Tyrian Purple


For millennia Tyrian Purple dye was one of the most prized products of the Mediterranean coastline. Symbolic of both the heavens and the very best of the material world, the people loved purple with an absolute passion.

Exuding wealth, sexuality, power, lust and fervor, purple made a statement like no other color. Purple is the color of royalty, as well as the highest vestments in priesthood and the mad desire for purple power + lux looks led the color to be one of the most legislated in history, to the extent that during some emperor's reigns (as such the case with Nero + a few ruthless 5th century Christian emperors), if you were caught in a purple dyed garment , you would surely face execution. The desire for purple was truly a deadly fashion phenomenon. (Source 1)

Tyrian Purple as a paint pigment was used as early as the 17th century BCE in the Aegean. One of the earliest examples we have that utilizes Tyrian Purple as a paint is in the fresco Saffron Gatherers (pictured below), from the Aegean Island of Santorini, ancient Thera, during the Late Bronze Age. It wasn't until half a millennia later that the Phoenicians created a splendid recipe using purple pigment as a dye for wool, cotton and silk that Tyrian purple, steeped in mythology, legend, history and mucous, became the worlds most luxurious color.


"Purple the sails, and so perfumèd, that
The winds were lovesick with them"

William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra (II.2.192-206)

Muricidae, a large and varied taxonomic family of small to large predatory sea snails commonly known as murex snails or rock snails, has at least three varieties of dye making snails. Trunculus, brandaris, haemastoma, all make a purple-ish dye either on the side of red or blue, but only trunculus produces the rich purpura, a blue-purple indigo dye that we know as Tyrian Purple. The Phoenicians were the first people of the Mediterranean to extract it in the Lavant around 11th century BCE. (Source 2)

So how does a sea snail become purple dye? First, you have to dive and collect the snails along the rocky coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Next, crack the shell to find and expose the murex's hypobranchial gland, then slice the gland to extract the mucous and finally with exposure to sunlight spontaneous pigment formation begins - the mucous from the gland turns from yellow to green to blue to a really beautiful purple. (Source 2) Watch it in action here. Yes, purple stank. Imagine being downwind the city of Tyre (where the Tyrian Purple namesake hails) in southern Lebanon today, where large stone vats of hundreds of thousands of sea-snails were soaking in a mordant (likely stale urine) and wood ash for the pleasure of purple.

There are no shortage of stories about Cleopratra as a scheming seductress and her lifetime of massive scandals. Purple at the center of both sexuality and power was played out at a famous dinner party in 49 B.C. Julius Caesar had just won battle against Pompey, and Cleopatra organized a feast described as "luxury made mad by empty ostentation." Cleopatra had a captivating presence and was well known for her intelligence, prowess, wit and ambition. It wasn't just Cleopatra's sails that were purple - her everything was purple - her palace was lined with purple porphyry stone & her sofas covered with vivid fabric "long steeped in Tyrian dye from more than a single cauldron" and she smelled of lavender scented perfume. Julius Caesar fell for it hard + went back to Rome wearing a totally purple, sea-snail-dyed, head to toe toga. An item and color only Caesar was allowed to wear. (Source 3)

Can you guess how many sweet sea-snails it takes to make a single toga purple enough for Cleopatra + Caesar to wear? 10,000 of them. 

Want to snag the pigment from 10,000 sea-snails for yourself? 4,280.00 USD will get it for you. But be kind to your wallet and those little sea creatures and consider some of the purple painting + mixing tips from Jules at the bottom of the email.


Spray paint industry leader and our favorite matte rainbow-in-a-can Montana 94 (and it's glossier sibling - Montana Hardcore) gives other brands a run for their money in terms of creative color names. While Tyrian Purple is neither a pigment name - or even pseudonym - for any of our stocked products, we came across these luxe purple sprays with rather royal names:

The Hindu triumvirate consists of three gods who are responsible for the creation, upkeep and destruction of the world. The first two are Brahma and Vishnu, while we'd like to call your attention to the third; Shiva.

Brahma is the creator of the universe while Vishnu is the preserver of it. Shiva's role? To destroy the universe. Don't panic though - this god does so in order to re-create it!

Hindus believe Shiva's powers of destruction and recreation are used even now to destroy the illusions and imperfections of this world, paving the way for beneficial change. According to Hindu belief, this destruction is not arbitrary, but constructive. Shiva is therefore seen as the source of both good and evil and is regarded as the one who combines many contradictory elements. (Source 3)

Contradictory to any image of destruction or doom, Montana's Shiva-inspired shade is quite the calm, uplifting lilac. Think of it as a balancing, beneficial complement to another fiery, contrasting color.

