Ambivalent Blues: Woad and Indigo in Tension in Early Modern Europe
In early modern Europe, blue textile dye was principally obtained from two dye plants, woad and indigo. Of these two dye sources, woad was native in the temperate climes of Europe, while tropical indigo became widely available only after Europe established commercial oceanic trade routes with India and the Americas. Indigo soon became a highly valued import, undermining woad production by unsettling traditional patterns of wealth circulation. Well-established woad producers took powerful steps to protect their industry, but in spite of their efforts, it ultimately succumbed in the face of indigo imports. In this paper, I examine the ways in which the long lasting conflict between the dyestuffs woad and indigo in early modern Europe evokes the tensions between imported and home-grown commodities.