? (?): There is a wonderful irony here. The Japanese used a particular yellow pigment, but as yet I haven’t found their name for it. This mystery is somewhat analogous to the science of astronomy: we know there are objects such as planets orbiting distant stars, but we can’t see them. So, how do we know they are there? It is from the measurable wobble of those stars. Or, so I recall from my cursory readings of such things. Then how do we know there is another, yet nameless, traditional Japanese pigment used for yellow? It is because those fine folks at Cal Tech who did a major study of the effects of smog of various colorants isolated it and found that it had a chemical makeup of PbO, i.e., lead oxide, which is our common name for litharge or massicot. Imagine – litharge or massicot – another two things I know absolutely nothing about, but which will now lead me on another great voyage of discovery – or so I hope.
A layer of mustard yellow massicot on a piece of specular galena. This photo was posted at commons.wikimedia by Rob Lavinsky.
A little bit of searching on the Internet using Google with the phrase “what is the japanese word for litharge” – neither capitals nor question marks are necessary – bless their little souls at Google – gave me some results I could use. According to a Webster’s Dictionary site the kanji is 一酸化鉛 (リサージ). Plugging the kanji into Jim Breen’s site gave me the kana, いっさんかなまり. Perhaps I am getting closer to a traditional name, perhaps not.
The word litharge comes from the Greek for stone + silver, lithos + arguros, λίθος + ἄργυρος. Numerous sources say the first mention of litharge as a mineral in English is from 1917 after a discovery in San Bernadino County, California. However, it is mentioned prominently in The Philosophical Magazine of 1806. If on the one hand the Greek word for silver is used and silver is generally whitish in its purest forms then where does the yellow come from. Progress in Inorganic Chemistry, vol. 51, answers that: “…PbO in the environment is often yellow or orange (i.e., impure massicot, or a mixture of massicot and litharge), not red (pure litharge).” Great! [Said sarcastically.] Now massicot and litharge are two different things. Great!
Not that I am trying to confuse things further, but I called a friend who has a copy of the OED and he looked up litharge for me and found that the first reference in English appeared in 1322 as ‘litarge‘. In 1386 in Canon Yeoman’s Tale by Chaucer (チョーサー) it says:
Oure orpyment and sublymed mercurie,
Oure grounden litarge eek on a porfurie,
Of ech of thise of ounces a certeyn –
Noght helpeth us; oure labour is in veyn.
Clearly neither 1917 nor 1806 was the first reference.
To drive home this point I offer as evidence this photo of litharge and massicot posted by Hubertus Giefers at commons.wikimedia.org.
One scientific source makes clear the difference between the two: “Both massicot and litharge often terms used for the same pigment, but more correctly each are lead monoxides derived from different sources.” Massicot is the unfused monoxide of lead while litharge is a fused and crystalline oxide. Both are produced by a heating process and thus are furnace products. As for their use: “Litharge is more orange in comparison to massicot due to the content of some red lead. Litharge is rarely seen used as a pigment in comparison to massicot but was more commonly employed in varnishes and glazes.” One last thing: Massicot is described as orthombic while letharge is tetragonal. Both are forms of PbO.
The chemistry: Why litharge is litharge – (This part was added on April 22, 2011. The source is from Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color by Philip Ball, p. 32.) “Heat may alter the chemical composition or structure of a mineral and so induce a color change. Heating blue copper sulfate to drive out water molecules from the crystal lattice turns it almost white. The pigment known as white lead turns red and then yellow when heated. White lead is “basic” lead carbonate, which has water (more precisely, hydroxide ions) locked into its crystal structure. When white lead is heated, water and carbon dioxide (formed from the carbonate ions) are expelled from the crystal as gases, leaving behind the compound lead tetroxide.This “red lead” is a very ancient pigment All the lead ions are now surrounded by oxide ions, and this different environment makes them absorb photons in the green and blue parts of the spectrum, leaving red to be reflected. If white lead is heated more gently, however, a different compound — lead monoxide, or “litharge” — is formed. This still contains only lead and oxide ions, but in a different ratio and a different arrangement, so the lead again absorbs light at different frequencies. This substance is yellow and has in the past afforded another lead-based pigment, once called massicot.”
