Welcome to the Perfect Pigment

An exploration of organic red pigments and how cochineal carmine revolutionized red.

The Manner of Propagating, Gathering and Curing ye Grana or Cochineal, Done by an Indian in the Bishoprick of Guaxaca in the Kingdom of Mexico in America, Engraving, Sloane (1725), courtesy Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh

We aim to expand upon the current research surrounding the use of cochineal as a pigment in manuscripts.  Cochineal is a scale insect which originates from Mexico, the carminic acid that the insect produces is used to make a red pigment that is used for dye, paint, and food and beverage colorants. The use of cochineal in manuscripts is understudied in contrast to the extensive research on the use of cochineal in textiles. Our hope is to identify the use of cochineal in manuscripts and other published texts belonging to the Drew University special collections.  We will use two non-invasive methods, visible spectroscopy and infrared reflectography, to identify the pigments. We will then contextualize our findings within the historic and economic impact of Spanish globalization, and the Spanish led dissemination of Mexican cochineal throughout Europe beginning in the 16th century and its continued use today.