In the 17th Century a beautiful new red was introduced: Madder Lake.
It is an extract made by boiling the roots of the Madder plant (rubia tintorium) which was culti- vated in Europe from at least the 13th Century.
It was used as a textile dye in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, being the most permanent of the natural ruby-red dyes. It is said to have been introduced to Italy by the Crusaders returning from the Holy Lands.
The main coloring agents in the roots are alizarin, purpurin and pseudopurpurin. By drying, ferment- ing or treating with acids, this is changed to sugar, alizarin and purpurin which is normally not coloured, but becomes red when dissolved in alkaline solutions.
The process in creating this exquisite red is long and complicated: First, the dye takes at least three years to properly develop within the root. When matured, the madder is then dug up, older roots selected, cut off and dried. These roots can be over a metre long and up to 12 mm thick. The plant is replanted to continue growing. Next, the dried roots are crushed and separated from the bark by sifting.