Early Uses of Pigments

The Chemistry of Art > 1. Pigments in Painting > Early Uses of Pigments >

The early uses of pigments for Cave drawings, Self-decoration including cosmetics and Preparation of the dead for burial

Cave drawings:

  • Naturally occurring pigments, sometimes mixed with saliva, were drawn directly on cave walls
  • Common colours used were red, white, brown, yellow, black
  • Ochre (reds and yellows) colours were due to iron (III) oxide in anhydrous or hydrated form
    • Red = Fe2O3 (anhydrous)
    • Yellow = Fe2O3. H2O (hydrated)
    • Brown = FeO(OH) or Limonite

Self – decoration:

  • Cinnabar and vermillion (HgS or mercury (II) sulfide) were used by the Romans as blush and lipstick
  • Health risks of long term use include
    • Highly toxic by ingestion, inhalation and skin contact
    • Cumulative poison leads to CNS and kidney damage

Preparation of Dead/ Burial:

  • Bodies in ancient Egypt were painted as they were in life

          Example:  Kohl (Mn02) used to line eyes

  • Organs removed and replaced with fluid containing a mixture of resins
  • Containers of cosmetics were often entombed with the body