilion was widely used as a pigment by Western artists.
Some Western works of art in which vermilion was used include Titian’s Madonna and Child (1570s), Ruben’s Descent from the Cross (17th century) in Antwerp Cathedral, and Raphael’s The Crucifixion (1503). Vermilion was not used uniquely by Western artists and the use of this pigment may be found on Asian works of art as well. These include Mughal Indian wall paintings from the 17th century, as well as various Chinese and Japanese paintings on paper and silk (dated to between the 13th and 19th centuries).
Green Arsenic Killer Pigments
Unlike the other pigments mentioned so far, the next deadly pigment did not exist in the ancient world and was only invented during the 18th century. Scheele’s Green was named after its inventor, Carl Wilhelm Scheele, a Swedish chemist who was conducting research on arsenic at the time.
Scheele first produced this synthetic green pigment in 1775 by adding arsenious oxide (As2O3) to heated sodium carbonate (Na2CO3). The mixture would then be stirred, until completely dissolved, thus producing a sodium arsenite (NaAsO2) solution. Finally, copper sulfate [CuSO4(H2O)x] would be added, so as to provide the bright green color this pigment is known for. Thus, Scheele’s Green has a chemical formula of AsCuHO3.
Prior to the invention of Scheele’s Green, green was derived from copper carbonate pigments, including verdigris and malachite. Compared to Scheele’s Green, however, these green pigments are duller and less durable. In addition, Scheele’s green pigment mimicked the green color of foliage better than its older counterparts.
Lastly, Scheele’s Green was cheap and easy to make. Therefore, Scheele’s Green replaced older green pigments soon after its discovery. This new green pigment was not only used for paintings, but also for a variety of everyday products, including wallpaper, fabrics, and even some children’s toys.
Damage caused by the use of green arsenic, 1859, from Scheele’s Green pigment. (Fæ / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
The popularity of Scheele’s Green, however, did not last for long. This was not due to the fact that it was poisonous, but due to the invention of another green pigment, emerald green, known also as Paris green. This pigment was invented in 1808 and was meant to be an improvement of Scheele’s Green.
Indeed, it quickly displaced Scheele’s Green when it became available commercially in 1814. Like Scheele’s Green, emerald green was laden with arsenic, and therefore, was not really an improvement from its predecessor, from a health and safety point of view.
It is unclear as to when exactly Scheele’s Green ceased to be used, while emerald green continued to be used as a pigment right up until the 1960s in Europe and the United States. Although it was no longer used as a pigment, emerald green functioned as an insecticide until the early 1980s.
The fact that both Scheele’s Green and emerald green were used in everyday products meant that more people were at risk of being poisoned, as compared to those pigments whose use was limited to painters. This was not limited to those who used these arsenic laced products, but also those involved in producing them.
The death of Matilda Scheurer, a 19th century London flower maker, was widely publicized, and highlighted the dangers of arsenic in these green pigments. At that time, artificial flowers were in vogue, and artificial leaves were dusted with green powder to make them look more natural and realistic.
Workers in such factories were therefore exposed to arsenic, which entered their bodies through inhalation. The autopsy of Scheurer showed that the arsenic she had inhaled had reached her internal organs, i.e. her stomach, liver, and lungs, and had destroyed her from the inside out.
Another possible victim of Scheele’s Green / emerald green was Napoleon Bonaparte. After his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the French emperor was exiled to Saint Helena, an island in the South Atlantic Ocean, where he stayed in a room painted green.
It has been speculated by some that it was the arsenic from the wallpaper that caused his death. Although analysis of Napoleon’s hair revealed significant amounts of arsenic, modern analyses of the wallpaper found that the arsenic content in them was enough to cause illness, but probably not death.
The death of Napoleon is speculated to have been caused by arsenic from the green pigment in the wallpaper and paint in his room. (Fæ)
Uranium Orange: The Radioactive Pigment
The last deadly pigment of this article is uranium orange, which is a product of the 20th century. Unlike the rest of the pigments in this article, uranium orange was not used by painters, but specifically as a ceramic glaze.
In 1936, a line of glazed ceramic dinnerware known as Fiesta (or Fiestaware) was introduced in the United States. The original Fiesta came in five colors – red, blue, green, ivory, and yellow, with red being the most popular color. In order to obtain this red, uranium oxide was added into the glaze.
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Fiestaware was first made in 1936. To achieve the bright colors uranium oxide was added into the glaze. (Marc Soller / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
From the start of its production till 1943, natural uranium was used. During World War II, the company’s supply of uranium was confiscated by the government, as it was needed for the production of nuclear weapons. When production resumed in 1959, depleted uranium was used instead.
Needless to say, uranium is a radioactive element and eating off a plate with a uranium-based glaze increases the risk of developing tumors or cancer, especially in the gastrointestinal tract. Modern Fiesta dishes, fortunately, are not radioactive, as depleted uranium was used in the ceramic glazes only until 1972/3.
While science continues to discover that many of the chemicals we use today in cosmetics, household products and even food are harmful, for now it appears we have eliminated the danger of deadly pigments.
The History of the Color Green: From a Poisonous Pigment to a Symbol of Environmentalism
Every color has a story and the color green is no different. Today, it's most commonly associated with nature. Chlorophyll is the photosynthetic pigment found in plants that allows them to have their fresh, calming hue. This rich color has been all around us as a constant since the beginning of time (as far as we know), so it may seem strange to think of it as something with a past, but the verdant hue has a rich history filled with challenges. In fact, the color green didn&rsquot come so naturally to those who tried to manufacture it as a pigment for paintings or decorating objects. At first, the hue was notorious for being a hard color to come by, and its pigments have been some of the most poisonous in history.
Learn more about the color green and how it went from being seen as an arduous and dangerous hue to one that represents nature and wealth.
Poisonous Pigments: History’s Deadliest Colors - History
‘The first period of cave painting knows only black and red outlines.
‘The third period uses solid black, red and brown for the surface and employs a pigment to get an effect of relief. Outlines black, body of animals modelled by smearing on it various tints obtained by mixing red and black. Introduction of red variations: tannish red, orange red, sepia. First traces of mixing color with white.
Stone Age graves in Europe indicate that numerous tribes, obviously in awe of amber’s unusual properties, wore pieces of it as amulets to ward off evil spirits.
Charcoal Black. the residue from the dry distillation of woods, is made by heating the wood in closed chambers or kilns. That which is produced from the willow, bass, beech, maple, or such other even textured wood is the best. For pigment purposes, the charcoal is ground and well washed to remove potash. It may be used in stick form for sketching purposes and for the preparation of cartoons. Charcoal is light and porous in part, it retains the fine structure of the wood from which it was made and, for this reason, it is quite characteristic in appearance when viewed microscopically. It may be seen as small, opaque, elongated, and splintery particles. This form of carbon has been used as a pigment since very earliest times. It is found on the wall paintings at Bamiyan in Afghanistan. Laurie says that the cool grays of Frans Hals are a mixture of white lead and charcoal black.
800 0 B.C.
Beads, pendants, and figurines carved from amber have turned up in graves dating from 8000 B.C. in northern Europe - placing amber among the early substances used by man for ornamentation.
Pre-dynastic Malachite (mountain green)
is perhaps the oldest known bright green pigment. ..It occurs in various parts of the world associated with secondary copper ore deposits. It is prepared as a pigment by careful selection, grinding, and sieving, but today it is seldom used, except perhaps to a small extent in the East.
