PanARMENIAN.Net - The paint extracted from the Armenian cochineal worm was considered the best. Named Porphyrophora hamelii, it’s an endemic of Solonchak desert located along the middle course of River Arax. The worms live underground, mostly on the roots of Aeluropus littoralis and Phragmites australis. During centuries, the purpuric paint – vordan karmir – was used in textile industry for dying tissues and rugs. It’s known that Porphyrophora hamelii was used in the coloring process of the famous Pazyryk Rug (Republic of Altay, 5 c. BC)
The paint was extremely resistant and its traces can still be found on the ruins of Armenian palaces. However, the efforts of modern scientists to restore the recipe of the most famous purpuric color have produced no result so far.
It’s noteworthy that Porphyrophora hamelii was also used in medicine, cosmetology and cooking. It was used as anti-fever, antiseptic and contraceptive means.
Vordan karmir had also been a part of Armenian miniature art. Ancient folios still surprise us with the brightness and saturation of colors. Porphyrophora hamelii is mentioned in numerous medieval Arab chronicles, which say that Armenia produces “kirmiz” paint, which is used for coloring of downy and wool clothes as well as for drawing book illustrations.
During the Renaissance, this paint was used by Leonadro da Vinci, Rembrandt and Michelangelo, whose ancestors got rich and famous after “discovering a wonderful red paint in the East.”
After Armenia lost statehood, production of vordan karmir slumped and almost ended in 16-17cc., when Mexican cochineal was introduced the market. Although this paint’s quality was worse than Armenian’s, the Mexican cochineal could produce 5 generations a year. Besides, it contains less fat, what makes the production easier.
By the 19th century, invention of artificial paints outshone the only Armenian know-how, the recipe of which was actually lost. However, time showed that synthetic paints are less stable than natural and are not safe for human health.
In 1830, academic from the Petersburg Academy of Sciences, Joseph Hamel, was sent to Armenia to study the cochineal. Later, the result of his a research was published in Russian and German languages, while the family name of the scientist came to be used in the worm name - Porphyrophora Hamelii.
At the beginning of the 20th century, archimandrite of Etchmiadzin Cathedral Isahak Ter-Grigorian (1780-1858), also known as Sahak Tsaghkarar, tried to recreate the lost recipe of vordan karmir paint. The substance he got was used in small amounts for miniatures and decoration of capital letters in manuscripts.
Sahak Tsaghkarar attached special attention to the means of killing of cochineal, as the quality of the pain depended much on this process. He used lime grout, cold and warm vinegar, sulfurous anhydride, wine and other methods. Finally, the mix of wine and potash solution was chosen as the best.
In 1930s, the Soviet government also made an attempt to restart cochineal production. However, these efforts were interrupted by the war. The project was one again launched in 1971, but it didn’t reach industrial volumes.
In 1987, state reserve “Vordan Karmir” was created in Armenia’s Armavir province but it failed to function properly. The population of worms decreases year by year. Currently, vordan karmir is included in the Red Data Book and faces extinction.