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Blue: The History of a Color

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A beautifully illustrated visual and cultural history of the color blue throughout the ages Blue has had a long and topsy-turvy history in the Western world. The ancient Greeks scorned it as ugly and barbaric, but most Americans and Europeans now cite it as their favorite color. In this fascinating history, the renowned medievalist Michel Pastoureau traces the changing mean A beautifully illustrated visual and cultural history of the color blue throughout the ages Blue has had a long and topsy-turvy history in the Western world. The ancient Greeks scorned it as ugly and barbaric, but most Americans and Europeans now cite it as their favorite color. In this fascinating history, the renowned medievalist Michel Pastoureau traces the changing meanings of blue from its rare appearance in prehistoric art to its international ubiquity today. Any history of color is, above all, a social history. Pastoureau investigates how the ever-changing role of blue in society has been reflected in manuscripts, stained glass, heraldry, clothing, paintings, and popular culture. Beginning with the almost total absence of blue from ancient Western art and language, the story moves to medieval Europe. As people began to associate blue with the Virgin Mary, the color became a powerful element in church decoration and symbolism. Blue gained new favor as a royal color in the twelfth century and became a formidable political and military force during the French Revolution. As blue triumphed in the modern era, new shades were created and blue became the color of romance and the blues. Finally, Pastoureau follows blue into contemporary times, when military clothing gave way to the everyday uniform of blue jeans and blue became the universal and unifying color of the Earth as seen from space. Beautifully illustrated, Blue tells the intriguing story of our favorite color and the cultures that have hated it, loved it, and made it essential to some of our greatest works of art.


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A beautifully illustrated visual and cultural history of the color blue throughout the ages Blue has had a long and topsy-turvy history in the Western world. The ancient Greeks scorned it as ugly and barbaric, but most Americans and Europeans now cite it as their favorite color. In this fascinating history, the renowned medievalist Michel Pastoureau traces the changing mean A beautifully illustrated visual and cultural history of the color blue throughout the ages Blue has had a long and topsy-turvy history in the Western world. The ancient Greeks scorned it as ugly and barbaric, but most Americans and Europeans now cite it as their favorite color. In this fascinating history, the renowned medievalist Michel Pastoureau traces the changing meanings of blue from its rare appearance in prehistoric art to its international ubiquity today. Any history of color is, above all, a social history. Pastoureau investigates how the ever-changing role of blue in society has been reflected in manuscripts, stained glass, heraldry, clothing, paintings, and popular culture. Beginning with the almost total absence of blue from ancient Western art and language, the story moves to medieval Europe. As people began to associate blue with the Virgin Mary, the color became a powerful element in church decoration and symbolism. Blue gained new favor as a royal color in the twelfth century and became a formidable political and military force during the French Revolution. As blue triumphed in the modern era, new shades were created and blue became the color of romance and the blues. Finally, Pastoureau follows blue into contemporary times, when military clothing gave way to the everyday uniform of blue jeans and blue became the universal and unifying color of the Earth as seen from space. Beautifully illustrated, Blue tells the intriguing story of our favorite color and the cultures that have hated it, loved it, and made it essential to some of our greatest works of art.