In spite of its ready decomposition, it has remained unchanged in many paintings for centuries, just as it has in the earth. It is unaffected by light.
The history of malachite in painting runs closely parallel to that of azurite. It occurs on Sinai and in the eastern desert of Egypt, and was used there for eye paint as early as pre-dynastic times. It was found side by side with azurite in Chinese painting at Tun Huang and other temple sites, and it has perhaps been used in the East continuously to the present day. This copper green is found in all periods of European painting up to about 1800, but at the time it was nearly supplanted by artificial green pigments. It was used much in trees and foliage. Like azurite, it worked better in tempera than in oil. Thompson remarks that malachite, although widely used in the Middle Ages, is mentioned but little in contemporary literature on painting materials whereas azurite is spoken of repeatedly. This pigment is no doubt the verde azzurro of Cennino Cennini.
The history of malachite in painting runs closely parallel to that of azurite. It occurs on Sinai and in the eastern desert of Egypt, and was used there for eye paint as early as pre-dynastic times. It was found side by side with azurite in Chinese painting at Tun Huang and other temple sites, and it has perhaps been used in the East continuously to the present day. This copper green is found in all periods of European painting up to about 1800, but at the time it was nearly supplanted by artificial green pigments.
Mars Colors (Mars yellow, Mars orange, Mars red, Mars violet).
The Mars colors, so called, are artificial ochres which are made by precipitating (processes.) The (product) results in Mars yellow. When this Mars yellow is heated, various shades of orange, red, brown, and violet result, depending upon the degree and duration of the heat. The product must be thoroughly washed free from soluble salts to be useful as an artist’s pigment. The preparation of artificial iron oxide colors of this nature from iron vitriol was described in the middle XIX century. Although these Mars colors are very homogeneous and fine, they possess no advantage over the natural iron yellows and reds. They are sometimes sold for the natural iron oxides.
Painting Materials -Gettens and Stout pg 129
Massicot (litharge) are names which have long been used for the yellow monoxide of lead.
It is not an intense yellow but it has good hiding power and is similar to white lead in pigment properties. Chemically, it has properties like white lead. It is unaffected by strong light but may revert to white lead on ling exposure to damp air.
Litharge is more orange in color than massicot, caused by the presence of some red lead. It is not used as a pigment but is extensively employed as a drier in paints and varnished it is important as an intermediate step in the preparation of red lead.
Yellow lead monoxide was known, certainly, as early as metallic lead, which has been found in sites that dates from pre-dynastic times in Egypt. Laurie found it on a scribe’s pallet dating 400 B.C. Davy identified as orange color on a piece of stucco in the ruins near the monument of Caius Cestius as a mixture of massicot and minium. Pliny described the preparation of both litharge and massicot.
Although De Wild list thirty nine Dutch and Flemish paintings of XV to XVII centuries in which he identified massicot, it is probable that the more stable double oxide of lead and tin which is called lead tin yellow was actually employed. In modern times, massicot is not used as a paint pigment.
Although proof of the existence of aluminum as a metal did not exist until the 1800's, clays containing the metallic element were used in Iraq as long ago as 5300 BC to manufacture high quality pottery. Certain other aluminum compounds such as the ‘alums’ were used widely by Egyptians and Babylonians as early as 2000 BC. Despite these early uses of the ‘metal of clays,’ however, it was almost 4,000 years before the metal was freed from its compounds, which made it a commercially usable metal.
‘In Egypt the oldest class of painting is vase painting. It shows white lines on hand burnished red. The combination of a rich red with highly reflecting black is the first satisfying use of a color scheme in Egypt.
‘Dynastic times. Started flat painting on walls with a color scheme of black, red, yellow, green white.
Indigo is documented to have been used at this time.
Certain aluminum compounds such as the ‘alums’ were used widely by Egyptians and Babylonians as early as 2000 BC. Despite these early uses of the ‘metal of clays,’ however, it was almost 4,000 years before the metal was freed from its compounds, which made it a commercially usable metal.
Inks are paint like fluids and pastes used for writing and printing. The use of colored fluids for drawing characters on parchment, hide, or cloth was common in ancient Egypt and China at least as early as 2000 BC. Ancient writings that are still preserved often used inks based on lampblack (carbon black), a finely ground pigment dispersed in water or oil, and sometimes stabilized with a vegetable gum or glue.
Tyrian purple, used by the Phoenicians in the 15th century BC, was produced from certain varieties of crushed sea snails. Another snail variety, the banded dye-murex, was discovered in the 1980s to be the source of hyacinthine purple, a blue-purple dye known in biblical Hebrew as tekhelet and employed up to 3,600 years ago for dyeing ritual prayer shawls. The use of indigo as long ago as 3000 BC has been documented synthetic indigo is still an important dye because it is exceptionally fast.
IV Dynasty of Egypt
Egyptian Blue (blue frit, Pompeian blue)
The inorganic blue color most commonly found on wall paintings of Egyptian, Mesopotamia, and Roman times is an artificially made pigment which contains as its essential constituents copper, calcium, and silica. Lucas, who gives a very good summary of the history and occurrence of this blue, says it was made by heating a mixture containing silica, a copper compound, calcium carbonate, and natron.
Chaptal appears to have been the first to call this material a ‘frit’ but, although it does contain some glass as impurity, the blue is definitely a crystalline compound. Laurie and co-workers point out that the Egyptian ceramics that glaze was applied to a base of carved sandstone at a temperature somewhat lower than that required to form the crystalline blue. There is contemporary mention of this artificial blue which includes descriptions of its method of preparation. It is no doubt the Egyptian caeruleum of Pliny.
Vitruvius describes its manufacture but erroneously states that the method for making it was first discovered in Alexandria.
Egyptian blue which is coarsely crystalline and pure blue in color is similar, in appearance, to finely ground azurite. Unlike azurite, however, it is insoluble in acids, is not affected by light or heat (except at very high temperatures), and by alkalis only on fusion. Many specimens, well over 3000 years old, appear to be little changed by time or environment.
This history of Egyptian blue is largely ancient. Spurrell states that it was found as early as the IV Dynasty in Egypt. Laurie observed it on paintings from the palace at Knossos. Raehlman, Chaptal and others have found it on Pompeian and other Roman wall paintings. It has further been identified as the dark blue material of a mace head from Nuzi, Iraq as the material of the blue inlay in ivories from Samaria and as a blue pigment on Roman wall painting from Dura Europos in Syria. Partington has reviewed the history and occurrence of Egyptian blue and he says ‘No ancient European people could successfully imitate Egyptian blue and the secret of its manufacture was lost between A.D. 200 and 700.’
A modern blue pigment called ‘Pompeian blue,’ which is entirely similar in chemical composition and optical properties to the ancient copper-lime silicate blue but which is purer and finer, is now available form a French source.
‘The fifth Dynasty introduced blue and gray (ca. 2000 b.c.)
‘The twelfth Dynasty introduced violet.
“The eighteenth and nineteenth Dynasty, the last great period, uses as main colors terra cotta red, black, white, dark brown, (Nile) green, blue, yellow. New is the dotting of blue with black, green with yellow and the iridescent shades.
‘In Crete the early Minoan period (3400-2100 b.c.) Shows only red wash.
‘The First Middle Minoan period (2100-1900 b.c.) red, black, white.
‘The Second Middle Minoan period (1900-1700 b.c. red, blue, black, white.
“The Third Minoan period added gray.
