Crimson is a strong, deep red colour, inclining to purple. It originally meant the colour of the Kermes dye produced from a scale insect, Kermes vermilio, but the name is now sometimes also used as a generic term for slightly reddish-blue colours that are between red and rose.
Crimson (NR4) is produced using the dried bodies of the kermes insect, which were gathered commercially in Mediterranean countries, where they live on the Kermes oak, and sold throughout Europe. Kermes dyes have been found in burial wrappings in Anglo-Scandinavian York. They fell out of use with the introduction of cochineal, because although the dyes were comparable in quality and colour intensity it needed ten to twelve times as much kermes to produce the same effect as cochineal.
Carmine is the name given to the dye made from the dried bodies of the female cochineal, although the name crimson is sometimes applied to these dyes too. Cochineal appears to have been brought to Europe during the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniard Hernán Cortés, and the name ‘carmine’ is derived from the French carmin. It was first described by Mathioli in 1549. The pigment is also called cochineal after the insect from which it is made.
Alizarin (PR83) is a pigment that was first synthesized in 1868 by the German chemists Carl Gräbe and Carl Liebermann and replaced the natural pigment madder lake. Alizarin crimson is a dye bonded onto alum which is then used as a pigment and mixed with ochre, sienna and umber. It is not totally colourfast.
The word crimson has been recorded in English since 1400 and its earlier forms include cremesin, crymysyn and cramoysin (cf. cramoisy, a crimson cloth). These were adapted via Old Spanish from the Medieval Latin cremesinus (also kermesinus or carmesinus), the dye produced from Kermes scale insects, and can be traced back to Arabic qermez (“red”), also borrowed in Turkish kırmızı and many other languages, e.g. German Karmesin, Italian Cremisi, French cramoisi, Portuguese “carmesim”, etc. (via Latin). The ultimate source may be Sanskrit meaning “worm-made”
A shortened form of carmesinus also gave the Latin carminus, from which comes carmine.
Other cognates include the Old Church Slavic čruminu and the Russian čermnyj “red”. Cf. also vermilion.
Carmine dyes, which give crimson and related red and purple colors, are based on an aluminium and calcium salt of carminic acid. Carmine lake is an aluminium or aluminium-tin lake of cochineal extract, and Crimson lake is prepared by striking down an infusion of cochineal with a 5 percent solution of alum and cream of tartar. Purple lake is prepared like carmine lake with the addition of lime to produce the deep purple tone. Carmine dyes tend to fade quickly.
Carmine dyes were once widely prized in both the Americas and in Europe. They were used in paints by Michelangelo and for the crimson fabrics of the Hussars, the Turks, the British Redcoats, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Nowadays carmine dyes are used for coloring foodstuffs, medicines and cosmetics. As a food additive in the European Union, carmine dyes are designated E120, and are also called cochineal and Natural Red 4. Carmine dyes are also used in some oil paints and watercolours used by artists.
- The crimson tide which sometimes occurs on beaches is caused by a type of algae known as Karenia brevis.
- The coxscomb of a rooster is a deep crimson colour
- The Crimson Sunbird is the national bird of Singapore
- The King’s Royal Hussars still wear crimson trousers as successors to the 11th Hussars (the “Cherrypickers”).
- In Polish, karmazyn (crimson) is a synonym for a Magnate, i.e., a member of the rich, high nobility.
- In texts of the Bahá’í Faith, crimson stands for tests and sacrifice, among other things.
- Rhubarb is sometimes poetically referred to as crimson stalks.
- In the United States Army, crimson is the colour of the Ordnance Corps.
- Multiple Greek letter organizations use crimson as one of their official colours: Delta Sigma Theta (ΔΣΘ), Kappa Alpha Psi (KAΨ), and Kappa Alpha Order (KA).
- Crimson is the school colour of several universities, including: Harvard University, Indiana University, Korea University, New Mexico State University, Saint Joseph’s University, Tuskegee University, University of Alabama, University of Belgrano, University of Mississippi, University of Nebraska at Omaha, University of Oklahoma, University of Utah, Washington State University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
- The daily newspaper at Harvard is The Harvard Crimson
- The daily newspaper at Alabama is called The Crimson White
- Harvard’s athletic teams are the Crimson, and those of the University of Alabama are the Crimson Tide
Crimson is the national colour of Nepal and forms the background of the country’s flag