Download A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the by Amy Butler Greenfield PDF

By Amy Butler Greenfield

Within the 16th century, one of many world's most useful commodities was once cochineal, a mythical crimson dye valuable through the traditional Mexicans and bought within the nice Aztec marketplaces, the place it attracted the eye of the Spanish conquistadors. Shipped to Europe, the dye created a sensation, generating the brightest, most powerful pink the area had ever noticeable. quickly Spain's cochineal monopoly was once worthy a fortune. because the English, French, Dutch, and different Europeans joined the chase for cochineal -- a chase that lasted for greater than 3 centuries -- a story of pirates, explorers, alchemists, scientists, and spies unfolds. an ideal purple inspires with type and verve this heritage of a grand obsession, of intrigue, empire, and event in pursuit of the main fascinating colour in the world.

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Additional resources for A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire

Example text

For female cochineal insects, life doesn’t hold much more than this. Wingless, they spend their lives attached to one spot, secreting a waxy white nest in which they feed, lay their eggs, and die. To anyone passing by, they look like so many bits of cotton fluff caught against the spiny cactus. Male insects, which are less common than females, live a more adventurous life, developing wings which allow them to fly as they search for mates. Their free-spirited existence, however, has its own drawbacks: as they age, their mouthparts atrophy, and they live only half as long as females do.

Long before the Conquest, farmers were able to sell their cochineal in many marketplaces, exchanging it for fish, maize, chile peppers, and salt. As commerce developed, certain merchants from the southern highlands became specialists in the rare dyestuff. The powerful merchants of the town of Nochixtlán, for instance, developed an extensive cochineal trade that reached as far south as present-day Nicaragua. Complex and sophisticated, these ancient trade networks flourished for centuries, reaching what may have been a high point under the rule of the Aztecs, a warrior society that controlled much of ancient Mexico in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

Besides enforcing the usual guild penalties against those who violated the rule of secrecy, they spread eerie stories designed to discourage people from hanging around their dyeworks. Eventually, the tales took on a life of their own. According to some accounts, a white ghost haunted the dyeing district. Other stories spoke of a specter in a black cape and wide-brimmed hat who, with an otherworldly lantern in hand, hunted down anyone foolish enough to approach the dyeworks after dark. Such stories helped preserve the secrets of Venetian scarlet for many years, but by the beginning of the sixteenth century Venice’s supremacy as a dyeing center was under threat.

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