Friday, April 22, 2011

Coffin dyeing: black, white and ... yellow

In a very nice booklet called 'De volmaakte schrijnwerker' (the obsession with perfection is clear in the titles of craft books), published around 1860, some recipes are given especially for coffins. The reason for this is simple: coffins needed to be ready in several hours in the desired colour shade, and the usual recipes often called for days or even weeks of drying.
Black dye is made out of thin glue with Frankfurt black powder, and varnished with a mixture of 16 lood Venetian turpentine and 1 lood sandarac (thinned with hot turpentine-oil to the thickness of common oilpaint).
A more expensive version of the varnish was made with amber, which had to be boiled, mixed in small amounts with turpentine oil, and cleared through a clean cloth, and cooled afterwards before use.
In the text following more recipes are given for a luxurious white ('waardoor de kist zal blinken als glas') to glitter in the sunlight, brown (umbra or Keulsch aarde), and red (roode oker of Engelsch rood),
all more dark and sober shades of red.
But it surprised me to find a specific paragraph on yellow, to be made out of fine yellow ochre. Yellow is a rather unusual colour in the Dutch folkloristic spectre.
It just feels not Dutch, and out of its place. That must surely be my own prejudice.
Next time I visit an old cemetary, however, my thoughts will at least be more colourful than before...

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