Rose Madder – a Blushing Pink Pigment, as Dusty as They Come​

From antiquity Rose Madder has adorned the interiors of tombs and was procured to dye cloth and leather in Asia and Egypt. Ancient Egyptian mummies (1500 BC) were found wrapped in Rose Madder cloth, a color deemed powerful and associated with the blood of Isis, the goddess and protector of Nature herself.

A Rose by Any Other Name …

Dried Rose Madder Root, Photo Courtesy of Winsor Newton
Rubia Tinctorum plant, Rye Castle Museum, Medieval Garden
Ancient Egyptian Archer’s Quiver, 2124-1981, from a study published in Proceedings of National Academy of Science resulting in what is now the oldest madder remnant.
The pigment was found in the ruins of Pompeii, ancient Corinth, and Judea, and cultivated in Spain by the Moors (700 to 1200 AD).

Plant Madder / Rubia Tinctorium

  • Dried Rose Madder Root, Photo Courtesy of Winsor Newton
  • Rubia Tinctorum plant, Rye Castle Museum, Medieval Garden – Rose Madder, Rubia Tinctorium is a plant native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean. It is best grown in calcium rich soil when producing pigments, and is harvested at 2-5 years old to yield the best color. The fresh root is dried, turns from yellow to reddish brown, and is then crushed, hulled, and boiled, thus the beginnings: A rich and thriving Rose Madder arrives on the scene!
  • Ancient Egyptian Archer’s Quiver” a study published in Proceedings of National Academy of Science, Aug. 2009, resulting in what is now the oldest relic containing Madder (tanned leather) dating to 2124 to 1981, about 700 years older than previous remnants – From Discover, Science of the Curious

Dying Madder

  • Pink Rose Madder Root, from
  • Pink Merino Sheep via Pinterest
  • Madder Yarn, bendingbirchesblogspot.comRose Madder has been a natural dyestuff used to make dyes since way-back-when. With the help of a “mordant,” (the substance used to set Rose Madder dyes and attach them to the fibers), the root produces a multitude of shades of pink, purple and red depending on the plant itself, and the particulars of how the pigment is prepared and applied.

    Irish sheep farmers still feed their sheep Rose Madder plant to tint the wool. (It’s so much easier than dying it!) And Rose Madder naturally turns the teeth and bones of animals who eat the plant a reddish color, which became a gift to 19th century scientists for studying bone growth and development.

Decorative Painting

  • Detail of Masaccio’s “The Tribute Money,”
  • Brancacci Chapel, Florence Italy, 1420s
  • Ancient Egyptian Tomb Painting, Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt, an Egyptian God with the Jacklehead, detail from a mural painting
    Casa Della Venere, 79 AD near Pompeii, Fresco Detail, Rm. 6
    Rose Madder diluted with gypsum was invented by the ancient Egyptians, and was found as decorative painting with the color intact away from the light and the elements. Madder was a pigment used in the elaborate frescoes of Pompeii (79AD), a color fully put to use during these beginnings of “interior painting” and space decoration. Thankfully these works were infinitely preserved for almost 20 centuries under the perfect mixture of Mt Vesuvius Ash!

Illuminated Manuscripts

Rose Madder was a pigment well-preserved in Medieval illuminated manuscripts, where there is no light on the inside of a closed book! This heirloom plant and pigment was referred to in the writings of Pliny the Elder, (23-79AD) and was used as one of many pigments to produce visual representations in these naturalist manuscripts.

Rose Madder Lake Genuine

The production of “Lake” pigment from Rose Madder was invented by the ancient Egyptians too! The dye was made into a pigment by “laking” it – precipitating and binding Rose Madder to a white powder, gypsum or metal salts, acting as an inert binder thus becoming a “mordant red.” As one of many lake pigments (such as Indigo Lake and Carmine Lake), Rose Madder was combined with colorless crushed bone or chalk to make Rose Madder Lake Genuine. The texture of this paint was naturally chalky, and the finish was dull, and with it’s “fugitive” and transient nature, it faded quickly in the light. When this delicate pigment lives in the shadows over time, magic happens, preserving the original rich, blush tones of Rose Madder Lake Genuine.

As an important pigment in art history, Rose Madder Lake Genuine was used during the Baroque and the Renaissance, and by this time, it had developed into a fairly permanent pigment when used properly, and not exposed to excessive light.

