Carmine lake

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A generic name for two closely related organic red lakes that are obtained from scale insects, Cochineal and Kermes. Carmine lake first referred to kermes, one of the oldest organic colorant, which is rarely encountered today. Kermesic acid is extracted with alkali from the kermes scale insect and precipitated on an iron-free alum to produce carmine. The name for a kermes lake changed to Crimson lake after cochineal, found in Mexico, was brought to Europe in the late 16th century. Carminic acid is extract from the cochineal insect (Coccus cacti) bodies with an aqueous solution of tartar then precipitated on Alumina trihydrate to produce carmine lake. The presence of iron makes a brighter red color. Neither pigment is permanent enough for use in fine art as they discolor in sunlight. They were replaced first by madder and alizarin then later by synthetic organic red colors.

Synonyms and Related Terms

Natural Red 4 (carminic acid); Karmin (Deut.); laca carmín (Esp.); laque carmoisie (Fr.); laca al carminio (It.); enji (Jap.); laca carmim (Port.); Vienna lake; Viennese lake; Munich lake; nacarat carmine



Physical and Chemical Properties

  • Soluble in ammonium hydroxide producing a purple solution. Insoluble in water.
  • Burns to produce a white ash with a horn-like smell.
  • ISO R105 Lightfastness Classification = 1-2
  • ASTM (1999) lightfastness = V (very poor)

Resources and Citations

  • H. Schweppe, H.Roosen-Runge, "Carmine-Cochineal Carmine and Kermes Carmine", Artists Pigments, Volume 1, R. Feller (ed.), Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1986.
  • Helmut Schweppe, Schweppe color collection index and information book
  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 209
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)
  • Richard S. Lewis, Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 10th ed., 1993
  • Hermann Kuhn, Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art and Antiquities, Butterworths, London, 1986
  • R.D. Harley, Artists' Pigments c. 1600-1835, Butterworth Scientific, London, 1982
  • Book and Paper Group, Paper Conservation Catalog, AIC, 1984, 1989
  • R.Feller, M.Curran, C.Bailie, 'Identification of Traditional Organic Colorants Employed in Japanese Prints and Determination of their Rates of Fading', Japanese Woodblock Prints, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, 1984

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