A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the by Amy Butler Greenfield PDF

By Amy Butler Greenfield

ISBN-10: 0060522763

ISBN-13: 9780060522766

ISBN-10: 0061760641

ISBN-13: 9780061760648

Within the 16th century, one of many world's most beneficial commodities used to be cochineal, a mythical purple dye precious by way of the traditional Mexicans and bought within the nice Aztec marketplaces, the place it attracted the eye of the Spanish conquistadors. Shipped to Europe, the dye created a sensation, generating the brightest, most powerful pink the realm had ever noticeable. quickly Spain's cochineal monopoly used to be worthy a fortune. because the English, French, Dutch, and different Europeans joined the chase for cochineal -- a chase that lasted for greater than 3 centuries -- a story of pirates, explorers, alchemists, scientists, and spies unfolds. an ideal purple inspires with sort and verve this historical past of a grand obsession, of intrigue, empire, and event in pursuit of the main fascinating colour in the world.

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Example text

Outside the cloth business, however, the words crimson and scarlet were used more generally to indicate the sort of rich, saturated, luminous reds that had appealed to Europeans since Roman times. The exact color associated with each word varied over time, but crimson most often meant a red that tended toward purple, while scarlet suggested a somewhat brighter hue. Though not as rare as imperial purple, scarlet and crimson dyes were nevertheless costly, and early European rulers could not afford to be lavish with them.

But Aztec dyers also obtained admirable, though paler, reds on cotton, too. Aztec scribes illustrated their colorful histories and genealogies with cochineal, among other pigments, and craftsmen throughout ancient Mexico used cochineal to decorate their work. Pots, statues, baskets, jars, dancing poles, and even houses—all bore the stamp of the brilliant red dye. Indeed, cochineal was everywhere in ancient Mexico. No wonder, then, that when the conquistadors arrived in 1519 the dyestuff provoked both their admiration and their envy.

Long before the Conquest, farmers were able to sell their cochineal in many marketplaces, exchanging it for fish, maize, chile peppers, and salt. As commerce developed, certain merchants from the southern highlands became specialists in the rare dyestuff. The powerful merchants of the town of Nochixtlán, for instance, developed an extensive cochineal trade that reached as far south as present-day Nicaragua. Complex and sophisticated, these ancient trade networks flourished for centuries, reaching what may have been a high point under the rule of the Aztecs, a warrior society that controlled much of ancient Mexico in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

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A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire by Amy Butler Greenfield

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