Mt. Lookout Is Discontinued

Mt. LookoutUnfortunately, I have had to move the fragrance Mount Lookout from the Endangered list to discontinued, and take it down from the site. It was a great fragrance but one of the main ingredients was discontinued by my supplier and no one else made anything similar or as good. I am sorry about that and there are not even samples left of it. –Fabienne from Possets Perfume

Medieval Colors: Green & Red

Red and Green OutfitsNow that Yuletide is upon us, let’s talk about those quintessential complimentary colors of Green and Red in Medieval pigments.

Green-Most manuscript green was made from copper based pigments. As you may have observed from oxidizing copper, it turns a beautiful verdigris green (a sort of bluish green). Verdigris is cheap, plentiful and was quite popular for that reason. However, if you wanted a truer and less blue green you had to go in for the more expensive malachite. Malachite is a semi precious stone (like lapis lazuli) which is a marvelous shade of emerald green (in it’s pure state) and so when crushed and mixed with the egg tempura base, the result was stunning. This malachite green was used for the important figures’ clothes in better manuscripts but you will almost never see it in the background images of trees or landscapes.

Red-Red was often formed from crushed cinnabar, a mercury based crystal which is toxic but yields wonderful red color in paint. Cinnabar can be just about any shade of red you can imagine but the most highly prized for manuscripts was a bright and intense shade. You could also use iron oxide, rust, which was abundant and very amenable to being incorporated into tempura. However, it was very highly staining and so had to be used with a light hand. In addition it produced a less intense and more brown red than cinnabar and so was often used as a color for the less important parts of paintings. The brightest and best of the Medieval reds had to be Red Lead, or “Minium” as it was known. This was an opaque orangy-red which would correspond to our cadmium red in modern paint. Minium had body, mixed with other painting materials and was brush-friendly. It is toxic because of the lead component but it retains its glorious color as clearly as the day it was ground. Red Lead as Minium gave its name to “miniatures” because the beautiful strong red was a popular feature in the painting of small exquisite scenes and portraits.

Next blog: Medieval Perfumes! Look for it coming soon. There is one more in the Medieval Colors series, too-The Expensive Colors: Purple, Silver, and Gold!

Apple Pie & Pumpkin Can

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With family in town we are having two pies for American Thanksgiving. This is the apple pie I made before it went in the oven. The other one is a pumpkin pie, and when this picture was taken it was in the oven. Mmmmm.

Biscuits

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2 cups sifted flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450 deg F. Sift dry ingredients into a food processor and turn on. Add butter 1 tablespoon at a time through the feed chute. Add milk in a thin stream until the dough forms a ball and rides around the insure of the bowl. Too wet? Add a teaspoon of flour and see. When it is done, turn out on a floured surface and pat into a circle and about 1/2 to 3/4″ thick. Cut with biscuit cutter, ace on greased cookie sheet and bake for 12 – 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Medieval Colors and Pigments-Blue & Yellow

An illuminated manuscript with blue features.Blue-Some of the most magnificent colors in all of art are the blues you find in illuminated manuscripts. It’s no wonder, they were often made of lapis lazuli, a semi precious stone found in Afghanistan. It was exceptionally expensive to produce a pigment from this mineral because lapis had to be brought from far away, it had to be of a very good quality (too many veins of impurity would render the end product muddy looking), there had to be a great deal of it incorporated in the media in order for the lovely blue to appear. The medium used for the most part was called “tempura” and is simply the yolk of an egg which is combined with the finely crushed pigment and a paint is formed. Ground lapis lazuli paint was known as ultramarine blue. You can buy tubes of lapis paint (oil, acrylic, and watercolors) though most modern artwork relies on modern pigments.

Under some circumstances, lapis lazuli paint was too expensive, and there were alternatives though most of them were not as spectacularly intense as ultramarine blue. Smalt (cobalt), woad (blue plant native to the British Isles and elsewhere) , and indigo (a blue derived from woad) were blue pigments used in the Middle Ages. Smalt, though beautiful at first, did have a tendency to fade with time even if kept out of the sun.

