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Original scientific paper
The Semantic World of Tints and Dyes: Crvac in Fifteenth-Century Dubrovnik
Fulltext: pdf (681 KB),
Pages 27 - 76
This article discusses a variety of terms for the red dyes used on the eastern coast of the Adriatic in the fi fteenth century, their etymology and application based on archival documents, ethnological records, literary writings, dictionaries and many other sources. Special attention is paid to the substance in the Latin sources commonly referred to as chermisium (cremexinum and similar forms), and in the Cyrillic documents as crvac. According to the evidence, it was imported from Bosnia and Serbia and exported to Italy, its main use being for dying fabrics in the Dubrovnik workshops. As to the actual nature of this substance, the historians tended to follow in the footsteps of K. Jireček, who erroneously described it as a mineral product imported from the Balkan mines (antimony trioxide and trisulphide from the mineral Kermesite). The fi rst to come forward with a thesis that crvac is an organic substance was Sima M. Ćirković. Although he could not determine its exact nature, he found a contract from which it was evident that the substance was ‘collected’. Some Ragusan contracts contain details which testify to the organic origin of crvac, as the latter was to be ripe (staxionatus), dry (siccus), purifi ed (nitidus). Actually described is a scale insect known as Coccus ilicis, a pest of the Mediterranean oak (Quercus ilex). While laying eggs, the female insects remain inactive for a few months, and that is when they are collected. After being dried in the sun, a fi ne powder material is obtained. One hundred and forty thousand insects are needed for one kilogram of powder. Thus it is not surprising that in 1440 at the Dubrovnik market one libra of Coccus was traded for almost one ducat. In Ragusan documents crvac is mentioned from the 1440s onwards. In the latter half of the fi fteenth century it is rarely mentioned, which may be accounted by the recession in the hinterland due to the Ottoman invasion. More important was the fact that the production of cloth in Dubrovnik witnessed a decline, forcing the Ragusans to seek new, more lucrative economic activities.