Calcium carbonate: Ukiyo-e colorant

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Kamakura Village by Katsushika Hokusai

Calcium carbonate 胡粉 (gofun): A white powder that can occur in three crystalline forms: Calcite (hexagonal-rhombohedral), Aragonite (orthorhombic) and vaterite. Calcium carbonate occurs naturally in many forms such as Chalk, Limestone, Marble and sea shells. In Japan, the source is sea shells.

Calcium carbonate can be difficult to confirm as a printed color since the water used papermaking can be have high concentrations of calcium; also it was sometimes used as an additive to the pulp during papermaking.

Calcium carbonate has been found mixed with carbon black to create a wide range of gray tones that can appear as a pale blue color. Extensive use of calcium carbonate is found on Harunobu’s mizu-e (水絵) or water prints of the 1760's which are images printed with no or faintly printed outlines. Sometimes a calcium carbonate paint was spattered across the surface of a completed print in order to approximate the appearance of snow or sea spray.

For more information see: Calcium carbonate


X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF) is used to detect calcium (Ca). When it is found in a white area or mixed with a colorant to lighten the color or to add opacity, it is an indication for the presence of calcium carbonate (CaCO3).

Images of Calcium carbonate

List of Prints

Below is a list of prints where calcium carbonate was detected.