Having found lists of obscure/obsolete color names and rounded out the alphabet with a few simply-charming-to-me colors, each day, I’ll introduce a color and a swatch I’ve painted and then write about whatever comes to mind as I muse about the day’s color. Fair warning, my mind is a non-linear traveler, so who knows where my contemplations will take us.
O is for…
Orpiment – rich lemon or canary yellow
A very ancient natural pigment, orpiment was first used in the Middle East and Asia around 3100 BCE. It’s an arsenic sulfide mineral and can be located near volcanos, low-temperature hydrothermal veins, and hot springs. It was still in use during the Renaissance. It was one of the few clear, bright yellows available to artists, but obviously, toxicity was an issue. By the 19th century Cadmium Yellow made orpiment, and its synthetic version, King’s Yellow, obsolete.
Contemplating this color, my mind naturally turned to lemons, and I pulled out some Lemon essential oil. It’s very uplifting and energizing and helps improve concentration. There’s much to love about lemons.
According to Greek mythology, citrus fruits were the dowry of Hera, the bride of Zeus, who kept them jealously hidden away in a beautiful garden. The garden was located at the western end of the Earth, where the sun dies every day and where the Hesperides, the nymphs of the evening and golden light of sunsets, lived. Each of the three nymphs guarded her own fruit: Aigle tended the citron, Arethusa the lemon, and Hesperethusa the orange. It was the Hesperides who were the nymphs guarding the “golden apples” that Hercules stole in one of his labors and gave to mankind.
The Ancient Romans had great regard for the lemon both due to its many properties and as an ornamental plant often grown in their gardens. The “House of the Orchard” in Pompei’s archeological site has frescoes clearly depicting the lemon among its many trees.
I also enjoy the Chinese tale, in which a lemon tree and a pomelo tree lived together in an orchard. One day the lemon tree bemoaned that her children were not as loved as the pomelo’s children, and how much she wished the creator had made her a pomelo instead. The pomelo comforted the lemon, telling her she had overhead the farmer saying how beautiful the lemon tree was and that he intended to graft a branch of the lemon onto the pomelo. The next year, the farmer did just that, creating a hybrid, sweeter lemon.
While DNA evidence actually suggests the lemon is the result of a hybrid between a bitter orange and citron, it’s a charming story, and it’s true the lemon we know is the result of a collaboration.
As such, it’s suggested the lemon represents friendship, togetherness, and happiness (bright yellow after all).
Musing about lemon also has me thinking about tartness. I know some people who describe tart as sour/bitter but somehow pleasant. I’m not sure that’s exactly what I’d say – for me, there’s an astringency, a piquant sharpness that’s clearing, and then immediately refreshing. That’s probably why I like working with lemon essential oil. I find it particularly helpful when I’m bogged down in the minutia of a project and have begun hearing the call of other things asking for attention too. I find lemon essential oil very uplifting and energizing, and helpful in improving concentration and focus. It helps bring me back into the moment, and my brain feels fresher and cleansed of its sludge.
So what do you think? Are you a lemon lover? Is rich, bright yellow a favorite of yours, or do you prefer a different yellow shade? How would you describe tart in sense of taste? Do tell – you know I’d love to hear.