Yellow- Orpiment was the favorite yellow of the Middle Ages. It was a sort of orangy yellow and had a lot of body to it, in other words it remained raised from the vellum after it dried if put on in a thick glob (at leas the examples I have seen had this property). Orpiment was arsnic sulfide, and it was poisonous but it was beautiful. In the examples I saw, orpiment was shiny and had a good deal of opacity, it covered well. I think that there were grades of orpiment which went from a clear yellow to the orange-yellow of egg yoke. Beside being very toxic, it did not like to combine with lead and copper based pigments, and that meant there were some things you could not mix it with successfully. But it was glorious by itself.

There were alternatives to orpiment for yellow. Yellow ochre is non toxic, inexpensive and plentiful almost everywhere on earth. It mixes easily with just about any media base, dries quickly, and is at least semi opaque. It is a brownish yellow and does not give the intense clear yellow of orpiment. Very useful for painting outdoor scenes like this nativity above.

Saffron was uses as a pigment, too. It was an orangy yellow and high staining color which was pretty forgiving when mixed with other media and pigments. It was quite expensive though and generally not as common as orpiment or ochre.

This is the second blog on color in the Middle Ages from Possets Perfume. Possets is going to be bringing out a Medieval Collection on November 25th at www.possets.com. If you are interested in being put on the announcement list when the Medieval Collection comes out, please fill out this short form and prepare to be amused!

Medieval Perfumes–What Western Europe Didn’t Have In The Middle Ages

The Silver RoseHere is the heavy hitting Yule blog series from Possets: Medieval Perfumes. These will be interspersed with other Medieval topics, too, so you will never be bored! Have fun.


By our standards, people of the Middle Ages had a limited set of ingredients to choose from when they concocted perfume. However, they were supremely inventive and some of their ideas were downright ingenious! All of their ingredients were natural and I am sure we would consider them organic as well. It might be instructive to consider what they did not have to use (or were in Very short supply), and to think of how much we would miss a world without these scents:

  • Patchouli
  • Modern Musks
  • Vanilla
  • Chocolate
  • Floral Aldehydes
  • Clove and Cinnamon
  • Resins (Frankincense & Myrrh)
  • Vetiver

The list above contains some of the best loved fixatives and basenotes. Of course there were others which grew in the forests of Western Europe, but things like patchouli came from the East and travel back and forth in trade was slow, expensive, and highly risky.

So what did these folk do for fixatives before 1400? I will reveal that later, so stay tuned.

Color In Medieval Manuscripts-Black & White

A Fine Medieval ManuscriptMedieval manuscripts are prized for their extravagant colors and rich opaque glory. What did the European illuminators use to produce intensity like that? A variety of different things.

Black-The most necessary of colors for any manuscript, this was the color of the text and had to stand out from the mottled cream colored vellum background upon which it was set. Gall inks were very popular and made from processing “galls” or bladders found on oak trees after insect damage. Water that these things were soaked in turned black and became ink. Gall ink has the property of being indelible, especially on anything as porous as vellum (sheepskin). The shaded variations of gall inks are legendary and give them a wonderful expressive quality. Alas, iron gall can become corrosive to the support and eat away neat holes exactly in the shape of letters!

Soot or lamp black was used to make inks which were very dark and not too variable in their shading. These lamp black inks were prized for their intense blue/black darkness and probably made the darkest of black inks in illuminated manuscripts.

Burning bones and using the ashes from that will produce a rich brown/black ink or pigment for painting. Mixed with white it becomes a neutral brown paint. Bone black is also known as “Ivory Black”.

In modern art, Ivory Black and Lamp Black are still used with all forms of paint: watercolor, acrylic, oil paint, gouche, or alkyds! The properties which made these excellent inks also allowed them to be liberally mixed with other media and make a fine black or shading color.


White-White was always a useful color for lightening other hues, highlighting areas, and for its own blankness. Lead white was the favorite pigment because it was plentiful, very soft and easy to use, combined well with other pigments, dried fairly fast and could be built up to produce an opaque layer of paint. Of course it was quite poisonous and over time, if the painter had enough contact with it, they would develop lead poisoning. Lead white was pretty flexible, a good thing when painting pages in a book.

Chalk was another white agent. It was a bit more difficult to combine with other pigments and not as “suave” as lead white, a bit more brittle; but it was also plentiful and very inexpensive. Chalk white was a favorite to combine with other pigments to make “lakes” which were the opaque version of most colors, some of which were normally transparent.

