Painting the Eyes

Concise Bible Dictionary:


From Manners and Customs of the Bible:

This is literally, “put her eyes in paint,” and alludes to the very ancient custom, still observed in the East, of coloring the eyes with a black powder called kohl. Graham says: “It is probable that stibium or antimony was formerly used for this purpose, and in some places it may be so used still, especially for painting the edges of the eyelids. Kohl, the substance now in general use for blackening the eyes and the eyebrows, is produced by burning liban, a kind of frankincense, and by burning the shells of almonds. This kind is merely ornamental; but the kohl, formed from the powder of the ore of lead, is used as much for its supposed medicinal as its beautifying properties. The arch of the eyebrow is much darkened and elongated, and the edges of the eyelids, both above and below, tinged with the dark hues of the kohl, which is supposed to add to the natural beauty of the countenance by the effects of contrast” (The Jordan and the Rhine, p. 190).
In Jeremiah 4:3030And when thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do? Though thou clothest thyself with crimson, though thou deckest thee with ornaments of gold, though thou rentest thy face with painting, in vain shalt thou make thyself fair; thy lovers will despise thee, they will seek thy life. (Jeremiah 4:30) reference is made to this practice: “Though thou rentest thy face with painting.” The marginal reading is eyes, instead of “face,” and the allusion is to the effect of the powder on the eye. Being astringent, it contracts the eyelids, and by contrast of color makes the white of the eye look larger, thus “rending” or widening the eye Proverbs 6:2525Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids. (Proverbs 6:25) is also supposed to allude to this custom; and there is a reference to it in Ezekiel 23:4040And furthermore, that ye have sent for men to come from far, unto whom a messenger was sent; and, lo, they came: for whom thou didst wash thyself, paintedst thy eyes, and deckedst thyself with ornaments, (Ezekiel 23:40). Some think the practice was common as far back as the days of Job, from the fact that one able daughters was called Keren-happuch, that is, paint-horn (Job 42:1414And he called the name of the first, Jemima; and the name of the second, Kezia; and the name of the third, Keren-happuch. (Job 42:14)). The powder is kept in glass vessels, and was anciently kept in boxes of wood, stone, or pottery of various shapes; some of them highly ornamented, and having from two to five different compartments. Several of these curious boxes, brought from Egypt, and very ancient, are now in the Abbott Collection, New York.
The kohl is applied to the eyelids by a small piece of wood, ivory, or silver, made for the purpose, and in shape not unlike a bodkin. This is moistened in rose-water and dipped into the black powder and then drawn under the eyelids.