A young man is smeared in powdered colors by his friend as they take part in Holi festival celebrations at Durgiana Temple
A young man is smeared in powdered colors by his friend as they take part in Holi festival celebrations at Durgiana Temple
EPA

On Thursday, Holi begins.

It's the Hindu festival of colour which marks the arrival of spring and takes place over two days.

People now celebrate it all over the world, although it most is most prominent in India and Nepal.

As part of the Holi celebrations, people gather in public spaces and participate in Rangwali Holi, chasing each other around, throwing handfuls of coloured powders (gulal) at each other, while getting drenched in water.

In our times of plenty and mass-production, we can forget that once upon a time in Europe, some pigments used to be even more valuable than gold because of their scarcity.

Picture: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

As Co.Design points out, much of what we know about historical use of pigments comes from Harvard University, specifically Edward Forbes, a historian and director of the Fogg Art Museum from 1909 to 1944.

The extensive pigment collection that has grown there since the early 20th century is now used predominately for scientific analysis of pigments; useful for disproving fakes of historical paintings.

It also holds some of the rarest pigments the world has ever known, that old masters would pay large amounts of money for, given the costs of production.

Here's a selection, as told by Narayan Khandekar, director of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at the Harvard Art Museums, to Co.Design:

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