Lead or “Flake” white can still be purchased as an oil paint and in other media as well, however Titanium White is more popular and more opaque than Flake White in the modern artist’s palette and it is not as toxic.

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve from Hildesheim

Adam and Eve from Hildesheim


In about 1015 the magnificent doors of Hildesheim Cathedral were built. By today’s standards, they were primitive, but in their day they were considered the height of lifelike bas relief and sculpture. It is because of this earnest naivete that I find this work so charming.

As you can see, Adam and Eve have been caught disobeying The Lord who is SO angry at them he is standing on his toes, jolting forward, and pointing down at them and thundering his disapproval. You can just hear him say,”All I asked was that you do ONE simple thing for me and you can’t do it!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Adam and Eve are writhing with misery under a curios looking giant weed which seems to be one of the few plants in the Garden of Eden! It resembles something you would pull out of any flowerbed without any of the gravity of the Tree of the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil BUT I think it is very effective.

Wretched Adam is bug eyed with fear. Evidently he has never seen The Lord angry before. He clutches his fig leaf in shame and squeals on his mate, Eve. “She did it, she made me do it. I would not have eaten or touched it had it not been for the woman you gave me!”

Poor Eve, there isn’t much to be done for her, is there? She looks like she is trying to reason with Adam (not God) and points to The Snake as if to say,”But Adam, it was The Snake who promised to make us as God himself.” And truly she didn’t know much of lying, I think, so she is doubly betrayed by The Serpent.

As for The Snake, he is mute but rolls and writhes about ineffectively corkscrewing in front of the furious Lord.

So, most of the characters are finger-pointing and exhibiting great emotion which pushes the story into a realm where we can all relate: as children who are caught doing precisely what they were told not do. I have not seen a more powerful image of the wages of disobedience. Though the Renaissance painters might do a more perfect job of rendering the body, and such Masters as Bernini make much of flesh in hard substance, I don’t think that any other artist has done so well at telling the story than this anonymous sculptor of the doors of Hildesheim in Germany.

The Utrecht Psalter Drawings

One of the most telling parts of the Middle Ages was its manuscripts and their illustrations. A little known but glorious example of that is The Utrecht Psalter (of about 830). There are two images I have chosen to show you and the thumbnails are shown below. Click on them and when they come up on your screen, click on them again to see the detail:


The image I am explorig here is from Psalm 43 sometimes known as Awake, Oh Lord! As you can tell, there is a mighty battle raging and The Lord is seen at the very top middle of the page. He is asleep on a bed but is beset with a band of angels who are trying to get Him to wake up and lend His assistance to the righteous side. There is a certain amount of bleed through of the ink on parchment but please take a look at the overall composition and notice the scallop patterning of: the aquaduct-like castle walls, what appears to be the smoke and dust of battle, and tiny horse’s legs rushing about the din of war. The mounted warriors are converging on a walled town and streaming into the portal to defeat the citizens inside who are earnestly gathered and praying on the left as a platoon seemingly lounges about on the right.

Such lively little figures seem to squirm in front of your eyes. The tiny hooves of the horses line up and bound forward on those scallop shaped indicators. Men and horses are slain and lying about in the center bottom of the scene. All of this seems to be swiftly indicated with a few licks of ink. The center of the scene is somewhat void of action compared to the perimeters and perhaps this would be seen as a flaw in the composition today but I think here it is a necessary clear space which keeps it all from being too cluttered.

Take a look at what I think is the most charming part of the image. Please click on the thumbnail on the right (and don’t forget to click it again when it comes up to see an extreme close up of the miniscule scene). This is the nub of the story. The Lord is asleep with His hand under His head in a canopied bed. Six angels rush in on a cloud of scribbles. They are utterly agitated and the entire vibration of their angst is fabulously indicated by that scribble-cloud and their marvelously bent back and erect thumbs on pleading hands. It’s those thumbs, merely a comma or exclamation point of brown ink, which show you all of their nerve and fear are concentrated in their hands and how hard they are demanding the conscious attention of The Almighty. You may not be able to make out their faces, and truly there isn’t any room to do more than a tiny line portrait of each, but the artist has used a more effective way to convey the rushing feel of the moment. I have not seen such a havoc driven scene of concern in all of art. Notice that the artist never forgets the thumbs even if the rest of the angel’s hand is not drawn!