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Without This Stone, Rembrandt’s Paintings Would Have Never Seen the Light of the Day

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

For many centuries, ladies had been using this stone to improve their looks. The price they paid was, however, extraordinarily high - it was their own lives!

Cerussite was the first material the ancient Egyptians made use of for cosmetics production. The mineral comprising, among others, of zinc was a perfect fit for skin whitening agent. For inhabitants of ancient Egypt, an analogue of modern face powder meant a lot more than a mere make-up product - it protected them against insects, wind, sunlight. The Greeks, in turn, fell in love with cerussite because, if applied, it made their skin look as if it were porcelain. It was particularly important, since the Gods, according to ancient Greek mythology, had porcelain skin. In ancient Rome, if a woman had too much white paint on her face, it was a clear sign she was a prostitute. Only women of loose morals were allowed to put that much make-up back then.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

Ceruse, also known as white lead, remained popular till the end of the 19th century. The beauty product seemed to be effective - at least visually -, as after applying it, the skin tone was more even and velvety. But soon it became evident that face powder was harmful to the skin. And to conceal new skin imperfections, women had to apply more and more make-up, thus getting stuck in a loop.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

The white pigment was highly valued not only by girls taking care of their appearance but by famous artists as well. It took over four centuries for scientists to find out the secret of Rembrandt's works. As is known, the Dutch painter used a unique technique enabling his masterpieces to look like as if they were three-dimensional images. For a long time, no one knew what pigments he had used to create his paintings. Then it turned out the Dutch master had been mixing lead carbonate with other ingredients. He heated them to get thick oil paint of the consistency he desired.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

In the 21st century, white lead ore retains collector's value only. The most specific feature of the stone is the shape of its specimens. In nature, there are plate-like, fibrous, pyramidal, prismatic, needle-like, and star-like samples. The mineral is of virtually no value to jewellers, despite its beautiful crystal shapes, since it is very fragile.

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Фото © Robert M. Lavinsky

Whether a stone is a fake or not, one can determine by the sound a sample makes when smashed - it should resemble the snap of broken glass. On the other hand, it is nearly impossible to identify a good-quality imitation at a glance. Fakers have learnt how to press needle-shaped clusters of cerussite together to make them look like imitation pearls. The crystallites appear iridescent in the sunlight, in the same way as pearls do.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей