The story of the pursuit of the most powerful shade of red is captivating. A global symbol of power, wealth, mystery, and sexuality, red has seduced viewers and inspired artists for millennia. Painters and other artists engaged in a quest for the source of the perfect red that conveyed the luxury, spirit, and substance of living. In the 1520s, Spanish explorers found it in the grand Aztec markets—in a dye derived from the cochineal insect. The ensuing global spread of American cochineal changed art, culture, science, and trade for centuries. Organized by the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, The Red that Colored the World translates the cochineal story into three dimensions, following the precious bug juice and its use in art from Mexico and South America, to Europe, the U.S. and beyond.
Highlighting textiles, sculpture, paintings, manuscripts, decorative arts, clothing and more—the exhibition explores the history of cochineal and the seductive visual nature of red. The objects reflect the unique international uses of color, revealing its role in the creative process and the motivations of artists in their choice of materials.
Whether or not you go, the exhibition catalog, A Red Like No Other: How Cochineal Colored the World, follows the precious bug juice from Mexico to Europe and beyond as it insinuated itself into all forms of art, politics, and commerce to color the world in vivid red hues. The images show how the colorant touched cultures and artists worldwide, including pre-Columbian weavers, painters of Spain’s Golden Age, Middle Eastern rug makers, and Navajo weavers. El Greco, Tintoretto, Velázquez, van Dyck, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and van Gogh used it, as did Spanish fashion icon Mariano Fortuny.
Today contemporary artists and designers continue to embrace the colorant for its beauty and meaning. An international team of more than forty scholars and experts brings a wide spectrum of original research on the symbolic meaning of red, the material meaning of cochineal in art and trade, and the history of the artists driven to find the perfect red.
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