At the beginning of the Iron Age (on whose far edge we still teeter) the Greeks called iron sideros, meaning from a star, the same root as desire. The Sumerians called it an bar, skyfire, referring to the kind of heaven-sent iron that drops to earth in a meteoric flash. The Eskimo simply call it “Woman.” -Nor Hall, Irons in the Fire
Ochre, yellow, light.
Hematite, blood stone, of the blood, stone that bleeds.
Iron, strength, holy metal.
Oxygen, piercing, sharp, acid, something that produces, creation.
Pigment, color, ingredient, drug.
Compendium of Ochre Words + Terms
Region or Language
Himba, Namibia, Africa
Exclusively from Otjize, Namibia. Used as full-body make-up and mixed with butterfat and an aromatic resin from the omuzumba bush
Ladies in Red – Mining and Use of Red Pigment by Himba Women in Northwestern Namibia. Gregor Borg and Margaret Jacobsohn from Rot–die Archäologie bekennt Farbe: 5. Mitteldeutscher Archäologentag vom 04. bis 06. Oktober 2012.
Red clay, hematite plus other materials
Used in Botwsana in the hair of traditional healers and mixed with goats fat.
These ochre pigments are said to “key role in the adaptive strategies of H. sapiens.”
Ethnographic insight into the prehistoric significance of red ochre.
Zimbamwa, South Africa
haematite, or oxidised red ochre mixed with various other iron oxides.
Traditional paint technique, had to be prepared at full moon outside in the open by a woman, who had to heat it until it was red hot and then grind it to a fine red powder. Binder was blood of a freshly killed eland.
Southern African shamanistic rock art in its social and cognitive contexts. J.D. Lewis-Williams. from Archeology of Shamanism. p17-40 Ed. Neil Price.
Name of material same as name of sacred ochre mines, Wilgie Mia. Mostly from Weld Rrange, Murchison Region, W. Australia
Ochre procurement and distribution on the
Crivellaro, P. (2002) I coloranti naturali. In De gypso et coloribus, Nicola, G. L., Ed. Celid: Turin.
Red or burnt Ochre
From the oasis of Tell el-Amarna
Iron Oxide-Based Pigments and Their Use in History. Marco Nicola, Chiara Mastrippolito, and Admir Masic. From Iron Oxides: From Nature to Application. Edited by Damien Faivre. 2016.
Double silicate of iron 40% + manganese oxide 15%
From the oasis of Dakhla
Used in Ebers Papyrus for various remedies
The Papyrus Ebers. Cyril P. Bryan. 1930.
Hematite or burnt ochre mixed with blood, wine or booze or other liquid substance
Ritual term for red blood substitute. Debate suggests mandrake, or love-fruit, to be another possible translation of the term.
The Ugaritic Baal Cycle. Mark Smith. 2010.
To be red, rouge, red clay or soil
root word for blood, Adam and other red substances
most likely simply refers to the ore’s ‘(coming) from the mountain’, from Akkadian šadû ‘mountain’ – also mentioned in Assyrian texts regarding breastplate divination using stones.
From The Melammu Project http://www.aakkl.helsinki.fi/melammu/database/gen_html/a0001340.php
Red, Dark Red
Red earth or hematite
“As stated a rock which is red in colour and found underground. It is used as a pigment and cures bone fever.”
From the Dictionary of Tibetan Materia Medica, as mentioned in, Engaging the Subtle Body: Re-approaching bla rituals in the Himalayas. Barbara Gerke. 2007.
Highly prized for thangkas from Zhwa-la
Tibetan Thangka Painting: Methods and Materials. David P. & Janice A. Jackson. 1984.
Used in Mogae caves, mined from nearby Hexi region of Gansu
Color in ancient and medieval East Asia. Dusenbury, Mary M. 2015.
Chumash Culture, North America
Hematite was burnt in situ to make it brighter. The burnt mineral was washed to remove salts and soften bunches within a pasty mass. During summer the natives of the San Diego region collected from the water surface the brownish-red froth formed by the Leptothrix ochracea bacteria, which precipitates iron (III) hydrate. en, they dried it under the sun
Scott, D. A.; Hyder, W. D. (1993) A study of some Californian Indian rock art pigments. Stud. Conserv., 38, (3), 155 – 173.
Chumash Cultures, North Americas
Dull reddish color
Technical examination of some rock art pigments and encrustations from the Chumash Indian site of San Emigdio, California. Scott, D.A.; Scheere, S.; Reeves, D.J.
Studies in Conservation 47 #3 (2002) 184–194.
Chumash, San Francisco Bay, North America
ilil was for body painting
Yuma, Mohave, North America
Froth collected from moo’ic, burnt on the cortex of Quercus kelloggi or other oak species
Scott et. al. 2002.
Maricopa, North America
Still used today
From private conversation with Ron Carlos, potter from Salt River Indian Community.