The word massicot came into English from the French in 1472, to be exact, and under the spelling masticote. The French got it from the Italians who are said to have gotten it from the Arabic masḥaqūnyā. – ماسيكوت. [Since I don’t read Arabic I am going on faith here, but I think it is correct.] The Japanese word for massicot, it should be noted, is different from that of litharge. The Japanese is 金密陀 (きんみつだ) or マシコート.
Speaking of hemorrhoids – In ancient Greece Hippocrates (ヒポクラテス: ca. 460 – ca. 370s B.C.) wrote about this affliction and a possible cure long before there was Preparation H, but clearly based on the same principle. “Having fomented with plenty of hot water, boil in the water certain of the fragrant medicines, add pounded tamarisk, roasted litharge and galls, and pour on them white wine, and oil, and the grease of a goose, pounding all together. Give to use after fomenting.”
All that glitters is not gold – Aristotle (アリストテレス: 384 – 322 B.C.) warned, way back when, that there were true and false natures. There are beautiful people and then there are those who have to contrive to make themselves beautiful. He warns against being deceived by such ruses. In his De Sophisticis Elenchis he says: “So it is, too, with inanimate things; for of these, too, some are really silver and others gold, while others are not and merely seem to be such to our sense; e.g. things made of litharge and tin seem to be of silver, while those made of yellow metal look golden.”
Nicholas Hilliard and his pearls –
Hilliard (ヒリヤード: 1547 – 1619) was a brilliant English miniaturist and wrote the handbook on how to paint those delicate little jewels. In the Treatise on the Arte of Limning from ca. 1600 Hilliard described how to paint pearls: “…the pearls laid with white mixed with a little black, a little indigo, and a little massicot, but very little in comparison of the white, not the hundredth part. That being dry, give the light of your pearl with silver, somewhat more to the light side than the shadow side and as round and full as you can; then take a good white, delayed with massicot, and underneath at the shadow side give it a compassing stroke, which shows the reflection that a pearl hath.”
As you can see in the detail of the Queen shown below she is wearing pearls. However, sometime around the turn of this millennium, the Victoria and Albert Museum decided to do a thorough analysis of this piece and surprise of surprises they found that there was not massicot to be found in these pearls. This might be due to the fact that when Hilliard was talking about massicot he might actually have been referring to lead tin oxide instead. The V & A Research and Conservation team found that the pearls were comprised of blobs of lead white – sans both massicot and indigo – but with orpiment and pararealgar.
©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Caveat lector, i.e., reader beware –
Hilliard wrote one thing and did another. He called a pigment one thing while it might have been something else. This is the curse of the researcher. Don’t believe everything (or anything, for that matter) you read because if you do it will turn you into an pedantic idiot spouting off a ton of misinformation. You might sound smart, but, trust me, that is about the best you will ever be able to do.
Murillo and Raman non-destructive, non-invasive spectroscopy –
This is a detail from a painting by Murillo (ムリーリョ: 1618 – 1682) which is in the collection of the Mauritshuis in the Hague. The full image was posted at commons.wikimedia.org.
I read somewhere that Murillo’s paintings fetched the highest price of any artist alive or dead in the early 19th century. They were considered far more desirable than works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Caravaggio, et al., and a gazillion times better than Vermeer who wasn’t even rediscovered until many decades later. [People have a hard time grasping how fickle the art markets have always been. They just can’t get their minds or wallets around the idea. This is true, too, of things like Japanese prints, but trying to convince the public of this is like spitting into the wind while riding on a Harley at 80+ miles per hour. But I diverge…]
There is a paper published by the Materials Science Institute of Seville entitled “Murillo’s paintings revealed by spectroscopic techniques and dedicated laboratory-made micro X-ray diffraction.” In it there is a long list of pigments used in six different paintings. These, of course, include massicot, or, I wouldn’t have mentioned it. The detail of the Murillo painting of the “Madonna and Child” shown above was not one of those six which were studied – as far as I know. However, I chose it because it has that lovely mustardy-yellow color which surrounds the figures. And, as far as I know – which is not much – there may be no massicot in this painting, but, at least, we know that he used it.
