Red lead: Ukiyo-e colorant

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Child Prodigy Minamoto... by Torii Kiyonaga

Red lead 鉛丹 (entan): The common name for a heavy, opaque, orange-red pigment composed of Lead tetroxide. Although chemically equivalent to the mineral minium, red lead has been synthetically prepared by roasting lead white since before the 5th century BCE. Red lead and lead white can discolor and darken when exposed to Hydrogen sulfide.

From early hand-colored prints to nishiki-e (錦絵) or fully printed images, red lead was continously used as a color for woodblock printing. It can appear as a light pink, reddish orange or dark reddish brown in color. The light pink color, often seen in wooden architectural elements is most likely a mixture of red lead with lead white. Like lead white, red lead can darken when exposed to hydrogen sulfide. It is thought that in some cases red lead was intentionally darkened to form a dark gray metallic sheen or patina. In order to create this effect, Acetic acid was likely applied to the printed area of red lead and then exposed to hydrogen sulfide, mostly in the form of rotten eggs.

For more information see: Red lead

Examples of Red lead in Ukiyo-e Prints


Pt 1: hand applied
Torii Kiyomasu I, 28.198


Pt 1: printed
Torii Kiyomitsu I, 06.401


Pt 1: printed
Utagawa Toyoharu, 54.1499


11.14977 Pt2 Jul 16 2014.jpg
Pt 2: printed
Kitao Shigemasa, 11.14977


Pt 5: printed
Isoda Koryūsai, 11.14627


X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF) is used to detect lead, which in a red or pink area, is an indication for the presence of red lead (Pb3O4), particularly if evidence of no other red colorant is found. Lead white is the other common colorant that produces a lead elemental signal.

Images of Red lead

List of Prints

Below is a list of prints where red lead.

Pages in category "Red lead: Ukiyo-e colorant"

The following 30 pages are in this category, out of 30 total.