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Basic Information

The term Carmine is now used to refer to any insect derived red dyestuff - and thus normally to cochineal, but originally referred solely to the substance also known as kermes after both the genus of insects from which it is derived and species of oak tree on which they feed, all indigenous to the Mediterranean area.

Derived from the dried bodies of these oak-scale insects, kermes seems to have been known to mankind since prehistory, widely sued by the Greeks and Romans and especially esteemed in the medieval era. It could be used, with careful blending or over-dying to create a wide range of colours from black to bright red, and although not particularly light stable it came to be valued above Tyrian purple … before being superseded first by cochineal based dyes from the New World, and then by synthetic chemical alternatives.


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