Squamish, North America
Red clay (of hematite or ochre)
For ceremonial paint, war paint, face paint.
Navaho, North America
From “to red or redden, dyed red”
Colour and Colour Terminology
Beni-garao or bengara
Ukiyo-e school (from the late sixteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century)
West Fitzhugh, E. W. (1979) A pigment census of Ukiyo-e paintings in the Freer Gallery of Art, 11, Ars Orientalis ( e Freer Gallery of Art, e Smithsonian Institution, and the University of Michigan, Department of the History of Art) 27–38.
hematite or “bloodstone” Fe2O3
1 of the 13 stones from Arabic alchemist Gābir Ibn Hajjān’s Summa perfectionis
What Painting Is. James Elkins. 1999.
either iron ore composed of iron oxide, or iron filings or iron slag
Arabic alchemist Gābir Ibn Hajjān’s Summa perfectionis
Could be also, bloodstone, as in jasper. Meant “blood tree” or “red dye” from recipes for curing hangover by drinking hematite
Arab Roots of Gemology. Tifaschi. 12th century.
Red stone, clay, earth
“By the term Botri is here signified the Philosopher’s Stone. The red root is the Terra Adamica, called sometimes Magnesia by the wise, and Salt after the purification.”
Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy ~
Perse, possibly from latin “pressus”
Range of colors
First usage shows it is a synonym for purplish-red blue of hyacinthinus. Last usage says it is the color of ferrugineo (rust). Could mean ‘material of Persian origin.’
Account of term in Colour and Culture. John Gage. 1993.
Natural red ochre (not burnt)
The Art of All Colours: Mediaeval Recipe Books for Painters and Illuminators. Mark Clark. 2001 *great description on confusion of terms for alchemical red pigments in general.
Burnt red ochre with Lead white (cerussa)
Naturalis historia book XXXIII. Pliny. Originally 77 AD. From Pliny’s Natural History, vol. 159, Chapter 56 (ed. Henderson, J.), Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.
Syricum or scyricum
Red earth from Scyros
Sinopia, Sinope, sinopis, sinopide, pontica, rubrica
Pure iron-oxide in any earthly form
Originally from Sinope, Turkey
Pliny. Vitruvius, and Theophrastus. De Chirico.
Hematite + indigo
The Craftsman’s Handbook. Il Libro dell’ Arte. Cennino d’Andrea Cennini (trans. Daniel V. Thompson Jr.) 1933. Originally 15th century.
Bolo, bole, bolus, vole, vol
Red iron oxide + clay
Armenian bole and German bole were most often used for ground and guilding in icons
Field’s Chromatogra- phy; or, Treatise on Colors and Pigments as Used by Artists. Salter, T. W. 1869.
Hematite or Specularite
Used to describe ochres used in prehistoric cave art.
Four Hundred Centuries of Cave Art. Abbe Breuil. 1952.
Calcium carbonate (chalk) + sinopia (red earth)
For flesh tones and frescoes, from Cennini
Colcothar from Arabic qulqutār
Spanish from Arabic
Synthetic iron-oxide created by heating green vitriol to 500-750C.
Said to be invented from the Arabs. “The name appears to have been derived during the earliest seventeenth century by alchemists who used it to describe metallic residues (OED, 2002). It is possibly a corruption of the Greek for ‘flowers of copper’, chalcanthus, with a similar etymology as copperas (q.v.) referring primarily to the colour of the material rather than its chemistry. “
Pigment Compendium. Eastaugh, et.al. 2004.
Iron Oxides. Faivre et. al. 2016.
Caput Mortuum, caput mortem, cardinal purple, teˆte morte [‘‘death’s head’’],
teˆte de momie [‘‘mummy’s head’’],
teˆte de Maure [‘‘Moor’s head’’
An alchemical term for a particular process that results in ‘useless’ iron oxide as the result of other chemical processes. Also, said to be the mined specifically from iron-oxide found in and around mummies.)
From footnote in Jean-Luc Nancy’s The Ground of Image: “In the nineteenth century, the color was prepared using the remains from mummies, refers to a dark reddish brown (‘‘resulting from the final operations carried out with iron oxide, it is one of the red tones of this metal. It is quite close to English, Venetian, or Indian reds,’’). The term has its origins in alchemy, where it referred to the final residue of a chemical operation, ‘‘that phase of the work when everything seems rotten yet when everything is regenerated.’’
Oxidos rojos de Malaga
Hematite/iron-oxide from Andalusia, Spain
Still mined there today
Paghonazo, Pabanzo, Morello, Morello di sale, Morello di ferro
Reddish pink or reddish purple
Calcium carbonate, hematite and lake.
Also noted as “rust of iron and salt.”
Pigment Compendium. 2004.
Hematite from Hormuz, Iran or Persia
Hematite + madder lake
From hermeneias icon manuals paintings for adhesives
The Materials and Craft of Early Iconographers.