A noble title with a mini-encyclopedia worth of historic meanings, Sultan was originally an abstract Arabic noun for strength, authority, and rulership, derived from the verbal sulṭah, meaning authority or power.

Later, it came to be used as the title of certain rulers who claimed almost full sovereignty in practical terms (i.e., the lack of dependence on any higher ruler), albeit without claiming the overall caliphate, or to refer to a powerful governor of a province within the caliphate. (Source 4)

A rich, full-bodied and jewel-toned purple, Sultan Violet could absolutely stand alone as the authoritative purple among your personal Montana 94 palette.

Prophets speak for God or a deity, or by divine inspiration. In Islam, the Prophet is Muhammad - the religion's founder. In Christian belief, Moses was the greatest of Old Testament prophets. Across a number of belief systems, a prophet is inspired teacher or leader.

The definition of Prophet, though, that most resonates with the Montana Hardcore Prophet Violet as we view it? One who foretells or predicts what is to come. Because this variation includes weather prophets, it lends itself to the high-contrast yet smoky, blue-gray purple shade called Prophet. It's like a lightning clap against an early sunset in a summer storm - that doomed and quickly darkening sky despite the daytime.

The Reverend is an honorific style most often placed before the names of Christian clergy and ministers. There are sometimes differences in the way the style is used in different countries and church traditions. The Reverend is correctly called a style but is often and in some dictionaries called a title, form of address or title of respect. The style is also sometimes used by leaders in non-Christian religions such as Judaism and Buddhism.

Sidenote because, well, we wanted to know too! Style vs. Title? A style comes before a title - a descriptive non-title if you will. It's the Royal in Royal Highness, the Honorable in Honorable Judge. Furthermore, from the Endless in Endless Knowledge-Base (aka Wikipedia):

"The term is an anglicisation of the Latin reverendus, the style originally used in Latin documents in medieval Europe. It is the gerundive or future passive participle of the verb revereri ("to respect; to revere"), meaning "[one who is] to be revered/must be respected". The Reverend is therefore equivalent to The Honourable or The Venerable.

It is paired with a modifier or noun for some offices in some religious traditions: Anglican archbishops and most Roman Catholic bishops are usually styled The Most Reverend (reverendissimus); other Anglican bishops and some Roman Catholic bishops are styled The Right Reverend; some Reformed churches have used The Reverend Mister as a style for their clergy."

Montana 94's Reverend Violet is a deep, highly opaque and incredibly resilient shade (it's got the highest UV resistance rating MTN94 offers!). 


Speaking of resilience, did you know there is an actual "Reverend Violet"? Yep! A champion for the homeless, Reverend Violet Little hails from Philadelphia and her resilience helped those without homes defend their right to dine with dignity:

Reverend Violet founded the Welcome Church - a church which is technically homeless itself, as Welcome has no permanent headquarters. 

Relying mostly on word-of-mouth, Reverend Violet's services are often attended by a cross-section of the city’s homeless population. Some suffer mental illness or addiction, while others lost their jobs during times of economic duress. Many are wary of city agency help because of parole violations or immigration status. Some have homes but are disenchanted with typical church services. The Welcome Church even draws teenage volunteers from the suburbs. No questions are asked, and everyone is welcome.

Once a month in any kind of weather, hundreds of people gather for communion, song, and fellowship beneath a tree on a stretch of grass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.*

“The lines get blurred between who’s a volunteer and who isn’t,” Little says, recounting the time a homeless man offered her a sandwich. “In reality, we all have much more in common than we think.”

Little has spent years fostering connections between the city’s homeless and those who can help them, whether by networking to enlist volunteers, referring people to mental health services—or fighting legal battles. Her congregants' rights to gather on the Ben Franklin Parkway was challenged in 2012, when the city of Philly confusingly decided to ban the public sharing of food on the Parkway, a grand thoroughfare lined with institutions and symbols of art, faith and government. It’s also where an estimated 175 homeless people sleep every night.

