The number of anecdotes and depictions of makeup in Roman literature, art, and sculpture also gives us a brilliant insight into the daily lives and social roles of women in Roman society. However, just as in ancient Greece, male attitudes toward makeup appear to have been overwhelmingly negative, and it was largely viewed as something to criticize or satirize. It’s understandable, then, that Roman women who used rouge to color their cheeks and, to a lesser extent, their lips, did so in a moderate way. Toxic cinnabar and red lead were applied, as well as other less poisonous ingredients, including rubric (red ochre), orchilla weed, red chalk, and alkanet. It follows that cosmetics were usually applied in private, in a small room that would have been strictly the domain of women. Rich women could also employ the services of female slaves known as cosmetae (ancient-day makeup artists) to help perform their beauty routines.
Late sixteenth-century portraiture suggests that fashionable and noble women wore their blush in the shape of an inverted triangle applied to the apple of the cheeks, extending down. In paintings, it appears smooth and well blended, but in reality it would probably have looked much harsher and more garish.
A portrait of Madame de Pompadour by Boucher. Pompadour at her toilette using a petite brush to apply the Pompadour Pink color of blush, which she popularized. She is wearing a cape to shield her dress from cosmetic powder. A rare example of the art of painting on cosmetics being replicated through the art of painting itself.
It’s interesting to note that for the longest periods in history, light and moderate use of rouge was the standard, while during other, shorter periods, excessive and exaggerated application was very much the fashion. The opposite of the delicate, restrained use of rouge is the âœmore is moreâ approach of the sixteenth century in Europe. Venice was the capital of fashion and the playground of the rich. With a constant stream of parties and balls taking place, heavy makeup was de rigueur in Venetian circles and probably quite necessary to mask any ill effects of the night before. The Italian influence spread to France when Florence-born noblewoman Catherine de’ Medici (queen consort of Henry II of France from 1547 to 1559) encouraged the use of makeup and perfume in the court. In England, the heavy use of rouge at this time among the aristocracy can be partly attributed to the fact that the use of cosmetics was royally sanctioned by Elizabeth I, who was often portrayed with a visibly whitened and rouged face, as can be seen in the many surviving portraits of her.
Cochineal-, madder-, and ochre-based mixtures were all used for lips and cheeks, as well as the toxic vermilion (like that used in ancient Greece). Makeup was carried in âœsweet coffersâ that contained all the cosmetics an Elizabethan woman would require: ceruse (the obligatory porcelain-pale powder), rouge, and decorative patches. As a contrast to their highly prized pallor, Elizabethan women of the court and nobility added a flourish with rouge all over the cheeks and lips, giving the impression that they were painted. As one unnamed Elizabethan satirist commented: âœAn artist needs no box of paints to work, but merely a fashionable lady standing nearby to use for pigments.â The problem, as the poet John Donne would later astutely observe, was all in the perception: âœWhat thou lovest in her face is colour, and painting gives that, but thou hatest it, not because it is, but because thou knowest it.â15 The color that rouge gave lips and cheeks conformed to the beauty ideals of the time and could be flattering but men did not want to be made aware of its artificiality. Early Christian writers had created a powerful association between makeup and deception that was hard to shake, with Saint Cyprian declaring that the act of painting the face and âœstainingâ the cheeks was âœto drive out all truth, both of face and head, by the assault of their own corruption.â16 The pervasion of the idea of makeup creating a âœfalse faceâ during the Renaissance period can be seen in Shakespeare’s writing too, notably in Hamlet when Hamlet cuttingly says to Ophelia, âœI have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another.â The Danish critic Georg Brandes went so far as to comment that, âœif there is anything which Shakespeare hated with a hatred somewhat disproportionate to the triviality of the matter . . . it is the use of rouge.â17
Blush through the ages. Purely biological? Flushed cheeks indicate sexual arousal, youth, health, and fertility.
“Red is the color of life, of blood. I love red. â