Making Manuscripts: Pigments


The wonderfully brilliant, jewel-like colours in many medieval manuscripts came from animal, vegetable, and mineral sources. Mineral sources to note are ultramarine, which is over the sea, coming from that brilliant blue of lapis lazuli, and that can often be confused with citramarine, this side of the sea, or azurite, which is a slightly greener blue. An iron-based compound was rubrica, a lovely red colour, and this was used for the headings or the instructions in books and from this we get rubrics. Minium comes from baking flake white to give an orangey-red, as here, and it was used to outline the medieval miniatures, and because they were outlined in minium, they were called miniatures. They weren’t called miniatures because they were small, as they weren’t always small. Dragon’s blood is a mixture, as everyone surely knows, between a dragon and an elephant fighting and is the intermingling of their blood. Vegetable and animal sources include carmine, here, from little insects; saffron, a yellow colour; blue, from indigo and woad; and pink, from madder.

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