30 review for Blue: The History of a Color

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kalliope

    YOUTHFUL BLUES We are so used to see colours at their best that we no longer see their richness. Any tone, any tint, any hue now is as it should be. But it wasn’t always like this. Not too long ago, endowing colours to objects was a difficult, expensive, laborious, and sometime politically dangerous endeavour. Back then it was not so much their chromatic tone as their depth that mattered. Luminosity and richness, saturation and concentration were the valued qualities of a colour. Those were t YOUTHFUL BLUES We are so used to see colours at their best that we no longer see their richness. Any tone, any tint, any hue now is as it should be. But it wasn’t always like this. Not too long ago, endowing colours to objects was a difficult, expensive, laborious, and sometime politically dangerous endeavour. Back then it was not so much their chromatic tone as their depth that mattered. Luminosity and richness, saturation and concentration were the valued qualities of a colour. Those were the colouring values. So much so that some tints were ignored. From Pastoureau we learn that for a fairly long time, in the West, only a few colours were talked about and blue was not one of them. Blue is a young colour. Talking about a colour means endowing colour with a place in language. The Greeks did not really have a term for blue. They used the word Glaukos to refer to a light tone, while Kyaneus alluded to a mineral and to being dark. And we have Homer missing his blues and alluding to the wine-dark sea. They did however have the word Indikon, but it referred to the material pigment of Asian origins, rather than to its chromatics. Even in the Bible blue is not found, while red has a blatant presence. It is after all a fairly violent book. The Romans knew blue, but paid little attention to it since they had seen that the Barbarians (from the Germanic lands and Brittany) painted their own selves in blue. The Romans relegated the tone to the lower classes and to backgrounds in decorative uses. The conspicuous neglect of blue in the Greek world perplexed the nineteenth century when it was concluded that the Greeks simply could not see, physiologically, this colour. Thanks to a social and historical approach our current understanding is that blue had not gained its own cultural space. As Pastoureau says, it was not a question of vision but of perception. The most secured path when tracking the history of colour is to follow that of dyeing and dyers. And this began in Asia and Africa, and at the beginning there were only three tones: white, black and red. They were the three poles for the two axes. White was the centre and Black was its opposite in terms of Luminosity, while Red was the other extreme for Density. When cultural consciousness began identifying blue, Latin had to borrow new terms from other languages. Azureus came from Arabic while Blavus arrived from Germanic tongues. Red, however, not only did have more of its own language but the word colour itself implied red. Some languages such as Spanish have kept the word colorado for red. If blue is not a biblical colour, it did not manage to get its codified place in Christian liturgy either. Worship was cast in red, white, black, green, gold and violet. Blue, however, begins to appear, modestly, in the arts in the West around 1000, but was not clearly distinguishable until just less than two centuries later. Its advent was embroiled in the theological discussion on whether colour was a quality of light or of the object. If the former, then it was also divine and immaterial, but if it pertained to the latter, its materiality immediately demoted it to the superficial Vanitas. Venerated or shunned. This was the Cluniac and Cistercian debate. Those who enjoy iridescence have to thank Abbot Suger’s passionate defence of colour in his De consecratione. He presented it as a component of godly light and therefore the concomitant element of the visual and architectural arts that this treatise strongly defended. For it is in the filtering of the sacred sunrays that blue makes a magnificent presence as it pervades with its hue the glorious space. In Suger’s Abbey the anointing blue was christened as Bleu Saint Denis. Having acquired the same preciosity as Sapphire, the hue extended its presence to enamels and to illuminations of luxurious book pages. In manuscripts it jumps from backgrounds to the most exquisite presence, the tunic or the mantle of the virgin. From art it was easy for blue to run onto people’s clothes, and in France we have King Saint Louis ostentatiously wearing it. Of course, the Capetians had already started using it somewhat earlier as they adopted the virginal Lys and the Azur for their armour. Louis made blue the hue of royalty and Heraldry provided the international channels for further European distribution. Suger was right but so was Saint Bernard. Colour is part of light but its materiality cannot be denied either. Colour has its physics and its chemistry. Pigments, accessing to them and their deployment were not obvious tasks. Lapis lazuli, indigo (indigotine) or woad for blues, and madder and cochineal for reds, turned men’s minds and purses around. Pastoureau does not dwell in detail on the peculiarities in the handling of these pigments, but gives a fascinating account of how different and powerful economic centres developed in Europe: in Thuringia, Tuscany and the Languedoc their wealth had been tinted with blue. The rapid ascendancy of blue continued during the middle ages and, together with green and yellow, it succeeded in breaking the stable trio of white-black-red. But another black entered the scene and the Black Death in mid fourteenth century halted, amongst other things, the way the new array of tones were perceived. The aftermath of the plague brought about the stringent Sumptuary Laws. Pastoureau unfolds the tripartite dimensions of these Laws: the Economic, the Ethical and the Ideological. But all these laws tinted with different moral tones all the colours, with red acquiring its reprehensible scarlet tone. Red was seen in its full amoral blush, while blue, similarly to the way it avoided liturgy, also stood on the sides of morality. If penance filtered sin in the coloured senses, their denial would mark the path to follow. The fifteenth century is the century of black and the budding house of Burgundy, when it spread its cosmopolitan presence, would then install it in several of the European courts. Blue, in its darker variety benefited from its blackish lustre. When Christian religion split again, its hues also separated and we see a renewal of the Cluniac-Cistercian debate amongst the Reformation and the Catholic branches. But this time it was only the chromatic aspect, and not the richness or saturation of the tone, what was judged as a contemptible display of wealth. It had to be the century of the Enlightenment when light was finally shed on colour. Newton displayed the full spectrum and with it black and white ceased to be seen as colours. The rainbow, which for centuries had been identified as a gradation of six colours, finally acquired its seventh, blue. The labels of Primary and Complementary were attached to the different wavelengths, and new additional qualities were identified. Some hues were cold and some warm. And yet, Newton forgot about perception. It was Goethe who recovered it from Aristotle in his Zur Farbenlehre in 1810. The subject, and not just the prism, was important in the formation of colour. Goethe also made blue the hue of Romanticism when he covered his Werther in this tone. And it was also in Germanic lands were the very successful Prussian blue was precipitated and where later the synthetic anilines started a new, and huge, industry. Blue is both a beautiful and fascinating subject and Pastoureau draws attention to many interesting aspects. But it is a complex theme, and while at times a bit repetitive, he does not discuss enough the uses of the blue in the Ancient Middle East and Egypt, nor its appearance in decorative uses in the Greek world. Similarly, the uses of blue in the Arabic world and its entrance in the West through them would have been a welcomed angle. After reading this book I now see blue differently. It is certainly much more luminous.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    Argh! I wrote a 300 word review for this book and it was eaten by the GR popup :( Will rewrite. In two words: blue rocks. And there are other colors too. La guerre entre guede rt garance a été gagné par indigo!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Susan Dermond