Also, don’t forget that in Japan there is another pigment, zumi, which provided those artists with a mustard color. Information about zumi can be found at our first post on yellow pigment in Japan. You will find it at https://printsofjapan.wordpress.com/2009/06/20/traditional-yellow-pigments/. The second page is at https://printsofjapan.wordpress.com/2010/07/16/traditional-yellow-pigments-part-two/.
There is also a separate post on ukon/turmeric. This was one of the early sections I worked on – before I had figured out how I was going to organize this site. (Tell you a secret: I still haven’t.) Anyway, here is a link to that post: https://printsofjapan.wordpress.com/2009/06/11/ukon-鬱金-turmeric/.
I have to admit that so far I have no direct information for the use of lead oxide as a pigment in Japan, but, at least, I know that they used it and perhaps one day… It doesn’t help that I have yet to pin down a name with a historical reference. Sorry.
HAJI (黄櫨): Japanese sumac, haze no ki, Wax tree, Rhus succedanea. Some, but not all, sources also refer to this at the Japanese tallow.
This one is a tough research topic. So far there is not much to be found, but I will do my best. UPDATE: I failed miserably on this one – at least when it came to the topic of pigments. Perhaps I didn’t look in the right places or make the right queries. Who knows? Perhaps there is nothing in English to be discovered and it was a fool’s errand. Perhaps I should just say I am sorry. Sorry! But, on the other hand, what I did find out about the Rhus succedanea has been fascinating. Maybe you will agree. I hope so.
In Old Nectar: A Garden for All Seasons by Una van der Spuy there is a description singing the praises of the haji’s fall colors. The author sees them as second only to that of the persimmon. After the persimmon “…has lost its leaves, those of the wax tree flame into a rich ruby-red. It sheds its leaves quickly, but for three weeks the area where it grows demands attention.” Van der Spuy then adds: “It is native to the warmer parts of China and Japan and, in days gone by, candles were made from the waxy fruit, which accounts for the common name.”
Other sources say that the finest Japanese candles are/were made from the wax of this tree. In fact, in the late 18th century Kumamoto haji growers were given tax breaks to encourage the industry. Farmers received “…interest free loans for fertilizer, tools, and household expenses.”
If I am correct, and don’t quote me, the color produced by this tree’s pigment is a rich golden to golden brown. But, like I said, I am not sure.
Fine! Just fine… Now we know where the wax comes from, but what about the dye pigment? In a book published in 1955 Thomas Smith noted that in the 1870s “…the importation of kerosene had a disastrous effect upon the wax and vegetable oil industries of Oita, Fukuoka, Shimane, and Iwate prefectures. In Oita, for example, the wax tree had been grown on wasteland and peasants had become prosperous making wax and candles from the nut. But the price of wax had fallen so low since 1874 that ‘the wax trees… [were] being cut down.’ ” Below are three photos supplied by Shu Suehiro at http://www.botanic.jp/plants-ha/hazeno.htm. Great site! You should visit it some time.
Elsewhere, these ‘nuts’ are referred to as berries or fruit. That makes sense. But this still leaves me clueless as to the source of the yellow dye. Probably the bark, but that is just a guess. Hopefully I will be able to ferret out the answer.
At last, I found a rather scholarly site on the Internet that says that in a modern translation of the Chinese Materia Medica it states that “A yellow dye is obtained from the wood.”
“The dye constituent is fustin.” [If there is any way to figure out exactly what this means I will run with it. Stay tuned.]