Ever resilient, Reverend Violet banned together with a trio of motivated faith-based organizations and, with the help of the ACLU, they won a lawsuit and reversed the city's strange attempt to stifle food-sharing in what had become the Welcome Church's sacred space. The decision set a crucial judicial precedent nationwide; powered by Reverend Violet and Philly's cautionary tale, similar food-sharing bans in cities in Colorado, Texas and California have since been challenged. (Sources 4 & 5)

Inspired by Reverend Violet (and we don't just mean the Montana eggplant hue)? Volunteer for Food for Thought! One of Toledo's own hunger-fighting champions, the organization shares food every Saturday morning; lunches packed with the help of people throughout the downtown Toledo area. Individuals and groups accompany Food For Thought on (quite artfully detailed) mobile pantry routes to provide food, water or coffee, and encourage community and conversation with the people they meet along the way — sunshine or snowfall. And, never losing sight of our email's main theme, Food for Thought's logo and branding (and even their popular Jam City signature fundraiser) enthusiastically employs the use of purple! 

Love Food for Thought's vibrant violet? Get a similar shade in your own artwork by using either Raval Violet or Sultan Violet in the more matte Montana 94. Prefer a slicker sheen? The closest glossy grape is Montana Hardcore's Tube Violet. Not too confident with cans yet? Check out our Toledo class schedule - we've got a great spray paint techniques class in which you'll get to paint a galaxy (maybe in purple, eh?) slated for Saturday, June 10th!

*Traveling to Philly, art lovers? The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is touted as "America's most artistic mile", bookmarked on one end by the Philadelphia Museum of Art - the vast collections of which make it the third-largest art museum in the country. And for those of you who can't get enough of spray paint (and the mural arts for which Montana 94 is one of the world's most popular tools), check out Philly's unparalleled program. Philly Mural Arts engages in between 50 - 100 public art projects each and every year!  Rather go west? We hear there's quite the memorial celebration planned for The Purple One this weekend...


No access to snails or science labs, and want to make the most of the primary paints you've already got rather than shelling out cash on a pre-mixed hue? Mixing purple from reds and blues seems like an easy task, right? Right? 

Actually, many attempts at mixing purples become murky and quite frankly, ugly. The good news? Your friendly Depo owner, Jules, has some helpful hints:

The answer lies in one word, “undertone.” Paints have what is called both a “mass tone” and an “undertone.” A mass tone is what it sounds like… what the paint looks like when piled in a thick mass on a palette or canvas. Undertone is what the paint looks like when spread very thinly across a surface. Some paints (mostly inorganic pigments, mined from the earth, used from the dawn of time through the industrial revolution) have the same mass tone and undertone. Newer, chemical paint pigments (concocted in a chemical lab with new advances in science after the industrial revolution through modern times) generally have a spectacularly different mass tone and undertone. The masstone or undertone of a paint generally shifts toward either a warm tone, or a cool tone. There are very few colors of paint manufactured that are truly neutral and neither warm nor cool. Artists desiring to mix beautiful purples should be aware of the tones of their reds and blues they are attempting to mix.

Cool blues (Pthalo Blue Green Shade) generally have green undertones. Warm reds (Cadmium Red Medium or Light) tend near orange. If you mix a cool blue with a warm red, you are essentially mixing green and orange, which will produce a muted brown. The brightest purple mix will come from mixing a warm blue (ultramarine) with a cool red (quinacridone red) because you won’t be co-mingling any unintended paint colors.  

Check this video from British artist Will Kemp on how to mix Purples. It sums up this discussion perfectly.

White is generally always added required when mixing purples. Artist quality paints are generally very pigment dense. The pigments are so close in proximity that they don’t allow much light to pass or refract through the paint, so adding white or transparent medium is required to lighten up the mix.  

Inexpensive student grade acrylics generally contain more than one pigment in a tube, as they combine a mix of inexpensive chemical pigments to replicate in mass tone a more expensive mineral (inorganic) pigment. The pigments in each tube are not “pure,” they are a mixture. Trying to mix two premixed, mixtures will always lead to unintended results. Hence the reason that many color-theory teachers and professors always tell students who are serious about painting to buy artist quality paints, as they only contain the pigments clearly labeled on the tube.

Reference List

  1. Victoria Finlay, Color: A Natural History of the Palette, 2002
  2. Setting the Archaeo-Chemical Record Straight Regarding Tyrian Purple Pigments and Dyes, Zvi C. Koren, of the Shenkar College of Engineering, Design, and ARt, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3zxUEQBVv8
  3. BBC: Religions; Hinduism,  http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/deities/shiva.shtml
  4. Sultan: Entry via Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sultan
  5. Information on Reverend Violet Little & the Philadelphia Food Sharing Case excerpted from both http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/ronnie_polaneczky/20120614_For_minister__it_s_about_more_than_feeding_the_homeless.html and http://www.dailygood.org/story/1021/reverend-violet-little-encore-org/