‘The late Minoan period (1500-1300 b.c.) Shows rose, gray-blue, red-brown, creamy white, and the use of transparence for women’s garments. Through all Crete periods red and black are predominant.
‘The frescoes in the palace of Menelaus in Tyrrhene 2000-1000 b.c. show the first use of pink.
‘Early Mycenae frescoes show the repetition of the color scheme red, black, later white.
‘On the Greek Mainland down to the 6th century the main colors are black, white, red and yellow.
‘ Demokritos described in his two treatises: ‘On color and On Painting’ the work of the 5th century painting as consisting of four colors from which the others were obtained: red, yellow, black, white. Gold is derived by mixing white and red with a touch of yellow, purple is made from red, black and white (3 parts of red, 1 part of black, 2 parts of white) indigo by mixing black and yellow green from yellow and purple, etc, The old Greeks knew 819 shades mixed of these four basic colors.
‘Greece in the age of the Tyrants (600 b.c.) Used red for bodies, blue for hair. The 5th century started attempts in shading.
‘The 4th century started the struggle with the third dimension.
‘The 3rd and 2nd century knew all about space, color and light, and no landscaping.
‘Roman painting followed the Greek tradition.
‘Pompeian wall painters first used superimposition of color to get a multicolour effect. Over a layer of black they laid a red layer and obtained by this method a rather deep, brownish red, effect.
‘Known colors up to the end of the Roman empire were the earth colors: red ochre, terra verte, umber Lead colors: white lead, red lead, yellow oxide of lead, copper applied with vinegar lampblack, burnt ivory and charcoal blue was carbonate of copper vegetable and animal dyes: purple, madder (red and yellow) indigo, kermes (scarlet), woad (blue).
‘The only important colors modern times added to the classic color scheme were ultramarine and lapis lazuli.’
Indigo was known and used as a dye in early Egypt. It was mentioned by Pliny, who called it ‘indicum’. It has been identified as one of the pigments used for decorating Roman parade shields of c 200 A.D. found at Dura Europos in Syria, was mentioned as early as the XIII century in European commercial transactions and was used in Italian painting certainly as early as the XV century and probably even much earlier.
A coloring material much like indigo has been observed in the blue layer beneath an azurite film in a Sienese painting. De Wild lists four paintings, three by Frans Hals and all of the XVII century, in which he found indigo.
Madder, Madder Lake (see also Alizarin)
is a natural dyestuff from the root of the herbaceous perennial, Rubia tinctorium, which formerly was cultivated extensively in Europe and in Asia Minor. The color matter, which is chiefly alizarin, is extracted from the ground root by fermentation and hydrolysis with dilute sulphuric acid. The madder plant is native to Greece and was used as a source of dye perhaps as early as classical times. It has been identified as the source of a pink color on a gypsum base from an Egyptian tomb painting of the Graeco Roman period.
The Roman author Pliny make public his Historia Naturalis, in which amber is scientifically described as a product of the plant world.
Pliny reports that a small carved figure of amber was worth more in the marketplace than a slave.
Chrysocolla was a classical name to indicate various compounds that were useful in the hard soldering of gold. (Greek: gold glue) and among these were certain green copper minerals, Pliny may have meant malachite by it. The name is now used by mineralogist, specifically, for natural copper silicate. In the natural state, its appearance is similar to malachite, except that the color is somewhat more blue. When ground to a fine powder, it retains its green color quite satisfactorily and may serve for a pigment in a water soluble medium. . The pigment is stable to light and to ordinary environments but is decomposed by acids and is turned black by hear and warm alkalis. This mineral has had little mention as a painting material. Gettens identified it on wall paintings at Kizil in Chinese Turkestan and described some of its properties. It occurs in Egypt and the Sinai peninsula and has been identified by Spurrell as a pigment on certain Twelfth Dynasty tombs at El-Bersha.
500 A.D -1500 A.D. middle ages
Bole is the name frequently given in the arts to clay, either white or colored. White bole is about identical with kaolin. Red bole is a natural, ferruginous aluminum silicate which was originally found in Armenia but now elsewhere in Europe. It is similar to ochre in composition but is softer and more unctous, and because it is capable of receiving a high polish, it has served since early mediaeval times as a ground for gilding. It is obtainable today under various names such as ‘gilders red clay’ ‘red burnish gold size.’
Bone White (bone ash) is made by calcining animal bones. Ash from the bones of different animals varies little in composition. Bone white is a grayish white and slightly gritty powder. In mediaeval times, it was used on paper or parchment to give it tooth or abrasive quality to receive the streak of silver point.
Brazil Wood is a natural red dye. . that used in the Middle Ages came from Ceylon. It was known and called ‘brazil’ many centuries before the discovery of the country, Brazil.
Brazil wood lakes, which are prepared with different mordants, vary in color from bright cherry to deep red and are sold under a variety of names. These lakes are insoluble in water and in alcohol but are partially soluble in alkalis, giving them a brownish red color. Mineral acids decompose them with a yellow to orange red solution. They are not stable in string light. Brazil wood dyes are said to have been used in great quantities in mediaeval times in dyeing, in painting, and in inks, perhaps more than madder at an early date, bur were later replaced by more brilliant colors.
700's (Eighth c. Tempo period)
There are many other natural forms of calcium carbonate, some of which are useful in painting. One of them, marble, is a familiar crystalline variety of calcium carbonate or limestone. Marble dust has been mixed with lime for the plaster ground of fresco painting and of line wax painting. Another, oyster shell white, can be made from the shells of almost any mollusk. It was perhaps usual to burn the shells before powdering them. This white was a pigment in Chinese and Japanese painting, and as Thompson says that it appeared also in mediaeval England, chiefly mixed with orpiment. Even calcined egg shells were used as the source of a fine lime white. Coral, the calcareous remains of various marine animals, yields, when ground up, a pale pink powder that the Chinese and Japanese made into paint for certain purposes. Uyemura says it was used as early as the Tempo period (VIII century) in Japan. Lime white, derived from line putty, or water slaked lime, went into Italian fresco painting under the name, bianco sangiovanni. On exposure to air, this was slowly reconverted to calcium carbonate or chalk.
Bistre is a brown water color pigment which is derived from the tarry soot of burned, resinous wood and beechwood. It is similar to asphaltum in color and composition. The color varies from saffron yellow to brown black, depending upon the source and treatment of the raw material. It was sometimes mixed with red ochre to give it a warmer tone. Church says that the ground raw product is washed with hot water before it is mixed with gun and glycerine in the preparation of water color. The tarry nature of bistre (as with asphaltum) makes it an unsuitable pigment, except perhaps in very thin washes. He also says that exposure to strong sunlight oxidizes the tarry materials of wood origin have probably been used for centuries. Meder says that first literary mention of bistre was by Jehan le Begue in 1431 it had been used extensively, however, it Italian book illustrations in the XIV century. It was used by Rembrandt for wash drawings. It is still listed by artists’ supply dealers, but is little used since it is admitted by them not to be permanent.
Azurite - This natural copper carbonate was no doubt the most important blue pigment in European paintings from the XV to the middle of the XVII century and in paintings of that period it is found more frequently than ultramarine.
De Wild lists nineteen early Dutch and Flemish paintings on which he identified azurite. Europe had various sources of the mineral. There is evidence that Hungary was the principle source in the middle XVII century when Hungary was overrun by the Turks. One of the early names for azurite was azure d’Alemagna, indicating that it came from Germany. It is the azurro della magna of Cennino Cennini, and was known by numerous other names in mediaeval times.
