That Eldritch Hue: Green, poison, passion, and Privilege

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This week’s #ThreadTalk was inspired by work I’m doing on Queen of Fury, the sequel to Queen of None. It started out as Hwyfar’s story–she’s the daughter of King Leodegraunce, and sister to the Gweynevere–and it still is very much hers. But then Gawain showed up. And he’s very much changed.

That brought me down the route of Gawain and the Green Knight and the significance of green. That’s how we ended up here. There is so much on the subject, too. I wish I had more space, honestly, to do a whole book on it.

1 – Tonight’s #threadtalk is a horse of a different color: green to be exact.

We'll talk emerald🟩, verdigris & olive🫒, too. Plus the connection between wallpaper, poison☠️ & privilege.

First: some color history back to our (literal) roots. (below, Redincote, 1786 – 1789)

The origin of the redingote lies in long men’s coats with a cutaway front, the riding coat. It is a striking example of the influence men’s fashion exerted on women’s fashion. A redingote for ladies consisted of an overcoat or gown, and a loose skirt in a contrasting colour, which enhanced the coat-like effect. Olive green and pale pink were a popular combination at the end of the 18th century. - rijksmuseum - c. 1786 - c. 1789

2 – If you peruse art history books, you'll notice: finding vibrant green dresses before the 18th century is quite a challenge.

And there is a reason for that: green it a notoriously difficult color to capture affordably & reliably.

Unless you're, you know…

Queen Elizabeth I with a gold gown, high lace collar, and a forest green sash draped across her shoulder and tied around her waist. She is wearing a red wig with a crown, carrying embroidered gloves, and has a feathered fan in one hand. Public domain. Unattributed artist.

3 – And even so, truly vibrant greens are even harder to find. This is for a number of reasons.

First & foremost, green dyes were often a combination of woad with other common dyes. Or natural dyes oxidized very easily. That meant fading, staining, and changing colors.

4 – For average folk, this was fine. We see lots of green homespun examples–Lincoln green, made of dyer's greenweed, or Genista tinctoria, gave rise to the iconic color of Robin Hood's Merry men.

But the king is NOT in green. Because fading? Staining? I think not, good sir.

"The King joins the hands of Robin Hood and Maid Marian", from Henry Gilbert's novel Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood (source, source), originally published in 1912 (source). The book was illustrated by Walter Crane (source). -

5 – Before I start skewering the rich though, I did learn that you can make an absolutely stunning forest green dye with MUSHROOMS 🍄. And I love mushrooms.
So you can take a little pause before we get to the nastier stuff and enjoy this wholesome moment:

6 – Plants do make beautiful dyes. It's just that without mordants (the chemicals we created to hold dyes to cloth) they don't stay.

However, this incredible resource on Asian textiles is mind-blowing, & goes into detail on dozens of natural dye recipes.

http://www.asiantextilestudies.com/green.html
Dyeing cotton with dadap, turmeric and lime at Nita Kloang - From the Asian Textiles page cited above. A bowl with cotton dyed with plant leaves.

7 – Maybe that's why green stones, in particular, have always been so prized. This jadeite pendant features a seated lord, and would have been made by a Mayan artisan in the 7th or 8th century.

This green lingered, when all others faded. It must have seemed magical indeed.

A Maya jade worker carefully sculpted this jadeite pendant to feature a seated ruler in relief on its bright green and blue-grey surface. The greenest part of the stone, the most prized for its association with maize, water, and agricultural fertility, was used for the head and torso of the royal figure. Jadeite, known as yax tuun or “blue-green stone” in the hieroglyphic language, mined from sources along the Motagua River Valley in what is now Guatemala, was a prized luxury material across ancient Mesoamerica and was used for beads, pendants, plaques, and figures for regalia and votive purposes. For example, dozens of plaques and pendants of this type were found offered into the Cenote of Sacrifice at Chichen Itza. - Public domain, the Met Museum

8 – This simple earring dates from Greece in the 3rd century BCE, but it's an emerald. Our eyes are drawn to it. We can't look away. Yes, the gold is lovely. But that pop of brightness? That springtime preserved?

That's power. That's magic, baby.

Earring, gold, hung with a blue glass bead and an emerald.

9 – And here is a familiar face, for those of you who follow along: Shah Jahan, here contemplating an emerald. Wearing muslin. Draped in pearls and fine silks.

Shah Jahan was one of the Mughal lords, and a collector of precious jewels. But he, too, knew the lure of green.

10 – By the early 18th century, mordants, like alum, come out on the scene. These are terribly caustic & require skilled hands (of workers). And there is a LOT of trial and error. And it's $$$$.
You also see verdigris show up. Which is the oxidation green you get from copper.

And old school recipe for green silk, which includes a long list of strange instructions including "keep it there until you think it is yellow enough" and "let it be beaten and dried"

11 – Verdigris was also used earlier in some church vestments (which is a whole other topic I will cover at some point). There was a lot of back and forth about green and then purple and then red in priests robes.

But here's a chasuble with green velvet from 15th C Italy.

Part of a collection that was purchased from Duveen Brothers, pre-eminent art dealers of the early 20th century, this chasuble is the oldest example from that collection. Despite its age and poor condition, the imagery is still very readable and provides a good document of the artistic style of the early 15th century. - Met Museum

12 – Anyway. We were talking about other caustic elements ruining society, weren't we?

This dress is one of my favorites of all time & it's made of Spitalfields damask silk that dates from the 1740s (designed by Anna Maria Garthwaite ), but sewn in 1775. It has matching shoes.

This dress is considerably less gaudy than continental and English clothing of the period. Yet, it is not lacking in sumptuousness. Rather, the green Spitalfields damask, attributed to Anna Maria Garthwaite about 1743-45, is richly displayed. The Costume Institute acquired this dress in 1994, knowing that it would be in the Museum's exhibition "John Singleton Copley's America." It has since appeared in our show "The Ceaseless Century." One could argue that the relative simplicity engenders more delight in the dress's inherent voluptuousness. Generations later, it was said that Boston ladies waited a year before breaking out their new Paris finery from Worth; perhaps the American sensibility in luxury goods is slow and deliberate. The outfit includes matching shoes. Met Museum, Public Domain.

13 – Anna Maria Garthwaite was at the forefront of Spitalfields silk naturalist designs, but no one knows how she learned her craft. Because woman.
She worked in watercolors, and these were then rendered in silk by Huguenots who worked tirelessly to provide silks to the rich.

Matching green damask silk shoes to the dress previously shown. They have a flared heel and wraps around their toes.

Originally tweeted by Natania Barron (@NataniaBarron) on June 2, 2021.

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