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Past Event

Virtual Saturday University: Dragon's Blood and the Blood of Dragons

Oct 3 2020

Asian Art Museum


10 AM – 11:30 AM

Saturday University Lecture Series: Color in Asian Art - Material and Meaning


Dip into dimensions of color and pigment in Asian art with eight in depth talks. From legend and ritual, to trade and cultural exchange, to technical innovation and changing artistic practices—the use of bold colors has been considered alternatively excessive, precious, or brilliant throughout history. What rare pigments and closely guarded techniques produced some artworks, and what artistic innovations and social changes produced others? Join us to enjoy a spectrum of talks on colors produced from the earth, sea, fire, plants, and insects.

Dragon’s Blood and the Blood of Dragons
Jennifer Stager, Johns Hopkins University

As an entry point into attitudes toward color, this talk considers the red pigment identified as cinnabar or dragon’s blood in the ancient Mediterranean. The Roman historian Pliny the Elder attributes this pigment (derived from Socotra tree resin) to the blood of actual dragons living on the Indian subcontinent. His critique of painters for their indulgence and excess in using it—and the persistent idea that colors contaminate—stands against an idealized whiteness constructed in opposition to the materials and geopolitics of other cultures. Prof. Stager examines the afterlives of Pliny’s fantastical slander.

About the Presenter

Jennifer Stager is Associate Professor of Art History, Johns Hopkins University. She specializes in the art and architecture of the ancient Mediterranean and its afterlives. Her areas of focus include theories of color and materiality, feminisms, multilinguality, and cultural exchange, and ancient Greek and Roman medicine.

Stager’s first book, Seeing Ancient Mediterranean Color (in progress), recovers period ideas of color as a phenomenon in ancient Mediterranean art. Stager analyzes the material colors found in dyes, pigments, stones, resins, and metals across the wider Mediterranean. An essay based on this work is “The Unbearable Whiteness of Whiteness”



Dragon's Blood and the Blood of Dragons

OCT 10

The Colors of Space and Time

OCT 17

Shades of Green and White

OCT 24

Pigments and Artistic Interventions

OCT 31

Indigo in Two 15th-century Chinese Paintings


Korean Culture in Five Colors

NOV 14

Colors of the Earth, Colors of the Sky

NOV 21

Turquoise, The Sky Blue Stone


Free with registration, a link to the zoom webinar will be sent to you. Two tickets available per registration.There are no series tickets, please register for each talk you wish to attend.
Dragon’s blood pigment in powdered and chunk form, sap from Sucotra tree, draceana cinnabari. Photo: Creative Commons.

Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.