Madder: Ukiyo-e colorant

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The Ninth Hour... by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Madder 茜 (akane): A red dye extracted from the roots of any of several species of the genus Rubia. The most commonly used plants include: Rubia tinctorum L., native to the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean, most commonly known as European madder; Rubia cordifolia L., native to large areas of Africa and Asia, most commonly known as Indian madder; and Rubia argyi, native to East Asia. It is currently unknown which species was used for ukiyo-e prints.

Similar to safflower, madder can range from pink to a deep red. Madder and safflower are the most commonly found red before the introduction of aniline dyes in the 1860s. Safflower and madder are found as a single colorant or as a mixture of the two. Although the visual difference between red safflower or madder used alone and a mixture of the two is currently difficult to discern, madder may have been used to extend the safflower, which was known to be expensive. In some prints from the mid-1800s, vermilion was also mixed with madder. The pink color of madder also appears opaque when compared to the ethereal pink of safflower. The opacity of pink madder may indicate that the colorant may have been laked onto a mineral white, such as calcium carbonate during its formulation.

Although not traditionally listed as a printing colorant thought to have been used for ukiyo-e prints, madder has been detected extensively in our analysis. Research of red colorants is ongoing.

For additional information see: Madder, Madder (Rubia tinctorum) LC, Madder (Indian madder, Rubia cordifolia) LC, Madder (Rubia akane) LC, Uemura Dye Archive: Japanese madder 293, 230, Rubia tinctorum (Kew), Rubia cordifolia (Kew), Rubia argyi (Kew)

Examples of Madder in Ukiyo-e Prints


The Ninth Hour... by Utagawa Kuniyoshi


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The Brine Maidens by Torii Kiyonaga


Kojima Bingo... by Suzuki Harunobu


The Attributes of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune by Torii Kiyohiro


Courtesan Asajiu... by Kitagawa Utamaro I

Add Beauties of the Yoshiwara, madder


Excitation Emission Matrix (EEM) spectroscopy can easily identify the organic reds: safflower, madder, and sappanwood. Madder fluoresces brightly under UVA radiation and produces a unique EEM pattern that helps differentiate it from safflower, which also fluoresces.

Images of Madder

List of Prints

Below is a list of prints where madder was detected.

Pages in category "Madder: Ukiyo-e colorant"

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