For a fantasy story I am writing, I've been reading up on the gemstone Lapis lazuli and came across a story in ChemistryWorld— Blue teeth reveal medieval nun's artistic talent. Yippee! The archeological discovery of a particle of ultramarine pigment in the nun's dental tartar offered material proof that nuns worked as illuminators by at least the late Middle Ages. The finding is also covered in Harvard Magazine's Manuscripts Illuminated…by Women. It's of no use to me for my story, but, oh, what about in future?!?
Picturing a World
Heads, Myra excavation, 2020
Blog post alert: Yea! Real terracotta busts that retain their original paint, with the bonus of letting us catch a glimpse of a female hairstyle. These ladies two are among Dozens of terracotta cult figurines found in ancient Myra.
Via the History Blog
Visualizing ancient faces
Website alert: Historical fiction may attempt accuracy (never achievable), a wild but serious alternative representation (Hamilton), or broad-stroked just-for-fun romance that should fool nobody (Bridgerton). Now, suppose you aim for accuracy. What a delight to find that doing so can still startle you out of conventional thinking. Consider these two heads of Caesar Augustus. On the left, the usual blank aura of marmoreal power. On the right, whoops! a somewhat worried weird young man. Now there's a stimulous imagination! It's not just that we need to realize that ancient statues were painted, it's that color helps us conjure up living people—and so, off you go to "HISTORY IN 3D" creates a series of accurate reconstructions of the first 12 Roman Caesars.
After reading my post on Rachel powder, a friend told me about playing with her mother's and aunts' cosmetics when she was a little girl. She had a hazy memory of seeing something labeled Rachel. That sent me back to the internet, and voilà, more information about Elizabeth Arden products and the company's history here and here. What useful details for fiction set in the 20th C! My old editor at Berkley thought I should set Anonymity in a more glamorous industry than publishing. I sarcastically queried, such as interior decorating? Good idea! she said.
Biden color gradient
One more color post (and a little more political celebration). A recent Berkshire Eagle article, Adams native part of graphic design team behind Biden-Harris' 'victory gradient' fascinated me. Jessica Lucia helped develop the color combinations that in November delivered the message "We won!" To audiences accustomed to sophisticated computer images, plain old primary red, white, and blue just don't communicate the way they used to. In this case, I'd say in contrast to their opponent's bluster and intimidation, the subliminal message that comes across is elegance, restraint, and joyous confidence.
A day after hitting Rachel, what should I come across but "Isabella-coloured clothes." Back to the Oxford English Dictionary: "Greyish yellow; light buff," with a first citation to an inventory of Queen Elizabeth's wardrobe in 1600. The word is now used mostly of dogs and horses, but the sample shown here is one tile in a chart by Tadelakt, a company that sells waterproof plaster. For an article on canine genetics that includes pictures of Isabella-colored dogs, click here. For the Wikipedia article on Isabella/Isabelline, click here. How to use it in fiction? Maybe as in-joke, a pair of cats named Rachel and Isabella.
Website alert: Via a History Blog post, I got to this YouTube tutorial from English Heritage on how the Romans prepared and applied cosmetics. Imagine a tiny, curved mortar with a curved pestle that doubled as an applicator for eye-liner! Don't just imagine—watch. (With bonuses on Roman fabric dyes and wig-weaving.)
As I investigated the 1870s, I was struck again and again by how much in the modern world stems from the mid 19thC—artificial lighting, department stores, photography, railroads. And thematically, nothing could have suited my purposes better than the intersection of chemistry, color, and pharmaceuticals. Dyes and pharmaceuticals give Theodore an argument for persuading Edward to go to Europe; the chemistry involved quickens Edward's mind; and color gives him a connection to Jeanette's world. Read More