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Title: Orpiment  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Sulfide minerals, Realgar, Yellow, Orange (colour), Champagne Pool
Collection: Alchemical Substances, Arsenic Minerals, Inorganic Pigments, Monoclinic Minerals, Poisonous Minerals, Sulfide Minerals
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Category Sulfide mineral
(repeating unit)
Strunz classification 02.FA.30
Crystal symmetry Monoclinic 2/m
Unit cell a = 11.475(5) Å, b = 9.577(4) Å, c = 4.256(2) Å, β = 90.45(5)°; Z=4
Color Lemon-yellow to golden or brownish yellow
Crystal habit Commonly in foliated columnar or fibrous aggregates; may be reniform or botryoidal; also granular or powdery; rarely as prismatic crystals
Crystal system Monoclinic Prismatic
Twinning On {100}
Cleavage Perfect on {010}, imperfect on {100};
Tenacity Sectile
Mohs scale hardness 1.5 - 2
Luster Resinous, pearly on cleavage surface
Streak Pale lemon-yellow
Diaphaneity Transparent
Specific gravity 3.49
Optical properties Biaxial (-)
Refractive index nα = 2.400 nβ = 2.810 nγ = 3.020
Birefringence δ = 0.620
Pleochroism In reflected light, strong, white to pale gray with reddish tint; in transmitted light, Y = yellow, Z = greenish yellow
2V angle Measured: 30° to 76°, Calculated: 62°
Dispersion r > v, strong
References [1][2][3]

Orpiment is a deep orange-yellow colored arsenic sulfide mineral with formula As2S3. It is found in volcanic fumaroles, low temperature hydrothermal veins, and hot springs and is formed both by sublimation and as a byproduct of the decay of another arsenic mineral, realgar. It takes its name from the Latin auripigmentum (aurum − gold + pigmentumpigment) because of its deep-yellow color.


  • Historical uses 1
  • Contemporary uses 2
  • Physical and optical properties 3
  • Crystal structure 4
  • Gallery of orpiment specimens 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Historical uses

Orpiment was traded in the Roman Empire and was used as a medicine in China even though it is very toxic. It has been used as a fly poison and to tip arrows with poison. Because of its striking color, it was of interest to alchemists, both in China and the West, searching for a way to make gold.

For centuries, orpiment was ground down and used as a dye-based colors were introduced during the 19th Century.

Orpiment, as the Latin Auripigmentum, is mentioned by Robert Hooke in Micrographia for the manufacture of small shot in the 17th century.[5]

Contemporary uses

Orpiment is used in the production of infrared-transmitting glass, oil cloth, linoleum, semiconductors, photoconductors, pigments, and fireworks. Mixed with two parts of slaked lime, orpiment is still commonly used in rural India as a depilatory. It is used in the tanning industry to remove hair from hides.

Physical and optical properties

Orpiment is a common monoclinic arsenic sulfide mineral. It has a Mohs hardness of 1.5 to 2 and a specific gravity of 3.49. It melts at 300 °C to 325 °C. Optically it is biaxial (−) with refractive indices of a=2.4, b=2.81, g=3.02.

Crystal structure

Gallery of orpiment specimens


  1. ^ Handbook of Mineralogy
  2. ^
  3. ^ Webmineral data
  4. ^ Fitzhugh, E.W., Orpiment and Realgar, in Artists’ Pigments, A Handbook of Their History and Characteristics, Vol 3: E.W. Fitzhugh (Ed.) Oxford University Press 1997, p. 52
  5. ^ Hooke, Robert. "Micrographia". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 24 October 2012. 
  • The Merck Index: An Encyclopedia of Chemicals, Drugs, and Biologicals. 11th Edition. Ed. Susan Budavari. Merck & Co., Inc., N.J., U.S.A. 1989.
  • William Mesny. Mesny’s Chinese Miscellany. A Text Book of Notes on China and the Chinese. Shanghai. Vol. III, (1899), p. 251; Vol. IV, (1905), pp. 26.
  • Fitzhugh, E.W., Orpiment and Realgar, in Artists’ Pigments, A Handbook of Their History and Characteristics, Vol 3: E.W. Fitzhugh (Ed.) Oxford University Press 1997, p. 47 – 80

External links

  • Webexhibits "Pigments Through the Ages: Orpiment"
  • Babylonian Talmud Tractate Chullin see Rashi 'haZarnich' (Hebrew)
  • Orpiment, Colourlex
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