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Kermes (dye)

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Title: Kermes (dye)  
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Subject: Red, Glossary of dyeing terms, Dye, Purple, Kermes mineral
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Kermes (dye)

The Coronation Mantle of Roger II of Sicily, silk dyed with kermes and embroidered with gold thread and pearls. Royal Workshop, Palermo, Sicily, 1133–34. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Kermes is a red dye derived from the dried bodies of the females of a scale insect in the genus Kermes, primarily Kermes vermilio. The insects live on the sap of certain trees, especially Kermes oak tree near the Mediterranean region. The English color names crimson and carmine are derived from the word kermes, and many other languages have a word for "red" that is derived from kermes due to the widespread use of this dye in medieval times and the rich red color that it yields.[1][2][3] Early historians in the Middle East sometimes confused kermes with the similarly-named red dye kirmiz of Persia that was derived from the Porphyrophora hamelii ("Armenian cochineal") insect.[4] Kermes dye is of ancient origin; jars of kermes have been found in a Neolithic cave-burial at Adaouste, northeast of Aix-en-Provence.[5]

In the Middle Ages, rich crimson and scarlet silks dyed with kermes in the new silk-weaving centers of Italy and Sicily exceeded the legendary Tyrian purple "in status and desirability".[6] The dyestuff was called "grain" in all Western European languages because the desiccated eggs resembled fine grains of wheat or sand,[7] and textiles dyed with kermes were described as dyed in the grain.[2] Woollens were frequently dyed blue with woad before spinning and weaving, and then piece-dyed in kermes, producing a wide range colors from blacks and grays through browns, murreys, purples, and sanguines.[2] By the 14th and early 15th century, brilliant full grain pure kermes scarlet was "by far the most esteemed, most regal" color for luxury woollen textiles in the Low Countries, England, France, Spain and Italy.[7]

Following the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, Mexican cochineal, which produced a stronger dye and could thus be used in smaller quantities, replaced kermes dyes in general use in Europe.[8][9]

See also

External links

  • The torah process of curing tzoraath; using tolaath shani תולעת שני, the Kermes dye (


  1. ^ Barber (1991), p. 231
  2. ^ a b c Munro, John H. "Medieval Woollens: Textiles, Technology, and Organisation". In Jenkins (2003), pp. 214–215.
  3. ^ Goodwin (1982), p. 56
  4. ^ Cardon, Dominique (2007). Natural Dyes: Sources, Tradition, Technology and Science. London, United Kingdom: Archetype Books. p. 609.   English translation by Caroline Higgitt of Cardon's French-language book Le monde des teintures naturelles (Éditions Belin, Paris, 2003).
  5. ^ Barber (1991), pp. 230–231
  6. ^ Schoeser (2007), p. 118
  7. ^ a b Munro, John H. "The Anti-Red Shift – To the Dark Side: Colour Changes in Flemish Luxury Woollens, 1300–1500". In Netherton & Owens-Crocker (2007), pp. 56–57.
  8. ^ Schoeser (2007), pp. 121, 248
  9. ^ Barber (1982), p. 55.


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