Chalk, black or red has a more emphatic effect and also an indication of color. Chalk drawing first came into wide use in sixteenth century Italy. The many Italian masters who employed black or red chalk or the two in combination include Carpaccio at Venice, Andrea del Sarto at Florence, Correggio at Parma and the Carracci at Bologna. The suggestion of flesh color given by red as a reinforcement of black has attracted portrait painters. The Clouets in sixteenth century France used sanguine with a simplicity that also gave a remarkable lifelike effect, the great collection in the Musee Conde, Chantilly, showing their unique quality. They may be compared with Holbein whose drawings of members of the Tudor court include such variations of the medium as black chalk on a flesh colored ground.
The supreme example of the mediums capacity is given by Watteau in his studies of figures and figure details for his paintings in red or red, black and white on a toned ground. . A modern example of the depth of light and shade obtainable on a grained paper is provided by the drawings of Seurat.
The textile dyeing industry in Europe originated in the 16th century, when the Portuguese, Dutch, and English introduced indigo.
Madder Lake - Perkins and Everest say: “About the time of the Crusades the cultivation of madder was introduced into Italy and probably also into France. The Moors cultivated it in Spain, and during the sixteenth century it was brought to Holland. Colbert introduced it into Avignon in 1666, Frantzen into Alsace in 1729, but only toward 1760-1790 did it become important. During the wars of the Republic, its cultivation was largely abandoned, and only after 1815 did this again become regular.”
A brown , bituminous pigment was once actually prepared from the bones and bodily remains of Egyptian mummies which had been embalmed with asphaltum. It was claimed that, though time, the asphaltum had lost some of its volatile hydro carbons, and the powder from the ground up, embalmed remains was more solid than recent asphaltum and was better suited for a pigment. Apparently, it was once a favourite with some artists. Church says that it was certainly used as an oil paint at least as early as the close of the XVI century. Little is known about its history it has not been mentioned in reports on the identification of materials in paintings. It is now perhaps unobtainable and is no longer desired in the arts. Some oil paints sold under that name are substitutes which contain bituminous earths like Van Dyke brown. The microscopic character of true mummy has not been described, but its properties and behaviour are much like those of asphaltum.
Indigo ‘It employment in Europe was very limited until in 1516 when it began to be imported from India by way of the Cape of Good Hope, but its introduction in large quantity did not occur until about 1602. Owing chiefly to the opposition of the growers of woad, its European rival as a dyeware, it met with much opposition, and various laws were enacted both on the continent and in England prohibiting its use. It was called a ‘devilish drug’ and was said to be injurious to fabrics. In 1737 its employment was legally permitted France, and from this period its valuable properties appear to have become gradually recognized through Europe.
Cochineal (carmine lake, crimson lake ) is a natural organic dyestuff that is made from the dried bodies of the female insect, coccus cacti, which lives on various cactus plants in Mexico and in Central and South America. It was first brought to Europe shortly after the discovery of those countries. Eibner says that it came in after the conquest of Mexico in 1523 and was first described by Mathioli in 1549. The coloring principle of cochineal extract is carminic acid.
The cochineal lakes are not permanent to light. They turn brownish and then fade rapidly in strong sunlight, particularly when used in water color. In oil, however, they are fairly stable and were used formerly in the preparation of fine coach colors.
Bistre (Fr.) A Brown pigment, made from charred wood, used as ink, or chalk, or - principally in the 17th c. - as a wash. Rembrandt’s drawings are mostly in bistre.
The pen line in Old Master drawings is often reinforced by washes of bistre, a dilution of wood soot, which has a later equivalent in the sepia originally derived from the ink of the cuttle fish.
Blue Verditer is a name now given to an artificial basic copper carbonate. The pale greenish blue pigment is little used today, but can still be obtained from some artist’ colormen. . The artificial copper blues have not been credited with great permanence, and Thompson says that they had a tendency to revert to green through the loss of their ammonia content. According to Laurie..the manufacture of blue verditer seems to have been carried on in England in large quantities at one time. Thompson states that ‘the artificial blues from copper are probably more significant in medieval painting than all the rest (of the blue pigments) put together.’ They were the best cheap substitutes for the more expensive azurite and ultramarine. Laurie identified this pigment in various English illuminated manuscripts of the early XVII century. He records, in another place that it was used throughout the XVIII century and the ‘Madame de Pompadour’ by Boucher, the National Gallery, Edinburgh, is painted with it.
Bitumen - A rich brown pigment made from asphaltum. Its use through pleasant is very dangerous, since it never dries completely. It was popular during the 18th and 19th c. and has been the cause of severe damage in many paintings of those periods.
Aluminum is the third most abundant element (8%) in the earth’s crust, exceeded by oxygen (45%) and silicon (28%).
The metal’s name is derived from ‘alumen’, the Latin name for alum. In 1761 the french chemist Guyton de Morveau proposed the name ‘alumine’ for the base in Alum.
Cobalt Green is similar to cobalt blue, except that zinc oxide replaces wholly or partly the aluminum oxide in the latter. Cobalt Green is semi transparent and does not have great hiding power. It is fine and regular in particle size the grains are rounded and transparent, bright green in transmitted light, and they are highly refracting and birefracting. It is a stable and inert pigment and can be used im mixtures and in different techniques.
Church says: ‘Cobalt green is, in fact, one of the too rare pigments which is at once chemically and artistically perfect.’ It has not had, however, great favour with artists because it covers only moderately well, is costly and because its color can so easily be imitated by mixtures. Although it was discovered by Rinmann in 1780, it was not until after the middle XIX century, when zinc oxide became available in large quantities, that cobalt green in turn became commercially possible. Laurie gives 1835 as the date of the first literary mention of cobalt green as a pigment.
Antoine Lavoisier identified alumine as the oxide of a then-undiscovered metal.
L.N. Vauquelin, the discoverer of chromium (1797) described the preparation and properties of lead chromate in his 1809 ‘Memoir’.
Cerulean blue - It is a stable and inert pigment and is not affected by light or by strong chemical agents. ..It has limited tinting strength, but is the only colbalt blue pigment without violet tint. It was known at the beginning of the XIX century as a blue compound that could be made by heating tine oxide with a cobalt solution, but not until the year 1860 was it introduced under the name, ‘coeruleum,’ by Messrs G. Rowney and Co., who suggested its use for aquarelle and for oil painting. (The word , caeruleum, was used in classical times rather loosely to indicate various blue pigments.
Chrome Red - a brick red, crystalline powder, is basic lead chromate. It is stable under ordinary conditions, but is not widely used as an artist’s pigment because it lacks brilliancy and is readily affected by sulphur gasses. Little is known about its history as a pigment, but it probably came into use in the early part of the XIX century.
Cobalt Blue is now the most important of the cobalt pigments. The color varies slightly with different methods of manufacture and with the amount of impurities present, but it is usually a pure shade of blue, especially in natural light.
Chemically, cobalt blue is very stable it is insoluble in strong acids and alkalis and is unaffected by sunlight it can be used in all painting techniques, even for the blue coloring of ceramic glazes, in much the same way as cobalt oxide is used.
Cobalt blue was discovered by Thenard in 1802. De Wild gives a brief account of its history and says: ‘since the new pigment satisfied a recognized demand, it was employed everywhere relatively soon after its discovery especially in France, as was natural.’ The earliest picture painted in Holland on which it was identified by De Wild was 1840 and he adds, ‘hence its use did not penetrate into Holland directly after its discovery.’ It has been identified on a water color painting by R.P. Bonington, 1801-1828. Since it is one of the most costly of artists’ colors, it is liable to adulteration and to substitution by ultramarine and even blue lakes.
