The Power Of Red

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THE POWER OF RED Mark Jarzombek


In 2010, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in the state of Massachusetts hosted an exhibition that featured a Chinese tomb from the Northern Wei dynasty (386–535 CE). The structure, made of stone panels and buried in a crypt five or six meters below ground, had been taken apart, shipped to the United States, and reassembled in the museum.i It was about 7 feet high and 10 X 6 feet in plan. Though made if stone, it was clearly meant to resemble a wooden structure. Needless to say it was a remarkable edifice. The accompanying article in the catalogue, written by a leading scholar in Chinese archaeology, explained its use and purpose and discussed many aspects related to its architecture. But the author, for whatever reason, did not mention a feature of the building that was strikingly obvious to anyone looking at it. It had been painted red. Traces of red mineral paint were clearly visible on the stone. Red is, without doubt, the most ancient of colours. It is made from ochre, known scientifically as hematite, a reddish iron‐containing rock that is then ground into a powder and mixed with animal fat to make a paint. Stone balls coloured with ochre were recovered from Olorgesailie, Kenya and date to around 340,000 years ago. An

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