[Northkeep] Pigments in the Book of Kells

Jean Paul de Sens jeanpauldesens at gmail.com
Wed Sep 23 08:50:03 PDT 2009

That was 12 kinds of awesome

On Tuesday, September 22, 2009, Jennifer Carlson <talana1 at hotmail.com> wrote:
> I'm not a period pigment expert, but mucking about on the internet revealed that a lot of research has gone on in trying to figure out how the Book of Kells was produced.  Below is a list of colors and their known and presumed sources.  Those substances in brackets have been determined definitely by Raman-spectroscopic analysis of the book itself.  Those in parentheses are traditional color sources that textual scholars identified or presumed to be the pigment source before the scientific analysis was done.
> Blue – from [indigo], (woad), (ultramarine/lapis lazuli)
> Red-orange – from [red lead]
> Red – from (vermilion*), (red ochre), (kermes/cochineal/carmine/crimson lake)
> Yellow – from [orpiment], (yellow ochre) (weld)
> Green – from [vergaut: a combination of indigo & orpiment], (verdigris), (malachite)
> Black – from [carbon/lampblack], [iron gall ink]
> White – [gypsum], (lead white)
> Purple – orcein, (murex), (purple lake)
> Lilac is also mentioned as a color, which can be obtained from a combination of the above.
> Many of the pigments were laid down in layers and burnished, resulting in the “enamel-like” color effect the book is famous for.
> Insular books of the time period (Kells, Lindisfarne, etc.) were notable for not using gold and silver.
> * Vermilion can refer either to mercuric sulfide, also called cinnabar, or to cochineal/kermes, a dye obtained from a particular kind of insect and used today in some red food dyes - yummy!
> And there you have probably more than you ever wanted to know about the pigments of the Book of Kells.
> Talana
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Qui mieux fait, mieux vault.

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