In 1807, Sir Humphry Davy assigned the name ‘aluminium to the metal and later agreed to change it to ‘aluminum’. Shortly thereafter, the name ‘aluminium was adopted to conform with the ‘-ium’ ending of most elements, and this spelling is now in general use through out the world, except in the United states (where the second ‘i’ was dropped in 1955) and Italy (where ‘alluminio’ is used).
Emerald Green is an artificial pigment which was first made at Schweinfurt, Germany, in 1814. It is copper aceto-arsenite and can be prepared in several ways, in all of which the important raw materials are copper, acetic acid (or verdigris), white arsenic, and sodium carbonate.
Emerald green, as the pigment is now called, is bright blue green in color, is one of the most brilliant of the inorganic colors, and is quite unlike any other green pigment. It has fair hiding power. Some specimens of emerald green are quite characteristic. It does not enjoy popularity as an artist’s pigment because it is poisonous and dangerous to handle. Ia Paris green, it has long been used as an insecticide.) It is readily decomposed by acids and by warm alkalis, and it is blackened by heat. It is fairly permanent, however, in an oil or varnish medium.
Emerald green has not been identified frequently on paintings. De Wild found it on only one (dating 1860). Occasionally it is seen as the green pigment used for making an imitation patina over repairs on ancient Chinese bronzes.
Chrome Yellow the most important of the commercial yellow pigments, is lead chromate. (It) can vary in shade from lemon yellow to orange, depending upon the particle size, which, in turn, depends upon the conditions of precipitation. Lighter shades usually contain lead sulphate, or other insoluble lead salts. The middle hues are neutral lead chromate, and the orange leads are basic lead chromate.
When chemically pure, chrome yellow is fairly permanent to light, but it is frequently observed to darken and become brown on aging. Sometimes, especially when mixed with colors of organic origin, it takes on a green tone. It is most satisfactory when used in oil. In fresco painting, only a basic lead chromate (chrome orange or red) can be used, for yellow chromes are turned by alkali. Much chrome yellow is used with Prussian blue to make chrome green. As a pigment, it dates from the beginning of the XIX century. L.N. Vauquelin, the discoverer of chromium (1797) described the preparation and properties of lead chromate in his 1809 ‘Memoir’. He mentioned that it could be prepared in different shades, depending on the conditions of precipitation. Chrome yellow did not come into commercial production, however, before 1818. One finds it occasionally on XIX century paintings. Laurie says that Turner used chrome yellow and chrome orange. It is not much used now in painting because more permanent yellows are available.
Alizarin (alizarin crimson) is the coloring principle of the madder root and it was first isolated from that source in 1826 by Colin and Robiquet.
Laurie gives 1835 as the date of the first literary mention of cobalt green as a pigment.
Antimony Vermilion is antimony sulphide.. it may be had in hues varying from orange to deep red. It was first made by C. Himly in Kiel in 1842. Although antimony sulphide figures as a pigment in the rubber industry, it is little used in paint because it is fugitive and not very stable chemically.
Until the mid-19th century, all dyes were derived from the leaves, twigs, roots, berries, or flowers of various plants or from animal substances.
Cadmium Red Lithopone It is stable under ordinary conditions and is light fast. It is a strictly modern pigment, having been in use only since 1926.
Cadmium Yellow the color of the pure cadmium sulphide ranges in hue from lemon yellow to deep orange, depending upon the conditions of precipitation. Cadmium sulphide is found in nature as the mineral, greenockite, but the use of the mineral as a pigment has not been mentioned.
It is permanent and fast to light. The modern product, because of freedom from excess, free sulphur, is competitive with most other pigments. Laurie says that the cadmium yellows were first shown in the 1851 Exhibition. It is now perhaps the most important yellow pigment on the artist’s palette and is widely available in numerous shades.
Coal Tar Colors are made from the distillation products of coal tar, a by product of coke and coal gas manufacture, and are compounds which contain chiefly carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and sometimes sulphur. Benzene, toluene, anthracene, naphthalene, phenol, and pyridine are all direct coal tar distillation products. By processes of synthetic organic chemistry, these distillation products may be changed to dye intermediates like aniline, phthalic acid, etc., which, in turn , may be synthesized to color products which are dyes. Since the discovery of the first aniline dyestuff, mauve (see Mauve), by William Perkin in England in 1856, many thousands of coal tar dyes have been prepared. Some have become important in the preparation of lake pigments, being values for their richness and brilliance in color. Many coal tar lakes lack permanence and have rightly caused the whole range of lake pigments to be looked upon with suspicion by the artist. In recent decades, however, there had been a very decided improvement in the permanence of coal tar dyestuffs like the dyes of natural origin, those in the red region of the spectrum are the more permanent, but there has been a great improvement in the stability of lake pigments for other regions of the spectrum, examples of which are the Hansa yellows and the phthalocyanine blues. For the future, there may be developed organic colors which will rival the inorganic colors in light stability and general permanence.
Magenta is a brilliant red purple organic dye. It was first prepared by Natanson in 1856. It is soluble in alcohol, acetone, and aqueous solutions. Although a fugitive dye, it has been used for water colors and is still listed among them by artists’ colormen.
is an artificial organic dyestuff belonging to the azine group of dyes. This was the first dyestuff ever to be made synthetically, It was discovered n England in 1856 by Sir William Perkins, who prepared it by the oxidation of crude aniline with chromic acid. Because aniline was the starting point for this as well as for several other which followed, the term, ‘aniline dyes’ came to indicate all those made synthetically, particularly those from chemicals derived from the distillation of coal tar. The term has been carelessly applied to dyes not derived from aniline or related to it. Pure mauve dye comes in the form of reddish violet crystals. When applied, the color is dull violet. It was patented in England where it was widely used for a time in dyeing cloth. Although it is fugitive, it has been used as an artists water color to a small extent, and today is still listed by some colormen among water color paints.
Cobalt Violet The color is reddish violet it is transparent and weak in tinting strength, and this fact, in addition to its high cost, seems to be the reason why it is not more generally used as a pigment. It is stable and unaffected by most chemical reagents and can be used in all techniques. They are still listed by artists colormen. The preparation of cobalt phosphate as a pigment was first described by Salvetat in 1859.
Cerulean blue introduced under the name, ‘coeruleum
Cobalt Yellow The pigment has a very pure yellow color and a fair hiding power. It is fast to light and air and is stable with other inorganic pigments, but it may accelerate the fading of some organic colors and itself turn grown. It is decomposed by hear, by strong acids and alkalis, and is slightly soluble in cold water. The pigment has been used perhaps more in water color than in oil. It was first introduced as an artist’s pigment in 1861 (Laurie) Messrs. Winsor and Newton, Ltd, say (1930 catalogue, p. 14 and in a private communication) that it was first introduced by them and was popularized by Aaron Penley, a celebrated water color painter. They also say that they introduced primrose aureolin in 1889. Although available today in water color medium, cobalt yellow does not appear to be widely used as an artist’s color, one reason being that it is expensive.
Chromium Oxide Green , opaque It is permanent in all painting techniques. The opaque oxide is not so much in use by artists as the transparent oxide (1797) suggested its use for coloring ceramic glazes in 1809, but it evidently did not appear as an artist’s pigment until about 1862.
