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Orpiment crystal from Twin Creeks Mine, Potosi District, Humboldt County, Nevada, United States (Size: 3.3 cm × 2.1 cm × 2.1 cm)
CategorySulfide mineral
(repeating unit)
IMA symbolOrp[1]
Strunz classification2.FA.30
Crystal systemMonoclinic
Crystal classPrismatic (2/m)
(same H-M symbol)
Space groupP21/n
Unit cella = 11.475(5), b = 9.577(4)
c = 4.256(2) [Å], β = 90.45(5)°; Z = 4
ColorLemon-yellow to golden or brownish yellow
Crystal habitCommonly in foliated columnar or fibrous aggregates; may be reniform or botryoidal; also granular or powdery; rarely as prismatic crystals
TwinningOn {100}
CleavagePerfect on {010}, imperfect on {100};
Mohs scale hardness1.5–2
LusterResinous, pearly on cleavage surface
StreakPale lemon-yellow
Specific gravity3.49
Optical propertiesBiaxial (−)
Refractive indexnα = 2.400 nβ = 2.810 nγ = 3.020
Birefringenceδ = 0.620
PleochroismIn reflected light, strong, white to pale gray with reddish tint; in transmitted light, Y = yellow, Z = greenish yellow
2V angleMeasured: 30° to 76°, Calculated: 62°
Dispersionr > v, strong

Orpiment is a deep-colored, orange-yellow arsenic sulfide mineral with formula As
. 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 sulfide mineral, realgar. Orpiment takes its name from the Latin auripigmentum (aurum, "gold" + pigmentum, "pigment") because of its deep-yellow color.

Historical uses[edit]

Bright golden-yellow streak color of orpiment

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 fly poison[5] and to tip arrows with poison.[6] Because of its striking color, it was of interest to alchemists, both in China and the West, searching for a way to make gold. It also has been found in the wall decorations of Tutankhamun's tomb and ancient Egyptian scrolls, and on the walls of the Taj Mahal.[7]

For centuries, orpiment was ground down and used as a pigment in painting and for sealing wax, and was even used in ancient China as a correction fluid.[8] It was one of the few clear, bright-yellow pigments available to artists until the 19th century. However, its extreme toxicity and incompatibility with other common pigments, including lead and copper-based substances such as verdigris and azurite,[9][7] meant that its use as a pigment ended when cadmium yellows, chromium yellows and organic dye-based colors were introduced during the 19th century.

Orpiment is mentioned in the 17th century by Robert Hooke in Micrographia for the manufacture of small shot.[10]

Scientists like Richard Adolf Zsigmondy and Hermann Ambronn puzzled jointly over orpiment glass as early as 1904.[11]

Contemporary uses[edit]

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 (calcium hydroxide), 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[edit]

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 (570 °F) to 325 °C (620 °F). Optically, it is biaxial (−) with refractive indices of a = 2.4, b = 2.81, g = 3.02.

Crystal structure[edit]

Gallery of orpiment specimens[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Warr, L.N. (2021). "IMA–CNMNC approved mineral symbols". Mineralogical Magazine. 85 (3): 291–320. Bibcode:2021MinM...85..291W. doi:10.1180/mgm.2021.43. S2CID 235729616.
  2. ^ Anthony, John W.; Bideaux, Richard A.; Bladh, Kenneth W.; Nichols, Monte C. (2005). "Orpiment" (PDF). Handbook of Mineralogy. Mineral Data Publishing. Retrieved 14 March 2022.
  3. ^ Orpiment, Mindat.org, retrieved 26 May 2022
  4. ^ Orpiment, WebMineral.com, retrieved 26 May 2022
  5. ^ Miller, George (1826). Popular philosophy: or, The book of nature laid open upon Christian principles, by the ed. of The Cheap magazine.
  6. ^ Mesny, William (1899). Mesny's Chinese Miscellany. China Gazette Office.
  7. ^ a b St. Clair, Kassia (2016). The Secret Lives of Colour. London: John Murray. pp. 82–83. ISBN 9781473630819. OCLC 936144129.
  8. ^ "雌黄在古代充当"涂改液"". news.xinhuanet.com. Archived from the original on 6 August 2016. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Hooke, Robert. "Micrographia". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 24 October 2012.
  11. ^ "Richard Adolf Zsigmondy: Properties of Colloids". Nobel Lectures, Chemistry 1922-1941. Amsterdam: Elsevier Publishing Company. 1966.
  • 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[edit]