Imperial Purple

Tyrian Purple is the most expensive, prestigious and royal pigment of antiquity. It’s a marvelous Purple Red colour, made from a marine shellfish since 1200 a.c. found on the shores of Tyre, a Phoenician city (currently in Lebanon, it’s a protected site from Unesco), and to make this colour was necessary a huge amount of secretion from these animals, so it was very costly. Generally were used two molluscs from Mediterranean Sea, Buccinum Thais Haemastroma and Purpura Murex Brandaris. Consider that to make 1 gr of pigment, were used almost more than 10.000 molluscs! It symbolized power, wealth and royalty, it was used only by high society and emperors. It was used from Greeks and Romans too, till 1453 with the fall of Constantinople. We can find traces of it also on the Domus Aurea in Rome, Italy, the antique residence of Roman Emperor Nerone.

During Medieval Age and Renaissance the most used Red and Violet pigments were some Earths like Mars Violet also called Caput Mortuum, the orange-red Lead Minium used for manuscripts and miniatures, Vermilion, Lakes extracted from organic dyestuffs, Kermes, Rubia Tinctorum and Cochineal. At the time, Red-Ultramarine-Gold symbolized the Trinity. Some of these Red Violet pigments due their toxicity, low lightfastness and fugitive components, unavailability, tendency to darken, were with time substituted with others more stable and cheaper.

Vermilion (PR106) was used since antiquity from Greeks, Romans and Chinese culture. The natural version is made from Red Mercuric Sulphide from Cinnabar, the mineral containing Mercury. The artificial version was known since 1400, by heating Sulphur and Mercury. It’s a toxic colour that tends to darken. It’s one of the most used and loved pigment by old masters. Cadmium based colours like Red produced from 1910 is a good substitute for the more toxic Vermillion-Cinnabar (Cadmium Yellow was produced instead from 1846). They are opaque, intense, with strong tinting properties, highly stable (better not mixing with Emerald Green, Earths, and Lead based colours).

Other Red colours were obtained from Red Lakes and dyestuffs. One of these was called Kermes, and was produced from some insects found on Europe red oaks. Artist and writer Cennini in his Book about Art written in 1400, says that it’s a very costly colour. Kermes is used since Neolitic, and in the Bible it is said that was a dye used for fabrics.

From insects it was produced another colour called Cochineal (NR4), a natural organic pigment obtained from dried bodies of the female insect Coccus Cacti. It’s one of the most antique pigment, beautifully transparent but also very fugitive, used for food coloring too. Also named Carmine, very used during Renaissance period, it was brought from Central America to Europe.

Rubia Tinctorum Red (NR9), was used a lot during 1600-1800. It’s a pricey (but less than Cochineal) Lake of natural Rose Madder Genuine, a transparent and fugitive pigment extracted from the roots of Robbia plants in north Europe. This root contains two components, the main Red Violet with a bluish hue named Alizarin, and a second Orange hue called Purpurin. In 1800 chemist George Field was used to cultivate this root in his garden for his beautiful transparent Reds, perfect for glazing.

In 1868 German chemists C. Graebe and C. Lieberman synthesized synthetic Alizarin, replacing in this way the original Rubia Tinctorum. It’s a highly transparent pigment, with a blue undertone. But only in 1950 with the discovery of Quinacridones, this colour reached the top lightfastness.

Quinacridones are synthetic organic pigments, highly bright and transparent, stable, very lightfast, a range from Violet-Purple-Red-Rose to Golden Brown, amazing for glazing. The most known are PV19 Quinacridone Violet, PR202 Quinacridone Crimson, PR209 Quinacridone Red. The most famous PR122 Quinacridone Magenta generally corresponds to primary Red, is a colour discovered in 1859 by Natanson and named in this way to commemorate the Italian Battle. It’s a deep blue-violet hue, very lightfast, strong and transparent. Honestly, the transparency of these colours is superb, I particularly love all colours with a Purple-Red hue than Yellow shades.

In the same period was introduced Cobalt Violet (PV14), both in its dark and light hue. It’s better not mixing it with Iron Oxide colours. It’s a beautiful and really expensive colour, synthetic inorganic, permanent even if with low tinting strength, from reddish to deep Blue Violet; and toxic too.

Due this fact after some research in 1868 E. Leykauf discovered Manganese Violet (PV16), an opaque an strong colour, suitable for mixing with Iron Oxide pigments compared with Cobalt Violet. In 1890 it replaced completely Cobalt Violet being less toxic. It’s also named as Permanent Violet, Nuremberg Violet or Mineral Violet.

In 1960 another deep Violet was launched, one of the last of our modern era, Dioxazine Violet (PV23), an intense and permanent colour, made from a transparent coal tar pigment.

To be continued…