Seed-Lac

In the Middle Ages a red lake was made not just from the kermes insect but also from a resin called lac, lak or lack.

It is produced by the scale insect Laccifer lacca which secretes a resin to protect itself between hatching and maturing into an adult and encrusts the branches of trees indigenous to India and South-East Asia.

Thousands of lac insects colonize the branches of the host trees. After the lac beetle has hatched, the coated branches are cut and harvested as sticklac. Crushed, sieved and then repeatedly washed, to become seedlac (‘seed’ refers to its pellet shape).

A red dye is produced from the resin which, in the classic Medieval technique, could be converted into a lake pigment.

Lac was imported to Europe in large quantities from the early thirteenth century, and as a result it became a blanket term for all red dye-based pigments.

Known also as Indian Lake, it was a cheap but widely used pigment, that, through careful alteration of the pH level, could be made into a range of reds from orange through to violet hues.

Still in use as a colourant for food and cosmetics, its poor lightfastness has seen its use by artists disappear.

The lacquer shellac is a processed form of lac resin.