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Madder root from different regions


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Madder from Turkey has an old and venerated history. Polish madder also had a good reputations.

Madder (rubia tinctorum) can be found growing along the roadsides here in Central Virginia. In the seventeen hundreds Thomas Jefferson who was the American ambassador to France was always on the lookout for possible export commodities for the colonists in his native Virginia to grow. Seeing vast fields of madder her bought a quantity of madder seeds and on his return distributed these to Virginia farmers. The plant thrived in the climate. However the dye is extracted from the root and since Virginia's native soil is a dense red clay, the plants did not develop thick robust roots and therefore madder never became a commercial crop. But the plant continues to thrive as an invasive species.

Oded

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Like any other plant, the madder root changes according to where is is growing and who is growing it.

Unfortunately the political situation in throughout the traditional madder growing areas of Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan have made the farming difficult.

I have had good luck with the material from Kremer Pigmente.

Also Aurora Silk [http://www.aurorasilk.com/natural_dyes/dyes/index.html]. Aurora Silk has more of a regional variety.

Joe

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When Koen and I were working on varnish colours back in the 1980's, I read a reference to madder growing in Holland. There were more than thirty varieties being cultivated. Each gave a slightly different hue. Other countries including England were doing the same. Today thanks (?) to the introduction of alizerin, all but a few have disappeared. However, although madder was available in Northern Italy, I am no longer convinced that madder was used in Cremonese varnishes, and if so probably not very often. Nevertheless a good reference book is Artists Pigments R D Harley; 2nd. ed. pub. Butterworths 1982. Actually I just pulled it off the shelf for you and I think I might read through it again. I also have several older and very rare books on the subject with numerous recipes, but as I say I am no longer convinced. Yes and I agree with Joe; Kremers madder works well enough.

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Roger ,where do you get the suggesttion that Madder wasnt used in Cremonese varnish. Do you mean as a lake or not at all. I disagree with this assumption unless there is new evidence to suggest otherwise. It was probably used along with some type of cochineal ,kermes or??

Yes, It is difficult to detect and although red was the royal colour, White and others rejected the idea of red pigments in favor of simple oxidization. Even a really red Seraphin that John showed him did not convince him. Cochineal and Kermes are also possibilities and I have made some interesting lakes with them as well, but??? I think that the Brandmair book has some better suggestions. Just a feeling, but maybe we should not have too many of them.

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Yes, It is difficult to detect and although red was the royal colour, White and others rejected the idea of red pigments in favor of simple oxidization. Even a really red Seraphin that John showed him did not convince him. Cochineal and Kermes are also possibilities and I have made some interesting lakes with them as well, but??? I think that the Brandmair book has some better suggestions. Just a feeling, but maybe we should not have too many of them.

 

Hi Roger,

I think it depends on which colors you are looking at.  The research confirms the presence of cochineal and vermillion.  It is possible that the vermillion is re-touch...but no one will commit to an opinion.  So madder as a particulate lake is not confirmed.  However there is a strong presence of antraquinone which is a traditional marker for madder root.  The other issue is that the research confirms that the total particulate based colorant is not sufficient to produce the colors we observe.

on we go,

Joe

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Yes, It is difficult to detect and although red was the royal colour, White and others rejected the idea of red pigments in favor of simple oxidization. Even a really red Seraphin that John showed him did not convince him. Cochineal and Kermes are also possibilities and I have made some interesting lakes with them as well, but??? I think that the Brandmair book has some better suggestions. Just a feeling, but maybe we should not have too many of them.

Is this Raymond White you refer to??

Ive read alot of his research particularly research into paintings  in the National gallery etc..

I just cant believe that these lakes are found in the majority of paintings at the time and they wouldnt be used on instruments.

Vermilion was used alot in paintings with more transparent lakes like madder on top. Madder and Kermes (or cochineal or polish cochineal) were often both found together . Venetian lakes are often found to contain ground glass, is there any sign of silica in Venetian varnishes or Cremonese for that matter?

I would guess that most pigments /dyes were obtained from Venice.

I cant see oxidation as the cause of deep red varnishes ,may be responsible for most amati type though.

 

It is not as easy to distinguish alot of these  dyes/pigments as some often think.

Madder, Cochineal, Kermes, the polish lice,etc.... are all based on the dihydroxyanthraquinone molecule.

Anyone read the book by Gioanventura Rosetti published in 1548 ,very interesting.

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...

I cant see oxidation as the cause of deep red varnishes ,may be responsible for most amati type though.

...

While there might not be enough pigment in the varnish to be solely responsible for a red varnish would it be possible for the amount of red pigments to push a deep Amati orange type of color into being a red? In that case most of the color would come from the cooking of the varnish and the pigment would just be used for mild tinting purposes.

 

In the Echard paper the violin with the most deeply colored varnish had no detectable pigments while the palest varnish contained the vermillion.

