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By Amy Butler Greenfield

Within the 16th century, one of many world's Most worthy commodities was once cochineal, a mythical purple dye precious by way of the traditional Mexicans and offered within the nice Aztec marketplaces, the place it attracted the eye of the Spanish conquistadors. Shipped to Europe, the dye created a sensation, generating the brightest, most powerful crimson the area had ever noticeable. quickly Spain's cochineal monopoly used to be worthy a fortune. because the English, French, Dutch, and different Europeans joined the chase for cochineal -- a chase that lasted for greater than 3 centuries -- a story of pirates, explorers, alchemists, scientists, and spies unfolds. an ideal purple conjures up with type and verve this heritage of a grand obsession, of intrigue, empire, and experience in pursuit of the main fascinating colour in the world.

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Additional resources for A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire

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Wherever cochineal dyeing began, the evidence suggests that the cultivation of cochineal reached its apex in Mexico. As biologists have pointed out, animals that prey on domesticated cochineal are abundant in Mexico but relatively rare in Peru, indicating that Mexican cochineal and its predators have been coevolving for a much longer time than their Peruvian equivalents. Tradition credits the people of the southern Mexican highlands—specifically the people of the overlapping regions of the Mixteca and Oaxaca—with the leading role in cochineal’s development; neighboring groups may also have made a major contribution.

Although Spaniards had gone to the mainland before, no one had succeeded in establishing a settlement there—and a settlement was precisely what Velázquez wanted, for in European eyes it would give him a permanent legal claim to the territory. But Velázquez had no wish to endanger his life in an enemy land. Instead he preferred to remain safely in Cuba while Cortés served as his agent, under a commission that made it clear that Cortés could not act on his own but remained subject to Velázquez’s authority.

Aztec dyers used cochineal in their textiles, usually with alum as a mordant to make the color stick. Like the other insect reds, cochineal combined best with the proteins found in animal A n A n c i e n t A rt 41 fibers, rather than with celluosic plant fibers. Feathers and rabbit fur came out of the dyebath glowing red. But Aztec dyers also obtained admirable, though paler, reds on cotton, too. Aztec scribes illustrated their colorful histories and genealogies with cochineal, among other pigments, and craftsmen throughout ancient Mexico used cochineal to decorate their work.

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