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Kohl substances

Today as well as in the past, the raw material for the production of kohl was gathered, produced, pulverized (on palettes or less purposefully designed equipment), mixed, kept in containers, in some cases mixed with water, gum, oils or fats and applied to the eye with a small stick. To look for only one recipe for kohl would be futile. Every region has its own.

Kohl was not used for aesthetic purposes alone, it has throughout the ages, often been applied to the eyes for medicinal purposes. Especially as a treatment of eye ailments or for preventing eye diseases spread by small flies. It was also worn for very practical reasons such as the shading effect of the material, protecting the eyes from the glares of the sun. Kohl was also used for its apotropaic qualities (magical protection against – for instance – the Evil Eye or other malevolent influences).

In some cultures ores and stones are ground and used as eye paint. Green malachite, a green hydrous copper carbonate mineral for instance, was often used in ancient times. Through time, malachite was largely replaced by galena, a leadsulphide. This material is still used today. Other ingrediens are, for instance, stibnite (an antimony sulphide) that was used from Roman times onwards. Kohl made from smoke black or soot produced by burning almond shells or frankincense is a modern recipe. Also pot black, the velvet carbon coating on the bottom of a pot after burning, is often used in modern times.

In the photographs on this page you can see different stones used for kohl, the production of kohl, how the material is ground and sieved before storage, as well as the kohl inside of an Egyptian container.

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