“Girl with a Glass of Wine”‘ 1659-1660 – The brilliant ruby red tone of the girl’s red dress was unique among bright reds at the time of the Dutch master, Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). He used Rose Madder to glaze over Vermilion by modeling an object in various tones of vermilion first using white to lighten and black to darken and then when when it was dry, a Madder Lake glaze was applied delicately with a soft haired brush in a thin, transparent top layer deepening the orange tone of vermilion to create this rich, glowing red!

French – “Laque de Garance”

Italian – “Lacca di Robbia”

In the Pink

We purchased this media console from BDI, fitting perfectly in this alcove with the wall mounted TV. This home theater, along with lighting and soon to be window treatments, is a “smart” home, and take verbal commands for convenience sake. The navy blues and metallic golds make a rich and strong statement, a saturated combination for this room with a spectacular view!

Lipstick Pink

When the weather turns warm and we show more skin, play outside and become more extroverted, Lipstick Pink is the best for the beach, and is vibrant, bold, daring, and glamourous!

Red Madder

Red madder is a color closely related to the goddess of love. .. beauty, perfection and c’est romantique!

In Stephen King’s book there is a flip side to “Rose Madder” with modern day drama, trauma, and old gaping emotional wounds.

Crimson Madder

In 1804 George Field (1777-1854) was one of the most instrumental people in developing Madder Lake colors that didn’t fade over time. An outstanding color man and chemist, he accomplished turning madder extract, which was soluble in water, into a solid pigment that was insoluble. This resulted in what was known as a Rose Madder Lake and it had longer-lasting color and could be used for manufacturing artists paint. In 1824 French chemists found that the Madder Plant contained 2 colorants; Alizarin and Purpurin (the Purpurin at a very tiny percentage), and began producing “Laque de Garance” – a concentrated version of natural Rose Madder. In 1869 Rose Madder became the first natural pigment to be duplicated synthetically.

Purple Rose

The purple rose has a legendary sensitivity, is complex, and has a deep magnetism to enchant you into love at first sight. It’s magic strikes quick and deep, and then just fast, Purple Rose fleets with the moment, and transcends to another place!

Hot Madder

There are passionate Rose Madder tones, the ones that love in extremes. These hues dazzle a party with a burst of fireworks, and are daring and quirky.

Splashy Madders

I recommend when designing or decorating with Rose Madder that you use it in a pure and saturated state, and splash it about like a kid in rubber boots in a Rose Madder mud puddle. Perhaps a pillow here and a blanket there, a bunch of splashy red roses on a table in the entryway, or red glass knobs on the kitchen cabinets.

“A kiss is a rosy dot over the “I” of loving.” Cyrano de Bergerac

Gradations of Rose Madder

The colors of Madder Root pigments vary from saffron to peach and apricot to coral, depending on the mordant used.

It is interesting that Rose Madder is deemed Kosher Certified by the Rabbis, conforming to the requirements of Jewish Law as ‘fit for consumption’; used in soaps, cosmetics, and fabric dyes.

Beauty Madders

Jan Vermeer’s Rose Madder was applied in oils ‘wet on wet’, and again as transparent glaze over flesh tones of Ochres – to give it that certain .. ahem! – ‘rush of blood’, so- to-speak.

Rose Quartz as a stone – had the prized powers of beautification and was used for facial masks and as nail polish in ancient pedicures! ha!:), found in Roman tombs.
This stone is said to have metaphysical properties and is legendary for its uses in healing. It inspires love of the beauty in nature, the self, and above all, peace. It is a stone that speaks directly to the heart, and circulates a divine energy where giving and receiving of love is unconditional.

The Rubicon Idiom

The Rubicon River lies south of Ravenna in SE Italy and is named for its waters the color of Rose Madder made by mud deposits. In 49 BC, Julius Caesar crossed it with a legion of his soldiers in an act of treason on his way to push out the Roman Senate who wished to prosecute him for acts he had committed while assigned as Governor. He crossed the Rubicon River in revolt declaring “alea iacta est” – “the dye is cast”, regarding the inevitable conflict that would ensue.

The idiom “crossing the Rubicon” went down in history and is a phrase still used in reference to someone passing the point of no return, causing deep and irrevocable wounds.

” He who dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.” – Anne Bronte

(Note: There are two Rubicon Rivers, the second is located in the Sierra Nevadas in northern California having Rose toned rocks, the reason for the name.)

Additional Resources:
Below are basic resources to use when designing with Rose Madder / Alizarin Crimson across purposes today:

*Natural Red 9 (NR9)
*Hexadecimal color code #e32636 (Pink-Red)
*RGB color values 227% red, 38% green, and 54% blue.
*CMYK color values 5% Cyan, 98% Magenta, 85% Yellow, 0% Black
*HSL color space 354.92 degrees, 77.14% saturation and 51.96% lightness.
Approximate color wavelength – 397 nm.