Alizarin (alizarin crimson) First synthesized by two German chemists, C. Graebe and C. Lieberman, who reported their discovery in 1868. This is important in the history of organic chemistry, for alizarin was the first of the natural dyestuffs to be made synthetically. Its discovery caused the rapid decline and the almost complete disappearance of the large madder-growing industry in France.
The ‘ alizarin crimson’ lake used so extensively in artists’ paints is nearly all from this source. Some painters have said, however, that synthetic alizarin does not give the pleasing, saturated, and fiery tone that madder alizarin gives.
Alizarin was the first natural dye to be produced synthetically (1868), and by 1880 indigo had been synthesized. By 1916, an extensive technology had developed, most of it concentrated within a German cartel that held a virtual monopoly over dye production. Only with the onset of World War II did German lose its position as the world’s principal suppliers of dyes. Today the U.S. dye industry, aided by the post-World II acquisition of German technology, has become a major exporter of dyes.
Madder was the source of the dye, Turkey red, formerly used in large quantities in textiles and is still the color for French military cloth. The cultivation of the madder root and its employment for dyeing and pigment purposes almost ceased shortly after a synthetic method for making alizarin was discovered by the German chemists, Graebe and Lieberman, 1n 1868.
In 1869 Sir William Perkin developed a practical process for manufacturing synthetic alizarin that proved to be less expensive and more consistent in color than the natural material. Today natural alizarin has little importance as a dyestuff, although it is used as a chemical intermediate in the production of more sophisticated dyes and as a coloring material for artists’ pigment.
Church says that it has a truer hue than cobalt violet (cobalt phosphate) which is redder as well as brighter. The pigment is permanent to light and is unaffected by hear, but it is decomposed by strong acids and by alkalis, which makes it unsuited for fresco. It is not much used by artist because it is dull in tone and has poor hiding power. Little is known apparently about the history of this pigment, except for a statement by Messrs Winsor and Newton in their catalogue (1930) that it was first introduced by them in 1890. It is understood, however, to have been first prepared by E.Leyhauf in 1869, and named by him ‘Nurnberg violet’.
Cezanne was using the prismatic color palette of the impressionist, but he soon discovered the expressive limitations of the theory.
Eosine is the potassium salt of tetrabromofluorescein and was first made by Caro in 1871. It was formerly used for preparing red inks of a very fine scarlet hue, but is not a fast color it fades rapidly in sunlight. ‘Geranium lake’ is the name sometimes given to a brilliant bluish red lake made by precipitating eosine on an aluminum hydrate base.
It has about the same whiteness but has greater hiding power than zinc white. This pigment, in the early days of its manufacture, had one serious defect, a tendency to darken (gray or blacken( in strong light but to turn white again in the dark. The trouble was traced to various causes, among which were the presence of foreign metallic impurities, but, after years of research, a lithopone is now produced which does not suffer charge in light. The so called ‘titanated lithopones,’ which contain about 15 per cent titanium oxide, have hiding power superior to that of straight lithopone.
Lithopone was apparently first produced and patented by John Orr in England about 1874. It is now industrially important and widely used in interior paints, lacquers, and enamels, for it has a combination of exceptional whiteness, brightness, and low cost. It has not been much used as an artist’s pigment because, perhaps, of its unfortunate early history. It is used for poster colors and for cheap water colors. One may expect to find it in the priming coats of modern, prepared artist’s canvas.
Indigo dye synthesized.
is a blue vegetable coloring matter which seems to have been used in the Far East very early for dyeing cloth and for painting. The dye is yielded by different plants of the genus Indigofera, among which I. Tinctoria, probably of Indian origin, was the chief source of the indigo of commerce until the time of the discovery of the process for making synthetic indigo by Baeyer in 1880.
Indigo was formerly grown all over the world, particularly in India and china, but since 1900 the synthetic product has almost entirely replaced the natural.
Although aluminum powder as probably available as early as the middle XIX century, it was not until a decade or so after 1886, when aluminum began to be produced in large commercial quantities by the Hall process that the powders became readily available. It was first used for coating picture frames and radiators. Aluminum powder did not become important as a pigment for commercial paints until after 1920.
Messrs. Winsor and Newton, Ltd, say (1930 catalogue, p. 14 and in a private communicatio) say that they introduced primrose aureolin in 1889.
Camouflage . The word “camouflage” probably comes from the French camouflet, the term for a small exploding mine that throws up gas and smoke to conceal troop movement. .
It was Thayer who, in the early 1890's began creating a wholly formed doctrine of concealing coloration, worked out through observation and experiment and his nature studies.
Cadmium Red By adjusting the proportion of sulphur to selenium and by regulating the conditions of precipitation, shades varying from vermilion to deep maroon may be obtained. Cadmium red is now a popular and favourite pigment, and today it has, to a great extent, replace vermilion on the artist’s palette. The various cadmium sulpho-selenides are stable and light resistant under ordinary conditions. Their history is more recent that of the straight cadmium sulphides. Although a red orange cadmium pigment containing selenium was mentioned in a German patent in 1892, it seems that the commercial production of cadmium reds did not begin until about 1910.
Lithol Red or Lithol Tone r
is one of the most important and widely used of the synthetic red dyestuffs of the modern lake pigment industry. Lithol red is bluish red with a deep blue red undertone. It does not bleed in oil and has good stability to light and hear. It has not been offered to the artists’ trade under this name, but no doubt is found in some cheap red paints as a substitute. It was first made by Julius in 1899.
Commercial production of cadmium reds begins about 1910.
By 1916, an extensive technology had developed, most of it concentrated within a German cartel that held a virtual monopoly over dye production. Only with the onset of World War II did German lose its position as the world’s principal suppliers of dyes. Today the U.S. dye industry, aided by the post-World II acquisition of German technology, has become a major exporter of dyes.
Aluminum powder did not become important as a pigment for commercial paints until after 1920.
Antimony Oxide was introduced to the paint trade as a pigment under the trade name, ‘Timonox’, in 1920 by the Cookson Lead and Antimony Co., Ltd, of England. It has good hiding power. . Since it is darkened by hydrogen sulphide, it is usually mixed with zinc oxide, which has preferential absorption for that gas. Antimony oxide has not been mentioned specifically as an artist’s pigment, and it has no advantage over other white pigments.
Cadmium Red Lithopone It is stable under ordinary conditions and is light fast. It is a strictly modern pigment, having been in use only since 1926.
Cadmium Yellow Lithopone. ..can be produced in a variety of shades ranging from lemon yellow to orange and at a cost considerable less than that for pure cadmium sulphide. It is a very finely divided pigment and its properties are similar to the straight sulphide. When this pigment was first introduced, H.W. Ward reported that cadmium yellow lithopone had all the fastness to light and hear of the pure sulphide but did not quite equal it in covering power. At the time of his report (January 1927), he said that his pigment had been on the market three or four months. Until very recently the cadmium lithopones were the only cadmium yellows manufactured in the United States.
is a comparatively new pigment which seems to have been first mentioned in the patent literature about 1935. This green blue pigment is essentially barium manganate fixed on a barium sulphate base. Although weak in tinctorial and in hiding power, this pigment may have special uses because of its chemical stability. So far, it has been used almost exclusively for coloring cement it should be of interest to fresco painters.
a pigment of recent origin, is a mixed crystal compound of lead chromate, (et c.) As pigment, it has high covering power and tinting strength. First described in the German patent in 1930. Although Molybdate orange went into production soon after 1935 for use in printing inks and paints, it is not known that it has been used, as yet, in artists paints. Because of its brilliant color and other desirable properties, however, it may be expected soon to find use for that purpose.
