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The weaving of velvet cloth was a specialized skill that required expert craftsmen and additional mechanical features on the loom. The aim was to ­create a deep pile whose color was accentuated by the plush surface. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Venetian and other Italian velvet weavers mastered the art of patterning the ­velvet by ­creating different levels of pile, producing the designs in relief, or adding metallic threads to enhance the ­patterns. Deep tones of densely colored velvets —  reds prominent among them — were the pride of the country, and dyers’ secrets for creating these colors were maintained within families, guilds, and towns. The secrets of the trade were protected by law, and skilled dyers were forbidden to move from one town to the next. In the early sixteenth century Italian guild regulations prohibited the use of cochineal from the Americas, but by midcentury, after guild dyers had conducted experiments with the Mexican variety, it was begin-

56. Designed by Alessandro Allori (Italian, 1535 – 1607); woven in the workshop of Guasparri di Bartolomeo Papini, Florence. The Gathering of Manna, 1595 – 96. From a set of three tapestries depicting Old Testament prefigurations of the Eucharist and Passion of Christ. Wool and silk colored with ­cochineal and other dyes, 14 ft. x 14 ft. 8 in. (4.3 x 4.5 m). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, The Isak and Rose Weinman Foundation Inc. Gift and Rogers Fund, 2004 (2004.165)

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ning to be accepted for creating the famous Venetian red velvets.28 Its use was strictly controlled. Red color for silk velvet could be made from the various insect dye sources, which while close in hue and difficult to differentiate, varied greatly in cost depending on where they had been imported from. As the cost of the cloth was affected by the dyestuff used to create it, regulations were put in place to ensure that the ­sellers of fabrics correctly represented the type of dye they had used. One way to do that was to mark the selvages of the woven cloth. In the mid-fifteenth century, when mixtures of red dyes were banned, a green selvage with a single gold thread down its center certified that a fabric had truly been dyed with kermes alone. When the use of cochineal imported from the Americas was sanctioned in the mid-sixteenth century, a silver thread in a green selvage on velvet, ­damask, or satin indicated that it had been dyed with “foreign” (i.e., American) coch­ineal red.29 Scientific analysis confirms that the red dye in a sixteenth-century Italian

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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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