For Architectural Color:

Delux Heritage Trade Paint: “Rose Madder”, A 8 color chip, for exterior metal and woodwork, and interior walls and ceiling in a variety of finishes

For Interior Wall Color:

BM 147, “Grande Entrance” – water based interior satin finish paint
BM – CW-225, “Wyeth Rose” – from the Williamsburg Collection
For Fabric Elements of Interior Design:

WV39015 Rose Madder – fabrics, wallpaper, and windows
For Artists Paints:

Winsor Newton

Professional Watercolor – Rose Madder Genuine, Code 587, Series 4
Artists Oil Color – Rose Madder Genuine, Code 587, Series 5
Rose Dore, Code 576, Series 5

Daniel Smith

Extra Fine Watercolor – Rose Madder Genuine (NR9)
Modern Color Names:

Rose Madder Hue
Alizarin Crimson
Quinacridone Violet and Rose (PV19), and Magenta (PR122)
Benzamida Carmine (PR176)

1. Rose Madder

A. Rococo Gardens , Painswick, 1730-1760

B. Gessoed and Painted Wood Mummy Board, 950-900 BC, Owner: Priestess Amen Ra,

C. Villa Boscoreale, 1 km North of Pompeii, 40-30 BC, Achilles and Thetis, Metropolitan Museum of Art

2. Plant Madder

A. Dried Rose Madder Root, Photo Courtesy of Winsor Newton

B. Rubia Tinctorum plant, Rye Castle Museum, Medieval Garden

C. Ancient Egyptian Archer’s Quiver, 2124-1981, from a study published in Proceedings of National Academy of Science resulting in what is now the oldest madder remnant

3. Dying Madders

A. Pink Rose Madder Root, from

B. Pink Merino Sheep via Pinterest

C. Madder Yarn,

4. Decorating Madders

A. Ancient Egyptian Tomb Painting, Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt, an Egyptian God with the Jacklehead, detail from a mural painting

B. Casa Della Venere, 79 AD near Pompeii, Fresco Detail, Rm. 6

C. Detail of Masaccio’s “The Tribute Money,” Brancacci Chapel, Florence Italy, 1420s

5. Illuminated Manuscripts

A. French Hebrew Manuscript, Babylonian Talmud, (57 BC), British Library, a full page miniature of giant bird, Bar Yokhnai, one of the eschatological animals.

B. Persian Islamic Miniature, (1483-1530), Baburnamah Zahir ud-Din Muhammad Babur

C. 10th C Irish Manuscript, MacDurnan Gospels, 1370

6. Rose Madder Lake Genuine

A. Color Chart of Red Pigments

B. Johannes Vermeer, “Girl with a Glass of Wine”, 1659-1660

C. “Laking” Rose Madder courtesy of

7. In the Pink

A. Moroccan Arches,

B. JMW Turner, Moonrise, La Giudecca, Venice Italy, 1840

C. Pink Rose courtesy of

8. Lipstick Pink

A. Aloe Mitriformis

B. Sweet Cafe by Cassia Beck


9. Red Madder

A. Red Madder Fibers

B. In the Highlanders Bed, by Cathy Maxwell, Avon Romance book cover

C. Red Madder Watercolor Wash

D. ROSE MADDER by Stephen King

10. Crimson Madder

A. Crimson Thread

B. Madder Art Gallery –

C. Antique Textile –

11. Purple Rose

A. Purple Rose,

B. Rose Madder Wall, Morocco –

C. Madder Barrell, Courtesy of Winsor Newton.

12. Hot Madder

A. Ella Shaw Photography

B. Pink Pussy Willows, Salix Chaenomeloids, Photo by Michael Dodge at

C. Pompeii Fresco, House of Dioscuri, 79AD – One of the twin sons of Zeus, Castor or Pollux on either side of the vestibule

13. A Splash of Madder

A. Sedum Spathulifolium Purpureum, a succulent that is seen in the shady banks and rocky cliffs in the California coast ranges.

B. Historiated V, 15th Century, Pliny the Elder


14. Gradations in Madder

A. Madder Wool,

B. Marrakesh Rose Madder,

15. Beauty Madders

A. Marilyn Monroe by Phillipe Halsman, 1951


C. Vegan Mineral Lipstick Lady Like

D. Rose Quartz Stone

16. The Rubicon Idiom

A. The Rubicon River – Italy

B. Rubia Tinctorum Botanical Drawing, Wikipedia