Metal-complex dyes, used primarily on wool, are combinations of a dyestuff and a metal, usually chrome. In use since the 1940s, they were developed from the older mordant dyes and are highly light- and wash-fast.
in the United states the second ‘i’ in Aluminum is dropped.
The Young-Helmholtz theory received empirical support from the discovery in the 1960's of three types of cones sensitive to red, green and blue, respectively.
TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »
- Educator J. V. Maranto
- Director Juan M. Urbina, Fermin Mulett
- Script Editor Mia Nacamulli
- Producer Andrés F. Urbina
- Art Director Karlos Velásquez
Lead in paint was used in artwork and cosmetics into the 1970s. Why was it so popular? One major reason for its popularity was drying time. For more information on lead paint in artwork, watch Flake White | History of Colors by LittleArtTalks.
What else has lead been used for in the past? Find out about the uses of this Treacherous Element. Arsenic Pills and Lead Foundation: The History of Toxic Makeup. Finally, this TED-Ed lesson will provide more background on this element.
Scheele’s Green and Paris Green were some of the most popular pigments in history. The Toxic Side of Being, Literally, Green is a great resource about the difficulties associated with creating that “just right” shade of green. For more on toxic Victorian wallpaper, read: Could this wallpaper kill you? Victorian Britain's lethal obsession with the perfect shade of green. Finally, LittleArtTalks has another great lesson on this topic: Color That Killed Napoleon: Scheele's Green.
Are there any other dangerous pigments lurking around? Visit Pigments Through the Ages and find out. Then, learn more about Cadmium: The rare paint pigment faces a Europe-wide ban and artists are seeing red.
Love antiques and those brightly hued older dinner plates and bowls? Start here: How Radioactive Is Fiesta Ware? for more information on how safe they are.
The World's Most Dangerous Colors
You might not think of colors as dangerous but the wrong ones will mess you up.
Our world is filled with dangers, but we don't expect one of those dangers to be a color. And yet, some of the dyes and paints we've used on our walls, fabrics, and other possessions over the years have been as harmful as they are colorful.
In this brilliantly animated video, Ted-Ed walks us through some of the deadliest colors in history:
Perhaps the most famous of the deadly colors is white lead, which can still be found in houses across the country. Lead paint was desirable for centuries due to its brilliant white color, but the adverse effects of lead poisoning only became known in the last century. Lead paint was banned by most countries, but some homes built before the ban still have dangerous lead paint.
Other harmful colors include fluorescent radium green, arsenic green, and uranium orange. All of these colors were prized for their pure, strong hues. It took decades or centuries for people to discover the harmful properties of these pigments, and by then the damage had already been done.
Alizarin Crimson (PR 83:1, ASTM III)
Alizarin Crimson was created in 1868 by the German chemists, Grabe and Lieberman, as a more lightfast substitute to Genuine Rose Madder. This was accomplished by isolating part of the madder root colorant, 1,2 dihydroxyanthraquinone (Alizarin), from the more fugitive 1,2,4 trihydrozyanthraquinone (Purpurin). This is historically significant as it represents the first synthetic duplication of a pigment. Madder dates to before the time of the ancient Greeks. Pliny the Elder termed it “Rubia”, and it has been found in Egyptian tombs. Madder came to Europe during the time of the Crusades. The use of Genuine Madder practically ceased after the introduction of Alizarin. Lightfastness III, Alizarin Crimson was replaced 90 years later by the Lightfastness I Quinacridones, developed by Struve in 1958.
Also known as Bitumen, Asphaltum is a solution of asphalt in oil or turpentine, used since prehistoric times as a protective coating. Although Rembrandt used Asphaltum with good success, there is much evidence that other painters’ work did not fare as well, and severe darkening was the result.
Aureolin (PY 40)
Also known as Cobalt Yellow, Aureolin replaced an earlier pigment called Gamboge, which was an Asian yellow gum used until the 19th century. Aureolin was first introduced in 1851. Aureolin (chemically known as Potassium Baltintrite) was popular until the late 19th century, when less expensive, cleaner and more lightfast pigments like the Cadmiums were introduced. Although true Cobalt Yellow can be found, it is generally not in use.
Cobalt Violet (PV 14)
In 1860, Cobalt Violet was introduced and gradually developed, refined, and later created synthetically. Two costly versions, anhydrous cobalt phosphate or cobalt ammonium phosphate, (sometimes combined) were used. Cobalt Violet is toxic and costly to produce, and the weak pigment quickly was replaced by the cleaner, stronger Manganese Violet.
Hooker’s Green (PY 24/PB 27)
The earliest Hooker’s Greens were a blend of Gamboge and Prussian Blue. More lightfast varieties were later created with Aureolin. Modern Hooker’s Green is usually a blend of Phthalo Blue and Cadmium Yellow. There is a pigment, (PG 8) that is sometimes called Hooker’s Green, but this pigment does not offer any significant improvement over blends, as it is (ASTM III) fugitive.
Also known as Puree, Peoli, or Gaugoli, True Indian Yellow (euxanthic acid) was produced by heating the urine of cattle fed mango leaves. The process was introduced to India by the Persians as early as the 15th century. Bengal, India was the chief exporter to Europe from the early 19th century until 1908. Local records indicate that the sale of Indian Yellow was prohibited as an act of preventing cruelty to animals, as mango leaves do not have the proper nutrients for cattle.
Also known as Mineral Green or Verdeazzuro, Malachite is a pigment that was used by many early civilizations. Derived from native carbonate of copper, it is perhaps the oldest known bright green pigment. Azurite is its blue counterpart. The synthetic variety is called Bremen Green. Malachite fell out of use in the 18th century. The pigment is not permanent, and has a gritty texture.
Manganese Blue (PB 33)
Manganese Blue, or Barium Manganate, has been produced since the 19th century. The synthetic variation was patented in 1935, but neither variety is commonly produced anymore, as the coarse, weak pigment was replaced by more intense blues.
Manganese Violet (PV 16)
Also known as Permanent Violet, Nuremberg Violet or Mineral Violet, Manganese Violet replaced Cobalt Violet in 1890. It is understood to have been first made by E. Leykauf in 1868. It was a cleaner alternative to the Cobalt Violet and was less toxic. It also had better opacity.
Naples Yellow (PY 41)
Also known as Antimony Yellow and Juane Brilliant, Naples Yellow is a lead-based pigment made from Lead Antimoniate. It was produced as early as the 15th century, although it is said to have been found on tiles of ancient Babylonia. The first known formulae date from 1758.
Naphthamide Maroon (PR 171)
Also known as Benzimadazolone Maroon, Naphthamide Maroon was first produced in 1960, along with other Benzimadazolone pigments. Recently discontinued from the GOLDEN palette because the pigment manufacturer halted production as cheaper alternatives became more common place. Promising new alternatives should be available in the near future.
Prussian Blue (PB 27)
Prussian Blue is of significant importance in the art world as it is known to be the first man-made pigment. It was invented accidentally by the Berliner Diesbach in 1704, when he was trying to create a Florentine Lake. Also known as Chinese Blue, Berlin Blue, Paris Blue, Steel Blue, Iron Blue, Bronze Blue, Paste Blue, and Milori Blue. The Milori Blue variety is typically what makes up today’s Prussian Blues. The pigment is alkali sensitive, and therefore cannot be made in an acrylic emulsion.