Long before there was Wikileaks there was a letter from the American consulate in London to the U. S. agricultural department of the Patent Office concerning the first arrival in Britain of wax made from the wax tree in Japan. Robert Campbell reported on April 8, 1859 (?) that the Florence, which sailed out of Boston, had delivered its cargo of vegetable wax from Nagasaki. It was the first such shipment seen in England and stirred considerable interest. Because of its commercial possibilities the consul thought his superiors in Washington should know about this. “The cost of the wax delivered in London is about eight dollars per hundred weight. The experience of Captain Dumersque proves that the vegetable wax bears without softening a greater degree of atmospheric heat than any other wax he has experience of.” Campbell continued to described the Japanese method of producing 30 lb. blocks for “…drying in the sun. Should the labor not be too costly, there is every probability that the tree might be successfully raised, and the wax manufactured, in the Southern States.”
I guess you could say that this topic waxes and then wanes – There is a more thorough passage from 1872 by Thomas Milner describing the planting, cropping and harvesting of these trees. It would seem that it needs rather inhospitable conditions where most commercial crops cannot be grown. “They are kept low by lopping, and trimmed in the shape of pyramids.” After about five years they yield 4 lbs. of ‘seeds’. In the 8th year 6 lbs. 18 lbs. in the 10th year. 60 lbs. in the 15th year. And by the 18th year it begins its decline. “…400 lbs. of seed yield 100 lbs. of wax.”
In Ballou’s Monthly Magazine from 1875 there is a description of how the wax is made: “…the bean-shaped berries… are gathered in the month of October. After being softened by the action of steam, to which they are exposed in stone receptacles, the berries are pressed and the wax obtained. The substance is then purified by boiling; first in lye and next in pure water, after which it is bleached in the sun for about fifteen days, which during the latter process it becomes white, and then is ready for use or exportation. The vegetable wax thus prepared is scarcely distinguishable, except by a tallow-like odor, from beeswax, and is exported from Japan to England in considerable quantities.”
Another publication, The Friend, from 1877 gives a little more information about the process. It notes that the crushed and steamed ‘nuts’ form a ‘bluish green mass’ which hardens. That is why it is bleached leaving it a dirty white. In Tree Gossip by Francis George Heath from 1885 says that the wax obtained melts at 127º. Elsewhere, another author, noted that to keep candles from melting in hot places they were coated with bee’s wax. Heath noted that the wax from these berries was also used waxing thread and giving a gloss to linens. Another source from 1905 said that the wax was used to coat paper too, but who knows for sure?
You know that argument about what is a fruit and what isn’t? Tomatoes and eggplants are both sold in the vegetable sections at grocery stores, but they are fruit. Well, if that wasn’t confusing enough there is always the problem of plant taxonomy and the issues it raises. Of course, this problem was much more apparent in the 19th century – we have made some progress since then – and explains why in a number of publications there is not only a wax tree, but there is also a separate reference to a tallow tree, which is distinctly different from that of a wax tree. To say that I am dazed and confused by my own research projects is clearly an understatement.
In a book on The Modern Part of an Universal History… from 1781 it says in the section on The History of China: “Their wax-tree is so called from the wax which is produced on it by a kind of little worm which runs up, and fastens to its leaves, and quite covers them with combs. This wax is hard, shining, and considerably dearer than that of common bees…”
In 1903 James Hepburn gave four different terms in Japanese for wax tree and none of them was for the Rhus succedanea.
Also note that there were tons of references to this tree in the nineteenth century in English language publications and in those it is as often called the ‘vegetable wax tree’ as not.
Could I be more confused? Probaby. There is so much information out there and so much of it is wrong and all I want to know, really, is about the source, refinement and use of this yellow dye. Mais non! That would be too easy. Instead I found a book by A. V. S. S. Sambamutry called Taxonomy of Angiosperms which states that “A liquid obtained from the mesocarp of the fruit, used in varnishes, ointments and furniture-polish.” Mesocarps? One has to be a blanking botanist to make full sense of this and still nary a word about the constituents of the dye.
In J. J. Rein’s book, The Industries of Japan…, from 1889 it says that “The fat belongs entirely to the middle layer, where it fills out the cells lying here loosely side by side. Between them are hard fibres (intercellular milk-juice passages), which intersect the mesocarp as in the nuts of oil and coco-palms.”
