Gamboge: Ukiyo-e colorant

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Descending Geese at Mimeguri by Isoda Koryusai

Gamboge 藤黄(to-o): A yellow-orange gum-resin produced by several species of Garcinia tree found in India, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Ceylon. Gamboge was used as a yellow pigment as early as the 8th century in Asia and Japan. Gamboge is composed of a yellow resinous component (70-80%; morelloflavone) and a clear water-soluble Gum (20%). Gamboge is obtained scoring the trunks of trees of at least ten years of age in order to let the poisonous milky yellow resin drip into hollow bamboo canes. Once the resin has congealed, the bamboo is roasted over fire to evaporate remaining moisture. Then the bamboo it broken away to reveal rods of raw gamboge which are then pulverized. Once pulverized, the color of gamboge is transformed from a dull to bright yellow.

Gamboge produces a clear transparent yellow which was frequently hand-painted on prints dating from the1690’s to the 1740’s. After the introduction of full color printing, its use seems to decline perhaps because the other yellows were easier to obtain and/or print and mix with other colorants.

For more information see: Gamboge

Examples of Gamboge in Ukiyo-e Prints

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Beauties of the Yoshiwara by Suzuki Harunobu

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Beauties of the Yoshiwara by Suzuki Harunobu

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Beauties of the Yoshiwara by Suzuki Harunobu

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Beauties of the Yoshiwara by Suzuki Harunobu

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Beauties of the Yoshiwara by Suzuki Harunobu

Analysis

Gamboge does not fluoresce under UVA radiation and does not produce a distinct pattern using Excitation Emission Matrix (EEM) spectroscopy. Of the possible yellow colorants analyzed, it is the only bright yellow colorant that not only does not fluoresce but also absorbs the fluorescence emitted by the paper. This negative indication was sometimes used to assign the presence of gamboge.

Other Images of Gamboge

List of Prints

Below is a list of prints where gamboge was detected.