Alizarin Crimson

Rubia tinctorum 002.JPG
Madder plant or Rubia tinctorum.
  • Alizarin crimson is a shade of red that is biased slightly more towards purple than towards orange on the color wheel and has a blue undertone.
  • It is named after the organic dye alizarin, found in the madder plant, and the related synthetic lake pigment alizarin crimson.
  • The dye was prominently used for dying clothes and traces were found in Ancient Egypt, Persia and the ruins of Pompeii. 
  • In 1826, two French chemists, Jean Jacques Colin and Pierre Jean Robiquet, made further developments and isolated two separate dyes in madder: Alizarin and Purpurin.
  • German chemists Carl Gräbe and Carl Liebermann distilled Alizarin with zinc leading them to discover Anthraquinone in 1869. They were then able to synthesise the pigment from coal tar, making Alizarin Crimson the first natural dye to be synthesised. 
  • The synthesis caused the rapid decline and almost total disappearance of the madder-growing industry.
  • Although alizarin crimson had superior permanence over the madder lake because of the absence of purpurin, both madder lakes were used in oil and watercolor painting. 
  • Alizarin crimson paint was frequently used on Bob Ross’ TV show, The Joy of Painting.
Spotlight on Alizarin Crimson
Ground pigment of alizarin crimson
Oil Paint, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, 37 ml. by Winsor & Newton ...
Johannes Vermeer, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, 1654-56. The red blouse of Mary is painted in madder lake.

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