It’s a miracle how the colours and methods survived?

The Renaissance. In Roman times there were methods of colour and production which were used to illustrate Bibles and Churches. This was the reason for the survival of these colours and methods. Despite these religious artworks and requirements there were still missing colours and ranges of colours for artists 500 years ago. In terms of permanent colours, or the lack of, it is a testament to their skill that they could produce such brilliantly colourful work with so few choices at hand. Many colours were either too expensive, impermanent, or very toxic. At that time, while there was a huge growth and expansion of art there were only two major pigment developments. Naples Yellow was produced artificially for the first time and Red Lake was developed into a beautiful range of colours. While the name seems to have often been loosely applied to various reds the name originated from just one colour. These days we know this colour as Carmine while in the kitchen we call it Cochineal. It is produced from certain scale insects in Central America and India. These insects are called Cochineal Beetles, but in India where other scale insects produce a similar dye (in addition to Shellac – the varnish) the insects are called ‘Lac’. It was the origin of the term ‘lake’ used for organic dyes began on an inert base to turn the dye into a pigment. ‘Red Lake’, or just ‘Lake’ was the first name given to this lake type pigment.

Later on in this period came Gamboge, a bright and transparent yellow that was often used until the 20th century. Dragon’s Blood was a gum from a South East Asian tree and was also not permanent. It’s name derives from Cambodia, the principle source. Later it became an important item of trade for the East India Company.