January 9th, 2019


At the Art Institute of Chicago, visiting theĀ Ukiyo-e Masterpieces exhibit, I loved seeing this 1801 painting by Gion Seitoku of a geisha, at home, holding a shamesin. I needed to know where she got her bold green lip.

It comes from benibana, the safflower, whose deep red pigment, when produced carefully in the hands of an expert craftsman, crystallizes into an iridescent green. To afford the kind of beni that achieves this metallic glow, you’d need to be a member of the upper class. The green beni fell out of style after the Edo period, when cheap imports made this expensive makeup obsolete.

Just another layer of lipstick, culture and class to add to the growing palette.