Tayra Lanuza-Navarro

The Colours of the New World. American Pigments in Early Modern Books of Secrets 

This project aims to study the way the information on American nature (plants, animals and minerals) related to pigments and colouring substances was included in European practical works containing recipes, such as books of secrets and alchemical compilations, during the second half of the sixteenth century and along the seventeenth century, when most works describing the New World had already been published or were being printed and translated all over Europe and when printed books of secrets circulated in the old continent.


From the very beginning, the authors of the works describing that new nature were aware of the importance not only of the new species for medical knowledge, but also of the possible uses of the pigments, dyes and tints that were found among the resources. The interests of the Spanish Empire, which created a network to control and commercially exploit the nature of the New World, mediated a process which involved an emphasis on empirical knowledge. The authors of books of secrets were putting the emphasis of their works precisely on empirical knowledge; on the practical use of the recipes they transmitted.

This project will focus on all pigments and colouring substances of American nature found not in academic works but in a "popular" source: the contents of books of secrets and collections of alchemical and medical recipes, with the aim of understanding them as a sphere of contact between artists and alchemists, as well as physicians, empirics and others, who shared an interest in them, as a way to follow the circulation of knowledge on American nature, specifically of knowledge on pigments.