Mihaela D. Leonida. 2014.
Hematite, calcium carbonate
Lighter then cinabrese chiara
Rouge, sanguine, sanguignio
Very dark red
Dark hematite mixed with other red.
Used to mark the outlines of figures after painting the flesh tones of dead bodies.
Terra di Ercolano
Bright, glittery red
Hematite with signature traces of Dolomite
Terra di Pozzuoli, Terra Puzzolli, rosso di Pozzuoli
Iron oxide of volcanic origin
Terra gialla abbrucciata
Orangish yellow or brownish red
Likely a Goethite
Terra de Sienna
Goethite w/ high transparency
Terra verde di Verona
Celadonite and glauconite
Terra d’Ombra di Cipro
Hematite with % pyrolusite
Hematite + madder lake
Hydrous ferrix oxide + gypsum
Color di legno
Ochre + black + sinopia
Ocres d’Apt, ocres de Vaucluse
From the Apt basin in France.
He ́matite broye ́e de Puisaye
Haematite from Puisaye
Spruce sker, shotover ochre, oxford stone ochre
Clay from Oxford.
The Art of Painting: Wherein is Included the Whole Art of Vulgar Painting, According to the Best and Most Approved Rules for Preparing and Laying on of Oyl Colors, London. John Smith. 1676.
Hematite from ore deposits
Hematite from ore deposits
English red, englirod
A natural hematite, now synthesized from ferrous sulfate and limestone
Indian red, Indian Ochre
Hematite from Bengal
Red ochre + coal black
Used in Medieval frescoes as ground layer for blue sky
Gros rogue, de rogue, Polvo de ladrillo rojo (Red Brick Dust)
Iron oxide from old bricks
Used in Louisana Vodoun hoodoo rituals, apparently as a substitute from traditional African irosun powder.
From modern Red Brick Dust supplier: creolemoon.com. And from A Creole Lexicon: Architecture, Landscape, People. Jay Dearborn Edwards.
Blue Ochre, blue ashes, verddeterre, blue peat earth, cendre blue, Bergblau ‘mountain blue’, iron blue, terra de Harlem, Haarlems blaauw + others
Blue, Blueish Back, Blueish Green
Vivianite, an iron-phosphate.
Found most often in peat, bones, and other sources of decay. Used by NW Coast Cultures of N. America and 17th-19th century European painters. Often difficult to identify due to unstable color.
Best source of historical pigment data is from: Shedding some new light on the blue pigment ‘vivianite’ in technical documentary sources of northern Europe. Mark Richter. In Art Matters Journal, v. 4, 200x.
Hematite ground with lactose sugar and highly diluted
Major mineral remedy in the homeopathic tradition, from early 19th century.
Encyclopedia of Homeopathy. Dr. Andrew Lockie. 2006.
Red, orange, yellow, brown
Iron-rich soils with some amount of minerals hematite or goethite, and aluminum, in form of kaolinite, gibbsite or boehmite
Soil Colors, Pigments and Clays in Paintings. Fiorenzo Ugolini.
Nanophase ferric oxide or hematite
Red, if viewed from Earth, but yellow at cooler temperatures when on Mars
Particular form of hematite
Found on Mars
Low-temperature reflectivity spectra of red hematite and the color of Mars. Richard V. Morris. 1997 via NASA.
Not Planet Mars
Synthetic iron oxides
Developed in the 18th century, generally meant: an aqueous precipitation of iron salts (sulfates, chlorides, nitrates and acetates) with an alkali (lime, caustic soda (NaOH), potash, etc.).
Pigment Compendium: A Dictionary ad Optical Microscopy of Historical Pigments. Eastaugh et. al. 2013.
Modern chemistry term for red ochre
SPIONs, IONP, iron oxide nanoparticles
Iron-oxides of magnetite, hematite, goethite and others
Developed in the 1970s. Many possible applications, particularily in medical imaging.
Ten things you might not know about Iron Oxide Nanoparticles. Heike E. Daldrup-Link. In Radiology v. 284, Sept. 2017.
Compiled by Heidi Gustafson
|for Early Futures Ochre Archive, 2018|
* Table focuses on red ochre terms, however basic terms for yellow/green/black/blue/purple/pink and other ochre earth colors are mentioned. Compiled from various resources, most significantly:
- The series of tables found in Iron Oxides: From Nature to Application (Faivre, 2016), in Chapter 21, “Iron Oxide-Based Pigments and Their Use in History,” by Marco Nicola, Chiara Mastrippolito, and Admir Masic.
- Pigment Compendium: A dictionary and optical microscopy of historical pigments. By Nicholas Eastaugh, Valentine Walsh, Tracey Chaplin, and Ruth Siddall. 2013.
Please contact Heidi for more information on sources of particular ochre terms, regions or practices.