Ro-gata 蝋型 – lost wax – cire perdue – or whatever you want to call it: There is a book from 1906 by Edward Dillon called The Arts of Japan. In it it says: “The process of casting in a mould, built up upon a model of wax over a core – the cire-perdue process of the renaissance artists has only been practised for some twenty years in England; but in Japan it would appear that the art has been known and in use for ages. Both the wax from the wax-tree (Rhus succedaneum) and bees-wax – the latter by preference for finer castings – are used, in both cases worked up with resin. (This is why I love this stuff!: research, I mean. While it hasn’t nothing to do whatsoever with haji as a dye, it is fascinating.) Below is a Japanese bronze mirror from the 12th century cast using the lost wax technique. It is from the collection of the British Museum.
© Trustees of the British Museum
The first time I recall hearing or reading about the lost wax method of casting is when I was studying African history. The Benin culture in Africa used it to create absolutely sophisticated and delightful sculptures. Below is another piece from the British Museum collection. Dating from the 16th to early 17th century it iterates the perfection of this technique which can be seen in the Japanese mirror shown above although there is absolutely no connection between the two other than process.
© Trustees of the British Museum
A wax center – Uchiko, a small town in Ehime prefecture, was a major center for wax production. The local wax-baron, Yazaemon Haga, built a house for his daughter in the late 19th c. Today it is used to show how wax was produced during the Edo period. Mr. Haga’s products included waxy bases for face creams, pomades and shoe polish. These won awards in the international exhibitions in Chicago in 1895 and again in Paris in 1900. In a local candle shop “You can watch the candlemaker working, forming the candles with his bare hands until they are thick and scaly with molten wax.”
The 2003 World Book Dictionary says the wax was also used “…in polishing the grain of fine leather.” The 2006 Floristic Plants of the World by Rashtra Vardhana says that wax can also be made into crayons, be used in pharmaceuticals, soap production, the vulcanization of rubberand lipstick. In A Profile of Economic Plants from 1987 is added plaster and ointments. Everything is there but a pigment. Why? For now, sadly, the question must remain rhetorical.
More light on Japanese candles – Robin Gill in his translation of the book written in 1585 by Luis Frois, a Jesuit priest, notes the differences between Japanese and European candles. “Our candles are thick at the base and thin above. Those of Japan are thick above and thin at the base.”
According to Gill this difference is due to the fact that in Europe candles were made by the dip-drip method whereas in Japan they were made by hand. He goes on to propose several aesthetic reasons for this and in typical Gill-fashion one explanation is phallic.
And yet another use of the vegetable wax tree – Basil Hall Chamberlain in his 1883 translation of the Kojiki (古事記) he says there was a weapon referred to as the “heavenly vegetable wax-tree bow” or ame-no-hazhi-yumi.
The Chinese tallow tree (J: 南京黄櫨) is different: The Sapium sebiferum is a member of the Spurge family while the Rhus succedanea is a Sumac. The seeds of this tree are poisonous, but can also be made into wax. I do not know if any part of this tree is used for a dye, nor do I care, nor am I going to try to find out – at least, not intentionally. Below are three photos provided by Shu Suehiro.
Once more I want to credit Eikei (英渓), a confidant and advisor, for helping me sort out some of my more confusing thoughts. Eikei’s contribution to both this and my commercial site has been invaluable. There isn’t enough space to express my gratitude.
ŌDO (黄土): Let’s hope I can find more information on ōdo, yellow ocher, as a colorant than I did about haji.
Rebecca Salter lists ōdo in her book on Japanese woodblock printing. Tōshi Yoshida and Rei Yuki in their book on print making mention yellow ocher twice, but never call it ōdo. Neither book talks about the history or the processes of production or use.
