The Ten Books on Architecture, 7.9

Vitruvius  translated by Morris Hicky Morgan

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Cinnabar (continued)

9I will now return to the preparation of vermilion. When the lumps of ore are dry, they are crushed in iron mortars, and repeatedly washed and heated until the impurities are gone, and the colours come. When the cinnabar has given up its quicksilver, and thus lost the natural virtues that it previously had, it becomes soft in quality and its powers are feeble.

2Hence, though it keeps its colour perfectly when applied in the polished stucco finish of closed apartments, yet in open apartments, such as peristyles or exedrae or other places of the sort, where the bright rays of the sun and moon can penetrate, it is spoiled by contact with them, loses the strength of its colour, and turns black. Among many others, the secretary Faberius, who wished to have his house on the Aventine finished in elegant style, applied vermilion to all the walls of the peristyle; but after thirty days they turned to an ugly and mottled colour. He therefore made a contract to have other colours applied instead of vermilion.

3But anybody who is more particular, and who wants a polished finish of vermilion that will keep its proper colour, should, after the wall has been polished and is dry, apply with a brush Pontic wax melted over a fire and mixed with a little oil; then after this he should bring the wax to a sweat by warming it and the wall at close quarters with charcoal enclosed in an iron vessel; and finally he should smooth it all off by rubbing it down with a wax candle and clean linen cloths, just as naked marble statues are treated.

4This process is termed γἁνωσις in Greek. The protecting coat of Pontic wax prevents the light of the moon and the rays of the sun from licking up and drawing the colour out of such polished finishing.

The manufactories which were once at the mines of the Ephesians have now been transferred to Rome, because this kind of ore was later discovered in Spain. The clods are brought from the mines there, and treated in Rome by public contractors. These manufactories are between the temples of Flora and Quirinus.

5Cinnabar is adulterated by mixing lime with it. Hence, one will have to proceed as follows, if one wishes to prove that it is unadulterated. Take an iron plate, put the cinnabar upon it, and lay it on the fire until the plate gets red hot. When the glowing heat makes the colour change and turn black, remove the plate from the fire, and if the cinnabar when cooled returns to its former colour, it will be proved to be unadulterated; but if it keeps the black colour, it will show that it has been adulterated.

6I have now said all that I could think of about cinnabar. Malachite green is brought from Macedonia, and is dug up in the neighbourhood of copper mines. The names Armenian blue and India ink show in what places these substances are found.

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