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Although it can be useful to cook varnish (or resins), White dismissed cooking because of the molecular structure that he observed. Slow oxidation was his guess even with VERY red instruments. But why should cochineal not have been used as a retouch colour? I used it many times. And I have also used Pernambuco (or Brazil wood) which is a relatively useful and easy to make lake. And yes you are right about their use in North Italian painting, and also in the very important linen (fustian) and silk industries around Cremona. They were often used as over glazes to warm the overall tone of pictures. But my feeling is that if they were used they have now faded to almost nothing. (The reason why mostly only indicators and not the actual colours are found). This means that what we are now seeing is not some introduced colour but oxidization. There are several possible exceptions to this, but they are probably not lake colours.     

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I still tend to disagree, has White actually tested samples of Cremonese varnishes the same way as he does painting samples? Ive read some articles where hes tested instruments from othe areas.

I cant see how oxidation can possibly be responsible for the type of colour you see on instruments sucg as the Lady Blunt. With oxidation you always get eventually some bleaching  and the thickness of the colour varnishes cant be explained by mere cooking and/or oxidation. The paler Amati varnishes yes but not the later Stradivari, Guarneri,etc...

Also Brasilwood is notoriously fugitive and this was known in the 14-15th centuries.They still used it but usually mixed with Madder or Kermes lakes. kermes is supposed to be far more fast than cochineal and cochineal is far more fast in oil rather than spirit mediums.

The old methods of extracting lakes from cloth shearings probably added protein which also has the effect of stabilising many pigments.

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If you want to see what a real red colour looks like, check out the paintings on the Andrea Amati decorated instruments. This kind of pillar-box red (probably a lake) would still be too intense even today. See also Robertdo's nice link above.

Now, I am not suggesting that colour was not added to varnishes. I am saying that if it was, then most of it has probably faded. This is especially so if it was applied as a thin glaze. On most early painting these glazes have been removed because they became darker and brown; in effect killing the colours beneath. Assuming the earlier members of the Amati family used transparent colours in their thin, glaze type varnishes, two factors would come into play. The first is that the varnish itself would have become both darker (and incidentally more transparent) and the second is that any lakes applied as glazes would have had more time to fade. The colours that I see on several (not all) later Strads and del Gesus do not suggest lakes. Especially on del Gesus they are often almost opaque (like powdered brick) in places. More like earth colours or cinnabar. These colours are much more light fast but in terms of dosage they are also very much more difficult to use. It is possible that these later makers noticed that the varnishes of earlier makers had faded and consequently they employed something more stable. But like everything else that we come up with, this is pure speculation. Analysis is also not always reliable. Quite recently an analysis of a Strad varnish in London (not White) turned up yellow black and red pigments. Well excuse me, but I don't think so. No self respecting artist or colour maker of that period would have mixed colours in this way. This was obviously wrong varnish or retouch materials that had penetrated the varnish. This is also why I do not advocate, as some shops do, applying almost pure colour with alcohol and then applying the retouch varnish on top. This may help to create a thinner layer, but it may also cause colour to penetrate any original varnish and or ground.

I own some of the rarest books on colour and especially lake manufacture. In one or two cases only two examples are known. From every conceivable material I have made thousands of pounds worth of colours since the early 1970's. I have ruined any number of violins, several carpets and one newly decorated ceiling. But the balance is a difficult one. Are we trying to be authentic or are we trying to make our instruments attractive; something that looks good right now. And this usually means something that looks like an old Italian looks today. And this is fair enough, but it is probably not how they looked back then.

So although, as White suggested, it is probably not authentic, I find that cooking oxidizes the varnish enough to avoid applying additional colours. Done with care this also helps to make the varnish more transparent. (If you burn it you can forget it) I am always asked what the red pigment is that I have used, and most people simply do not believe me when I tell them that there is no pigment in the varnish. That is also why I now believe without question what White said about the red Seraphin.

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I guess making yellow or amber varnish without any pigment is relatively easy, but to make it red is the mark of professionals. I remember treating some rosin with nitric acid and getting a nice red/brown resin. But the resulting varnish, although very dark, was yellow or golden yellow on the wood. It was nice though. the same applied to the larch turpentine I cooked. the varnish is ruby red in the bottle but gives a (nice) yellow on the wood. Adding little iron oxide and a little bit of crimson lake make it a nice red/brown though.

So maybe I just need to keep on trying and found a temperature/time conditions that works better. Afterall, the less pigment you need to add the more transparent and easy to use the varnish should be :)

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If you can determine the color in the jar, it's not colored enough. A real red or brown varnish appears black in the jar, unless it's sloshed around; the color may then be seen in the thin film running down the inside of the jar. It takes considerable color density to produce the colors we are striving to achieve in a very thin film.

I experimented with nitric, and it does indeed color the resins in a worthwhile way. However, I still wasn't achieving the density of color that would get me "there" after 2 or three coats of colored varnish. It always required the addition of madder to get the desired result.

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