Indigo: Ukiyo-e colorant

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Kamakura Village by Katsushika Hokusai

Indigo 藍(ai): A natural dark blue dye obtained from Indigofera tinctoria plants native to India, Java, Peru, and other tropical areas. The use of indigo was first mentioned in Indian manuscripts in the 4th century BCE. In Japan, indigo was introduced from China in the 6th century. The dye is obtained from an indigo plant native to Asia, Persicaria tinctoria. Indian indigo was imported at the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912).

Indigo and dayflower are the two blues used in Japanese woodblock prints until Prussian blue enters the palette in the 1830's. Indigo appears most frequently from the 1740’s onwards as a color mixed with orpiment to produce a variety of greens. As a single colorant, it appears as a comparatively dull blue color. Due to its poor tinting strength, a relatively large amount needs to be used during printing in order to obtain a good saturation of this color. Its texture is somewhat coarse which makes it difficult to execute graduated hues from dark to light. Unlike dayflower, it is stable to moisture but is prone to fading.

Indigo and orpiment are mixed or overprinted to create a green. This mixture is the most commonly seen combination to create a green.

For more information see: Indigo

Examples of Indigo in Ukiyo-e Prints

Dyed indigo.jpg

Indigo FORS.JPG
Beauties of the Yoshiwara by Suzuki Harunobu

Dyed indigo.jpg

Indigo FORS.JPG
Beauties of the Yoshiwara by Suzuki Harunobu

Dyed indigo.jpg

Indigo FORS.JPG
Beauties of the Yoshiwara by Suzuki Harunobu

Dyed indigo.jpg

Indigo FORS.JPG
Beauties of the Yoshiwara by Suzuki Harunobu

Dyed indigo.jpg

Indigo FORS.JPG
Beauties of the Yoshiwara by Suzuki Harunobu

Analysis

Fiber optic reflectance spectroscopy (FORS) can easily identify the three blues: dayflower, indigo, and Prussian blue.

Other Images of Indigo

Add 千種の花、vol2 p16

List of Prints

Below is a list of prints where indigo was detected.