This Man Protects the World’s Rarest Colors

This Man Protects the World’s Rarest Colors


(cheery music) – It can be beetles
that come off a cactus, it can be the dried urine of a cow, little insects that grow on an oak tree, a chunk of lead that’s soaked in vinegar. It’s truly amazing. (cheerful music) We’re in Harvard University, outside the Forbes pigment collection. Pigment is a very small
particle of colored material that is mixed in with a binding medium. The pigment gives paint its color. (Bright music) The Forbes pigment collection has been brought together over several decades. We have around 2,500 pigments. We have a lot of very
unusual and very rare colors. So this is, I think, one of the
more unusually named pigments. It’s called dragon’s blood. It doesn’t come from dragons,
it comes from rattan palms. And it give a very bright red pigment. The unusual aspect of mummy has to do with its source rather
than the color itself, and that comes from Egyptian mummies. And it’s the resin that’s applied to the outside of the bandages. I think the rarest color that we have is actually an entire
ball of Indian yellow. And this is a pigment that is made from the dried urine of cows that are fed only on mango leaves. If you’re looking at a work of art, and you want to understand
what is original and what’s a restoration, you will take a tiny sample of pigment and analyze it. A lot of the pigments are actually toxic, so you don’t want to handle the pigments and then go out to lunch. There’s a green called emerald green that has an arsenic center to it. We can use them for telling
if something is real or not. People will say this
is by a certain artist, and we can look at the
materials that are used and decide if those
materials were available during that artist’s lifetime. If not, then we have to look at who might have painted that picture. I can’t pick a personal favorite. There’s, it’s like asking
to pick a favorite child. No, the other 2,400 would feel left out. (laughing) (relaxing music)

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