Object of the Month – June

The Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ provides an opportunity to explore interesting and unusual objects from our stores.


The leaves of the woad plant (Isatis tinctoria) are a traditional source of blue dye across Europe, famously used by Celtic people in Britain at the time of the Roman Empire to paint or tattoo themselves blue. This may not be true, however. The main written evidence for this is from an account by Julius Caesar using the words “vitro inficiunt”. “Vitro” means “glass”, and the phrase translates to “infected with glass” or possibly “stain/dye with glaze”. Modern attempts to paint skin with woad find it flakes off too easily, and the caustic, corrosive nature of the substance would cause severe burns if used in tattoos. The blue colour could have come from substances containing copper, or even iron if prepared correctly.

Discover more about woad and its use as a dye at Saffron Walden Museum throughout June.



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