Cinnabar, also known in pigment form as vermilion, was worth its weight in gold in Ancient Rome, despite its incredible toxicity.
We are continuing our Pigment of the Month series with another autumn-appropriate color, a rich brown called Sienna. This natural pigment is one that dates back millennia when it was used in some of the first known cave paintings. Sienna is made from clay composed of iron oxide and manganese oxide, two minerals that are common in soil. In fact, Sienna gets its name from the Italian ‘terra di Siena,’ meaning “earth of Siena.” Siena, a small city in the region of Italy known as Tuscany, also used to manufacture the pigment. Other names to which this pigment is referred are terra rossa (red earth) or terra gialla (yellow earth).
This month at The Conservation Center, we were inspired by the marvelous hues of autumn, as our hometown of Chicago is being swiftly engulfed by red, orange, and yellow leaves. So we decided to revive our Pigment of the Month segment. For the month of October, we chose a beautiful and historically fascinating yellow pigment- perfect for fall- with a very interesting story behind it.
This month we continue our “Pigment of the Month” series, detailing the origins, history, and eventual discontinuation of pigments once common on the artists’ palette. In this next installment, we explore the history of Emerald Green, and the chemical composition that made it both brilliant and lethal.