Sap Green is made from the unripe berries of the Buckthorn. It is highly fugitive, as is another Sap Green, or Iris Green, made from the juice of the Iris Flower. In medieval times it was reduced to a heavy syrup and sold in bladders, not dry pigment form. Modern Oil paints under this name are actually coal tar lakes.
Replacing Bistre (a brown made from boiled wood soot) in the 18th century, true Sepia Ink is made from the ink sacs of animals such as the cuttlefish. It is said that the secretions of just one cuttlefish can turn a thousand gallons of water opaque in seconds. Like most naturally derived organic colorants, it is not lightfast. Modern oil paints under this name are typically hues made from Burnt Umber, Van Dyke Brown and Carbon Black.
The earliest of the Cobalt pigments, Smalt was artificially made from coarsely ground Cobalt Blue Glass as it becomes very transparent when finely ground. The earliest use was by the ancient Egyptians. It was also used as a glass colorant by Venetian glassblowers until the 17th century when Ultramarine
and Azurite became scarce. The name Cobalt comes to us from the Bohemian Miners who had troubles obtaining the mineral and named it “kobolds”, which was their word for spirits or ghosts, which they
believed inhabited the pigment. Cobaltite and Smaltite were produced from these mines. Smalt was abandoned as Cobalt Blue and Ultramarine became available in the 19th century.
Terre Verte (PG 23)
Green Earth is known by an assortment of names such as Stone Green, Verdetta, and Celadonite. Other names refer to the source of the native iron / magnesium colored clay, such as Bohemian, a high
quality grade of pure green hue. It has been popular for centuries with many cultures. Native Americans also were fond of using Green Earth as a colorant. Since Medieval times it has been used as an underpainting color for flesh tones in portraits.
Van Dyke Brown (NBr 8)
Also known as Cassel Earth, Rubins Brown, and Cologne Brown, this pigment dates from around the 17th century and is a blend of clay, iron oxide, humus and bitumen. Due to the humus and bitumen (Asphaltum), true Van Dyke Brown turns dark and/or fades. The transparency of Van Dyke Brown made it ideal for glazing, rather than umbers and ochres.
Venetian Red, Sinopia, Venice Red, Turkey Red, Indian Red, Spanish Red, Pompeian Red, and Persian Red (or Persian Gulf Red, still considered the best grade for the natural pigment) are names used to describe locations where the natural red iron was extracted from the earth. Today, Red Iron Oxide is synthetically manufactured resulting in better consistency. Oxides have been used since pre-historic times and are still important pigments today. Venetian Red usually refers to a specific bluish hue of Red Oxide, but variations range from violet reds to yellowish ones.
Viridian Green (PG 18)
Viridian Green was discovered in 1797 by Vauquelin, but wasn’t developed into the modern color until 1838 in Paris. It immediately replaced a fugitive color known as Emerald Green, but was called Emerald Green, Vert Emeraude, Celedon Green, Pannetier’s Green, Guignet’s Green, and even Transparent Oxide of Chromium until it became widely known as Viridian. Hydrated Chromium Hydroxide is a difficult pigment to formulate in acrylic emulsions, and although GOLDEN has made many attempts to do so, it appears unlikely that true Viridian will remain part of our palette.
Vermilion (PR 106)
Vermilion is a toxic pigment made from Mercuric Sulfide. This naturally occurring ore is the source for Mercury, and was ground up as a pigment for centuries and termed Cinnibar or Zinnober. Early cultures of the Greeks, Romans and Chinese created Cinnibar artificially for centuries, as early as 6th century B.C., but it wasn’t until the 15th century that it was termed Vermilion. Direct sunlight causes it to darken substantially, and it was quickly replaced by the Cadmium Reds upon their arrival.
1. Doerner, Max. The Materials of the Artist.
2. Gettens & Stout. Painting Materials.
3. Zollinger, Heinrich. Color Chemistry.
4. Feller, Robert L. Artist’s Pigments: Volume 1.
5. Roy, Ashok. Artist’s Pigments: Volume 2.
6. Moss, Matthew. Caring for Old Masters Paintings.
7. Zollinger, Heinrich. Color Chemistry.
8. W. Herbst & K. Hunger. Industrial Organic Pigments.
9. Levison, Henry W. Artists’ Pigments: Lightfastness Tests and Ratings.
10. Wilcox, Michael. The Wilcox Guide to the Best Watercolor Paints.
Poisonous Pigments: Lead White
White – the color of pureness, light, cleanliness, softness, and perfection. Ironically, it’s also the color they use at mental hospitals (because of its calming effects, mind you). But how can a color with such a pure and soft feeling be one of the most notoriously deadliest pigments in the history of pigments?
Lead white has been used as far back at the 4 th century B.C.E. by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. It was commonly used in the preparation of ointments and plasters as well as cosmetics, but this pigment was highly valued by painters because of its dense opacity.
Stacking White Lead (from Dodd, G. British Manufactures, 1884).
To make their paint, artists would grind a block of lead into powder, exposing highly toxic dust particles. The pigment’s liberal use resulted in what was known as “Painter’s Colic,” or what we know now as lead poisoning. But why is lead deadly? Lead gets directly absorbed into the body and penetrates the nervous system. Once in the nervous system, the lead disrupts the normal function of calcium in your body and can cause mental disabilities and high blood pressure.
But with side effects like these, painters across time and cultures didn’t seem to mind. Lead white was always the practical choice up until the 19 th century because of its density, opacity, and warm tones. It was irresistible to artists like Vermeer and later the Impressionists like Van Gogh. Its glow couldn’t be matched, and the pigment continued to be widely used until it was banned in the 1970’s.
The Milkmaid (De Melkmeid) by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1657–1661. The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam inv. A2344.
Details of Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890), Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, February 1890. Credits (obliged to state): Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).
Suffice it to say, there is nothing pure about this color, but one can’t deny its brilliance and radiance in paintings. Luckily nowadays we have various synthetic options that can somewhat achieve the lead white effect, but nothing will ever be as resilient as the original deadly pigment.
Here’s another curious, and unsettling, pigment tip from Twitter on Indian Yellow. According to Philip Ball’s Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color, the vivid color of Indian Yellow was a source of mystery until the late 19th century. It turned out that the yellow color came from the urine of cattle in the Bihar province of India that were fed only mango leaves and water. The mistreatment of the animals led to the color being illegal and it vanished by 1908.
Upper Paleolithic Cave Art
The glorious paintings that were created during the upper Paleolithic period in Europe and in other locations were the results of human creativity and the input of a wide range of colors, created from natural pigments mixed with a wide variety of organic substances. Reds, yellows, browns, and blacks were derived from charcoal and ocher, blended to make fabulous lifelike and abstract representations of animals and humans alike.
1. Dimethyl Cadmium
Even the slightest amount of this substance will destroy a person's heart and lungs as soon as it enters their blood flow.
This chemical compound is probably the most dangerous one that people have created so far. This molecule can wreak havoc as soon as it enters our bloodstream, and it does not surprise a lot of chemists who do not wish to work with it. Even the slightest amount of this substance will destroy a person's heart and lungs as soon as it enters their blood flow.
When it comes in touch with water, which our body is full of, it turns into dimethyl calcium peroxide. This compound is highly explosive. If someone survives the initial contact with this compound, it is most likely they will get cancer due to the compound's cancer-causing effects.