While there is next to nothing to be found out about this colorant under the heading “ōdo” there is more than enough to fill pages of information on yellow ocher – or ochre, if you like. For example, in the Pigment Compendium: A Dictionary and Optical Microscopy of Historic Pigments it says: “Yellow ochres are naturally occurring earth pigments either as the direct weathering of iron-rich ore deposits or as soils, concentrating iron from underlying bedrocks. Yellow ochres are known from worldwide localities in abundance. Current commercially important deposits are known in the Republic of South Africa and France…” but they are found pretty much everywhere else too.
This incredible photo was taken by Andreas Tille and posted at commons.wikimedia. It shows an ocher quarry at Rustrel, France.
The Pigment Compendium… goes on to say: “The principal colouring matter is primarily the iron-oxide hydroxide goethite (α-FeOOH…) although the term has been applied sensu lato [in a wider sense] to earths rich in one of the jarosite group minerals (See: Jarosite and Natojarosite) but this use is not to be encouraged. However, deposits are infrequently pure and can typically be associated with a wide range of other minerals including the less common yellow iron oxide hydroxide lepidocrocite (γ-FeOOH), clay and feldspar group minerals, carbonates (calcite and dolomite…) and many other phases depending on the geological occurrence of the material. Geologically, these deposits, usually fine grained, friable and soft, are referred to as limonites…Yellow ochres are prepared by washing, levigation and grinding to produce very stable pigment that can be used in all media. They can be burnt to produce brown, red and violet shades through oxidisation to iron(III) oxide. This technology has apparently been available since the Paleolithic… Church (1901) writes that, in ‘recent years’ yellow ochre could be adulterated with turmeric (or other organic yellows) and chrome yellow…, the latter also being known as an extender by Weber (1923). ” But which part of this information applies to ōdo? For now I am in the dark.
Now since “the principal colouring matter is primarily the iron-oxide hydroxide goethite” I thought it might be nice to show you a couple of examples courtesy of postings at commons.wikimedia. The first is a piece of a “stalactite of brilliantly iridescent goethite” from Rob Lavinsky. The other one is goethite with vandanite placed there by Kluka.
Below is a sample of galena and limonite posted by Lloyd.james0615.
Goethite naturally is named for Goethe, but has also been called xanthosidterite or yellow hematite. It has been found in the Paleolithic cave paintings of France, in the aboriginal rock paintings of Northern Queensland, Tell el Amarna in Egypt and Roman wall paintings in England. ” ‘Pure’ geothite earths were called brown ochres.” Below is a painting of a horse at Lascaux posted at commons.wikimedia by HTO. I am not saying that it was painted using goethite, but I am not saying it wasn’t.
The Pigment Compendium… notes that “Goethite is found in both natural and synthetic iron oxide pigments. The colour changes with increasing particle size from green-yellow to brown-yellow. It is a stable and non-reactive pigment, suitable for all media and works particularly well in frescos…. [It]… is the main constituent of yellow ochres….” from antiquity to the present. Even today Mars yellow is a product of synthetic goethite.
This is for everyone out there who might be thinking that I am trying to draw some kind of connection between the use of traditional Japanese pigments and their use elsewhere. I am not! What I am trying to do is show that the Japanese used them and so did others. I am in no way saying or implying or hinting that one group got the idea of their use from the other. When you are hungry you eat something not because someone in Japan or anywhere else ate it first. Of course, there are cultural ties. One man invents something and another man uses it, but this is not always so. Sometimes it is just the nature of the beast that one man – or woman – comes up with an idea and – guess what – someone else somewhere else does the same. Surprise! When that happens there is no issue of cultural hegemony. If on the other hand, if I know of a connection based on definitive information – irrefutable information – then I will let you know. This holds true throughout this entire web log.
Today is January 2, 2011 and I am just getting started on this post. I am more than aware of the fact that not everyone shares my interest in such topics as traditional pigments, but they should. They might just learn something new. So, come back often and see what I have added and hopefully you will not be disappointed. I’ll do my best to make this interesting – if not a bit bizarre. Tamely bizarre. Thanks!
For more information about Japanese prints and culture please visit our other web site at http://www.printsofjapan.com/.