For centuries the greatest source of red lake was a kind of wood called brazil. Many people wonder how a wood can have been called brazil hundreds of years before Brazil was discovered.
In fact the country is named after the wood. The word comes from the same root as the word ‘brazier’ and refers to the glowing red colour of the dye and not to the geographical source of the dyewood.
In the Middkle Ages, Sri Lanka was a great centre of supply for brazil wood. Sold in blocks, it was turned to powder by scraping with a piece of glass.
Hundreds of vaiations on extracting the dye with the use of alums, metal muriates and alkali componds were produced, creating different colours from deep purple to bright rose pink.
It cannot be underestimated how important brazil lakes were in the Middle Ages as the main source of reds. Important as the insect dyes were, brazil was vastly more common, because it was cheaper and easier to use. It was the source of the vast majority of rose colours in manuscript and panel painting aswell as a large proportion of the dark transparen reds.
Like kermes and grain it was largely repl;aced after the discovery of the New World by the more brilliant and powerful cochineal and ultimately by the more permanet madder.