Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Revisit with Blue

I never gave colors a thought until I became interested in fiber arts, weaving, spinning and dyeing--especially natural dyeing.  I also took some painting classes--and then the history of colors came into my scope of being. 
 
 Woad was the first plant to be used for the color blue but the
  process of making blue with woad was particularly long and noxious- it involved soaking the leaves of the plant for from three days to a week in human urine, ideally urine from men who had been drinking a great deal of alcohol, which was said to improve the colour. The fabric was then soaked for a day in the urine, then put out in the sun, where as it dried it turned blue.
Then along came indigo and the whole world of BLUE has been changed!
 
In 1498, Vasco de Gama opened a trade route to import indigo from India to Europe. In India, the indigo leaves were soaked in water, fermented, pressed into cakes, dried into bricks, then carried to the ports London, Marseille, Genoa and Bruges. Later, in the 17th century, the British, Spanish and Dutch established indigo plantations in Jamaica, South Carolina, the Virgin Islands and South America, and began to import American indigo to Europe.
 
So, how did painters use this interesting natural color for their paintings?
 
 


A woad mill in Thuringia, in Germany, in 1752. The woad industry was already on its way to extinction, unable to compete with indigo blue.
While blue was an expensive and prestigious colour in European painting, it became a common colour for clothing during the Renaissance. The rise of the colour blue in fashion in the 12th and 13th centuries led to the creation of a thriving blue dye industry in several European cities, notably Amiens, Toulouse and Erfurt. They made a dye called pastel from woad, a plant common in Europe, which had been used to make blue dye by the Celts and German tribes. Blue became a colour worn by domestics and artisans, not just nobles. In 1570, when Pope Pius V listed the colours that could be used for ecclesiastical dress and for altar decoration, he excluded blue, because he considered it too common.[34]


The pastel industry was threatened in the 15th century by the arrival from India of new blue dye, indigo, made from a shrub widely grown in Asia. Indigo blue had the same chemical composition as woad, but it was more concentrated and produced a richer and more stable blue. In 1498, Vasco de Gama opened a trade route to import indigo from India to Europe. In India, the indigo leaves were soaked in water, fermented, pressed into cakes, dried into bricks, then carried to the ports London, Marseille, Genoa and Bruges. Later, in the 17th century, the British, Spanish and Dutch established indigo plantations in Jamaica, South Carolina, the Virgin Islands and South America, and began to import American indigo to Europe.
The countries with large and prosperous pastel industries tried to block the use of indigo. The German government outlawed the use of indigo in 1577,


Michelangelo couldn’t afford ultramarine. His painting The Entombment, the story goes, was left unfinished as the result of his failure to procure the prized pigment

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