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Things that are on my Christmas list that probably aren’t on yours


Caput mortuum. It’s a pigment. An earth pigment. An iron oxide, to be exact. It looks like a dull brown, but mixed with white it becomes a lovely velvety purple. Very popular for painting pope robes.

The term means “dead head” and it’s derived from alchemy. It refers to (presumably worthless) stuff left in the bottom of your alchemical vessel after the more important things had…evaporated off. Or whatever they do. My alchemy is rusty.

The original pigment may indeed have been a byproduct of alchemy. All the early artificial pigments were.

Because alchemy is full of flowery metaphors, caput mortuum is also symbolic of your mortal remains after the soul has floated away. Its alchemical symbol is therefore a stylized skull, often just three dots in a circle.

Just to confuse matters, the pigment mummy was sometimes sold under the name caput mortuum, though they aren’t similar colors at all. That is an even more interesting paint, but it turns out I already wrote a post about it years ago.

I’m thinking of making paint again, but not really caput mortuum. I love the name, but I’m not really into purples.

December 6, 2017 — 10:18 pm
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