Watercolors from the Ayer Collection, Newberry Library
Pintura del beneficio dela grana cochinilla en Mexico, circa 1775
“The cochineal insect, Dactylopius coccus, may justly be called the most celebrated of all the scale insects. Cochineal is essentially parasitic upon the prickly pear… A native of Mexico, it was known and utilized by the Aztecs before America was discovered by Europeans… When the Spaniards conquered Mexico they recognized that the cochineal industry would be a source of wealth, and they at once tried to establish a monopoly, punishing with death anyone detected attempting to take the female insects out of the country.” Charles Aubrey Ealand.
I read a short selection about the cochineal industry from C.A. Ealand’s book, Insects and Man, for the 58th volume of the LibriVox Short Nonfiction Collection. You can access a print copy of Insects and Man here.
Aniline dyes put an end to the widespread use of cochineal in the textile industry. That is a shame, as cochineal dyes produced a full range of beautiful reds. A wonderfully illustrated monograph, Cochineal Red: The Art History of a Color, written by Elena Phipps and published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, explores the many uses of this insect based dye.
For more about insects: