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18. Wild cochineal insects (Dactylopius coccus) on a cactus pad, southern California, 2009

17. Front and back views of male (with wings) and female (wingless) ­cochineal insects. José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez, Memoria sobre la ­naturalesa cultivo y beneficion de la grana (Mexico City, 1777), pl. 1. Vellum, h. 12¼ in. (31 cm). Newberry Library, Chicago, Edward E. Ayer Manuscript Collection (Ayer ms 1031)

19. Dried cochineal insects (Dactylopius coccus) collected in Peru, 2008

their word for cochineal, nocheztli). Franciscan friar Bernadino de Sahagún documented the practice in the fourteen-volume Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España (General History of the Things of New Spain, commonly known as the Florentine Codex) that he and a group of native scholars compiled in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and Spanish between about 1540 and 1585 (see fig. 23). Another Spaniard, Gonzalo Gómez de Cervantes, documented the cultivation, harvesting, and drying of cochineal insects in Mexico in a report he prepared in 1599 for the viceroy of New Spain, Don Luis de Velasco, who had specifically requested the information. In his “Relación copios del beneficio de la grana cochinilla” (Copious Account of the Cultivation of Cochineal) Gómez de Cervantes described in detail the raising and planting of the nopal, or prickly pear, cactus that is the insects’ host and the seeding, or 14

transplanting, of the cochineal eggs onto the cactus with a coa, a brush made of fox hair (fig. 24). The tiny seedling eggs became attached to the fine hairs of the thin tool, which was gently brushed onto the surface of the cactus pad. The “painting” of the seeds started from the top, or north, side of the cactus, and when the nymphs hatched they found their way to the lower, or south, side of the pad, where they were more protected. Gómez de Cervantes wrote as well of the methods for caring for the cacti, and he identified the enemies of the cochineal, which include birds, worms, and chickens both native and Spanish (see fig. 25). He described the harvesting of insects, or grana, that have “grown fat in the sun to the size of one fat lentil” by removing them from the cactus pads into bowls the size of “half an orange” with a small spoon held in the right hand. Of the five ways to kill and dry the grana (sun, boiling in water, heating in a double-boiler,

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Cochineal Red: The Art History of a Color  

Elena Phipps The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Winter 2010 Volume LXVII, Number 3 Copyright © 2010 by The Metropolitan Museum of Art,...

Cochineal Red: The Art History of a Color  

Elena Phipps The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Winter 2010 Volume LXVII, Number 3 Copyright © 2010 by The Metropolitan Museum of Art,...

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