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pigment of the month

According to Jonathon Janson, author of Vermeer's Palette, "Marco Polo (13th C) was the first to report on the preparation of indigo in India.". But, this plant pigment called the King of Dyes and Blue Gold, has been used for more than 5,000 years in the Old World, and in excess of 6,000 years in the Americas. It has been identified in one of the first human settlements, Huaca Prieta, Peru. The Mayans utilized indigo in their manufacture of Mayan blue by mixing the fermenting leaves with a clay called polygorskite. Early Spanish conquistadors discovered a thriving indigo industry in the Americas and, like cochineal, quickly turned it into a money-maker for Spain.


Used as a paint pigment well into the 17th century, particularly by artists from the Netherlands, indigo largely fell out of use in the 1800's, partly due to the invention of Prussian blue, but also because it is not a stable paint pigment; it fades from exposure to light. 

Traditional indigo dyer in Vietnam

Traditional indigo dyer in Vietnam. For more info, click image

Man spreading indigo pulp to dry
Painting where indigo pigment has faded



In this painting "Officers of the Civic Guard of St Adrian (detail) 1630, by Hendrick Gerritsz Pot, the sashes on the guards was painted with indigo pigment that has faded almost entirely to white. Recently indigo's use as a paint pigment has become more popular, however, no one has been successful in finding a means of preserving the color.



Setting indigo cakes. For more info, click on image

Making indigo pigment in El Salvador

Workers stirring indigo in cement vat, El Salvador South America. For more info, click on image

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