About the Element
Mercury is found either as a native metal (rare) or in cinnibar, coderoite, livingstonite and other minerals, with cinnabar (HgS) being the most common ore. Vermilion, also spelled vermillion, is an opaque reddish orange pigment, used since antiquity, originally derived from the powdered mineral cinnibar. Like all mercury compounds it is toxic. As pure sources of cinnabar are rare, natural vermilion has always been extremely expensive. In the Middle Ages, vermilion was often as expensive as gilding. As of 2007 a 35ml tube of genuine Chinese Vermilion oil paint can cost $170 (112). Today vermilion is most commonly artificially produced by reacting mercury with molten sulfur. Most naturally produced vermilion comes from cinnabar mined in China, giving rise to its alternative name of China red.

Mercury was known to the ancient Chinese and Hindus, and was found in Egyptian tombs that date from 1500 BC. In China, India and Tibet, mercury use was thought to prolong life, heal fractures, and maintain generally good health. The ancient Greeks used mercury in ointments and the Romans used it in cosmetics. By 500 BC mercury was used to make amalgams with other metals. Alchemists often thought of mercury as the First Matter from which all metals were formed. Different metals could be produced by varying the quality and quantity of sulphur contained within the mercury. An ability to transform mercury into any metal resulted from the essentially mercurial quality of all metals. The purest of these was gold, and mercury was required for the transmutation of base (or impure) metals into gold as was the goal of many alchemists.

Hg is the modern chemical symbol for mercury. It comes from hydrargyrum, a Latinized form of the Greek word hydrargyros, which is a compound word meaning 'water' and 'silver' — since it is liquid, like water, and yet has a silvery metallic sheen. The element was named after the Roman god Mercury, known for speed and mobility. It is associated with the planet Mercury. The astrological symbol for the planet is also one of the alchemical symbols for the metal. Mercury is the only metal for which the alchemical planetary name became the common name.

About the Print
I chose to represent Mercury because I have been told I have a mercurial nature and because it's a really interesting and unique metal. I find all of the associations with Mercury; space, science, alchemy, medicine, art, gods and death interesting. I love Alexander Calder's Mercury Fountain. I think I would have an overwhelming desire to run my hands through it if I ever saw it in person.

The print is a two color monotype with foiling. The main image is of a caduceus. It is the staff of the Roman god Mercury. There are also the nine planets, Mercury being closest to the sun.

About the Printmaker


by Connie Pierson

see also Sodium

Symbol: Hg
Atomic number: 80
Atomic weight: 200.59