For the medieval manuscript illuminator the most important yellow came from saffron, the stamens of the crocus. About 8000 owers were hand-picked to collect 100 gm of red saffron threads! It produced a strong, pure, transparent yellow to imitate gold leaf.
Most recipes for saffron paint were extremely simple; soaking the saffron strands overnight in glaire (putri ed beaten egg whites) and allowed to infuse. It was also commonly mixed with blues to get a wider range of green tones. Cennino says that a blend of saffron and verdigris produces ‘the most perfect grass colour imag- inable’ However, because saffron fades, the medieval manuscripts we are now left with have blue grass, trees and clothes where green was intended.
Saffron has a rich history. Known as Persian yellow, it was used by the ancient Sumerians as a perfume and medicine, in Ancient Egypt for dyeing mummy band- ages and Roman emperors used it to perfume their baths. It has been used since antiquity as a dye for fabric, such as the robes of Chinese Emperors, in wine, food and cosmetics.
Saffron was reputed to be the color of love, Venus, the Roman Goddess of love wore a yellow robe. In the medieval Christian world it became the colour of prostitutes, who were forced to wear a yellow garment.
Saffron’s use as a pigment effectively ended with the advent of cheaper lightfast synthetics. Now it is best known only as a avouring and colourant of foods.