Lead white: Ukiyo-e colorant

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Young Woman as the Bodhisattva Fugen by Komatsuken

Lead white 鉛白(enpaku): A white pigment composed of basic lead carbonate. Lead white has been prepared synthetically from Classical antiquity by exposing metallic Lead to Vinegar (Acetic acid) vapour. Lead white and red lead can discolor and darken when exposed to Hydrogen sulfide.

On a print the color white is usually unprinted paper, however, sometimes lead white was used to set apart fields of white from the paper's natural tone. More frequently, it has been found mixed with other colorants, in order to lighten a color or lend opacity. Most frequently, it appears to have been mixed with red lead to create a light pink color, often seen in wooden architectural elements. Sometimes lead white paint was spattered across the surface of a complete print in order to approximate the appearance of snow or sea spary. Darkening of lead white has been observed in areas where it was printed alone and in mixtures. It is often this discoloration or darkening that leads to its preliminary identification of its presence. Unlike red lead, it appears that printers did not intentionally initiate darkening of this color in order to create a special effect.

For more information see: Lead white

Examples of Lead white 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

X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF) is used to detect lead, which in a white area, is an indication for the presence of lead white (2PbCO3·Pb(OH)2).


Other Images of Lead white

List of Prints

Below is a list of prints where lead white was detected.