Thursday, April 29, 2021

 MYTH:  "There were no pink dyes during the Renaissance."

Many websites from prominent Renaissance Faires in California and all over the US, as well as MANY amateur costumers (those who study and produce costumes as a hobby), and even some who are considered professionals, continue to erroneously claim there were "no pink dyes" during the Renaissance period. I see this myth proliferated time and time again!

One rumor I heard was that there WAS pink, but that it would only have been worn by those who lived near the ocean. I'm not sure I understand the reasoning for that particular claim, except to deduce that they were probably thinking of the colors rendered from sea snails, also known as Murex, the exhaust (weakened dye solution) of which could render a pale mauve or lavender - but not pink. This is simply an example of people relying on "word of mouth" rather than to investigate the validity of such claims. But more importantly, we really haven't had an accurate color reference available for many of the colors mentioned in historical texts from the time period. While fiber artists have replicated plant dyes, many of the names given to colors of that time period remain a mystery, but we do now have a visual reference to turn to for the color palette that would have been available.

One color that has caused confusion is Scarlet.  When we think of the color "Scarlet" we picture RED.  But it is now believed that "Scarlet" was actually a very bright purplish-pink as seen in the fabric to the left.  Many of the names of the colors in the 16th Century have no modern day reference in our color pallet.

 - Cochineal & Kermes - Though expensive, it was a popular source of Red. Cochineal will also render the pink shades seen in the pictures above.

The deep pinks and the lighter shades of those shown above, are rendered from what is known as "exhaust," which is the left-overs of a red dye bath, only a weaker solution, as mentioned previously. Once they achieved the desired bright red garment or red dyed yarn from a Cochineal dye bath, the left-overs would be used to render various shades of pink

Another artisan and historical dyer in the UK (Teresinha Roberts), used Cochineal to achieve these hot pinks shown in the pictures above to the left. She offers instructions and dye kits using authentic cochineal (made from crushed dried insects). A link to her website is available on my website.

Keep in mind, Cochineal and Kermes were an expensive commodity. Because it was expensive, it was considered to be a "premium" dye - which was why red clothing and dyes rendered from Cochineal and Kermes was restricted by a certain social and economical class.

Now think about it logically.  These dyes were very expensive! Do you really think they would have simply thrown out the exhausted dye because "pink" was a no-no?  Absolutely NOT! It makes more sense they would use every ounce until the dye bath was completely exhausted, which is why you see the various shades of pink - from dark vibrant hot pink to pale baby pink.

While people continue to proliferate the myth that there were no pink tints or dyes available in the Renaissance, there is simply too much evidence to show that pink dyes not only DID exist, but were rendered in both natural plant and insect dyes - as exhibited in the samples shown.

These pinks shown in the picture to the left were rendered by another dyer using blackberries.  While the dye renders an uneven appearance, and may not be as long-lasting as Kermes or Cochineal, it still offers us proof for a possible, and even plausible, economical resource for rendering pinks and purples.  Strawberries, cherries and raspberries were also used to produce the color of pink, as well as Brazilwood, Birchbark, and Lichens.

These beautiful shades of lavender, mauve, pale pink, and taupe  pictured to the right were rendered from Lichens - Available in the 16th Century.

The beautiful bright pinks pictured to the left were rendered with Brazilwood available in Portugal during the 1500s.

These gorgeous rose-taupe shades pictured to the right were rendered using Birch bark.

Having now shown you proof that dyes ranging from Hot Pink to Pale Pastel Pinks and Mauve were available, I hope we can finally put aside the rumor and debate that there were no pink dyes available during the Renaissance. While dyes using Kermes and Cochineal were more probably only available to the nobility, gentry, and upper middle class, there were indeed dye materials that could be used by the lower classes.

Pink dyes - both inexpensive and expensive - were available to both the commons and upper class throughout Europe; but if you're still not convinced, I need only refer you to the portraits I’ve attached from that time period. These are only two!  There are plenty others available. 

Now. . . take a look at the following portraits of ladies from the 16th century wearing PINK gowns pictured left and below to the right.

I've anticipated that the argument might be raised that the portraits above are of Italian origin, rather than English. But keep in mind, England was a MAJOR player in the import and export trade, and imported goods from all over the globe. 

Despite the tensions with the Spanish during Elizabeth's reign, England imported an enormous volume of goods
from Spain - the chief among them being wines for which the English taste was legendarily insatiable. They also imported dried fruits (raisins, currents, figs), apples, pears, olive oils, silver, and even iron.

Sugar, indigo, spices and particularly ivory came from the Portuguese, although the Venetians and the Dutch also sold a great deal of eastern spices to England.

Venetians also sold the top-quality Chinese silks as well as the more widespread Ottoman silks to England - not to mention the import of velvet.

Timber, flax, hemp, pitch, tar, cereals (grains), fish and salt often came from the Northern European traders of Germany, Scandinavia and Poland.

Direct trade with Russia, established in the late sixteenth century fed England’s insatiable demand for furs, but also Indian spices of nutmeg, cloves, and Persian silks. 

Still not convinced? - - Well the picture left is an extant smock from the 16th Century displayed in the Museum of London. While the threads have faded to a pale pink, the embroidery work was once a brilliant pink! 

Indeed, as one can see, England imported vast quantities of goods from other countries and was unafraid of spending colossal amounts on eastern luxuries, both when they could not afford it (most of the 16th century) and when they could. Therefore, it is not inconceivable that Kermes and Cochineal were among these imports.

I believe it is safe to conclude that YES, there were pink dyes during the 16th Century in England.

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