Editor, writer, and creative living in Brooklyn.


Lady in red.

You know vermilion from that glossy Chinese lacquerware and from the pages of illuminated manuscripts from Medieval Europe. It's that vibrant orange-red that practically glows. Originally, it came from grinding up a mineral called cinnabar (which would be a great name for a candy), a side product of mining for mercury.

The use of vermilion as pigment was seen for the first time around 7000-8000 BC in a neolithic village in what is now Turkey. In 5000 BC, the Yangshao painted walls and floors with it for ritual ceremonies. Later, Spanish prisoners were forced to mine cinnabar. In Ancient Rome, triumphant soldiers covered their faces in vermilion powder. In the Byzantine Empire, decrees were written in vermilion ink. In India, Hindu women apply a dot of the pigment to their forehead or in the part of their hair to symbolize fertility and a marital bond. It symbolizes life and death, power and passion. 

Among the whites and blues and pale neutrals taking over much of spring's typical palette, the red-orange bursts have been a welcome blaze.