A baked brie, stuffed with apricot jam, blackberries, and blueberries.
…today, Ferdinand Magellan, in command of 5 ships and 270 men, sailed from Spain and headed west. The plan was to reach the Pacific spice islands and thus thwart the Portuguese who controlled the eastern routes to southern Asia.
Since the end of this voyage, almost three years later, Magellan has been credited with the first complete circumnavigation of the globe. However, it needs to be remembered that he himself died along the way in a battle in the Philippines when a group of islanders objected to his attempts to convert them to Christianity.
Just one of his ships and barely 20 crewmen eventually made it back to Spain in April 1521. The captain of this ship, Juan Sebastian Elcano, is barely remembered.
For anyone who paints today, it is hard to believe there was ever a time when the beautiful, versatile, and stable Prussian Blue pigment did not exist. But the fact is it is just a few hundred years old.
It was discovered, by accident, in the first decade of the 1700s in Berlin by a colour-maker called Diesbach. Prior to that time, blue pigments had been sourced from “indigo, smalt, azurite and ultramarine, derived from lapis lazuli, which was expensive.” The new process was cheap and easily manufactured. Its first verifiable use in an artwork was in “The Entombment of Christ” by Pieter vander Werff in 1709.
I didn’t know any of this until I read a fascinating article called “Prussian Blue and Its Partner In Crime” by Philip McCouat in Journal of Art In Society. The article goes on to describe the pigment’s use in European art and, notably, in the creation of an entire genre of Japanese painting.
The second part of McCouat’s article (“…Partner in Crime”) takes the story into even more interesting ground once a Swedish chemist discovered that by mixing Prussian Blue with diluted sulphuric acid he could create the deadly poison hydrogen cyanide, a favourite of poisoners ever since. This section of the essay details the first murderer caught by telegraph, and the use of cyanide and its derivatives both by US gas chambers and by Nazi mass executioners.
Who knew that such a beautiful colour could have such a blotchy history? Mix up your favourite beverage, settle back, and enjoy this fascinating long read.