4. What kind of paint was used?
Paints were made by master specialists from pigments derived from plants, animals, and minerals. Because they are natural, the colors in the original Lienzo de Quauhquechollan have run and faded over the centuries.
Important sources for colors in Mesoamerica were:
- Cochineal. These insects, which live on cactus plants, are native to America. Red is made from the dried bodies of the females.
- Purpura patula. The milky secretions of this sea mollusk yield a highly prized purple dye.
- Indigo. A blue pigment is made from the leaves of this plant. It was recently identified as one of the components in the famed “Maya blue.”
- Logwood. The blood-red heartwood from this tree is used for red, reddish purple, and a beautiful black.
- Palo de mora. Yellow is obtained from the wood of this tropical tree.
Cochineal insects, used for red, make their home on cacti from the genera Opuntia and Nopalea.
Male (R) and female (L) cochineal insects. Only the females are used to produce shades of red.
Indigo leaves were used in Mesoamerica during the pre-Columbian period to make blue pigment.
Logwood, palo de Campeche, was used for ink and to dye thread and cloth.
Clockwise from left: indigo, cochineal, logwood, purpura patula shells and dyed threads.