    fascinating; did you know Europeans never wore blue until the Middle Ages or later? not for everyone; it's a specialized subject. I think you have to like history and/or art. Lavishly illustrated. fascinating; did you know Europeans never wore blue until the Middle Ages or later? not for everyone; it's a specialized subject. I think you have to like history and/or art. Lavishly illustrated.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ruth Charchian

    Who would have thought that the color blue was not only hated but not named, or tolerated until the 14th century. Prior to that time it was thought to be a "hot" color. Now it is considered to be a "cool" color. It was culturally and socially unacceptable to wear blue. Today, most people prefer blue to any other color. Our culture accepts it primarily due to the unversal acceptance of blue jeans beginning with Levi Strauss in the 1850s. Red, white and black were the only recognized colors for ce Who would have thought that the color blue was not only hated but not named, or tolerated until the 14th century. Prior to that time it was thought to be a "hot" color. Now it is considered to be a "cool" color. It was culturally and socially unacceptable to wear blue. Today, most people prefer blue to any other color. Our culture accepts it primarily due to the unversal acceptance of blue jeans beginning with Levi Strauss in the 1850s. Red, white and black were the only recognized colors for centuries. The Indigo dye for a deep, rich, vibrant blue was too expensive to ship from the middle east. Only when artists painted the Virgin did blue become more and more acceptable over time. The book is full of exquisite color pictures and historical descriptions. The price of this book at the local book store is $270 which indicates how well thought out and laid out this book was published. It is a fascinating and entertaining story about a simple color and the cultures and societies that impacted it throughout Western history.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Inna

    Lovely overview of the emergence of blue as an important color in medieval Europe an of its changes of connotations up to the modern period, when blue constitutes the most neutral color.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jackson Cyril

    Blue was a color the Romans associated with barbarism. It is rarely found in bronze age art. Many medieval artists preferred to depict water as green rather than blue. Why? How, when it was so rare throughout history, did blue come to be the most common color in the world today? How-- and why-- did various laws try to prohibit the creation of certain colors? Why did the color blue become associated with the Virgin? These are the questions that M. Pastoureau answers in this sumptuously illustrate Blue was a color the Romans associated with barbarism. It is rarely found in bronze age art. Many medieval artists preferred to depict water as green rather than blue. Why? How, when it was so rare throughout history, did blue come to be the most common color in the world today? How-- and why-- did various laws try to prohibit the creation of certain colors? Why did the color blue become associated with the Virgin? These are the questions that M. Pastoureau answers in this sumptuously illustrated history.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    I just realized I had never posted this. Unlikely as it seems, this coffee table book was a fascinating look at how blue came to be the most popular color among artists and in society, and taught me for the first time that there were sumptuary laws in various nations at various times designed to restrict the type and color of clothing commoners could wear so they didn't compete with the raiment of royalty. As I recall, one factoid was that the popularity of black and white for men's clothing, st I just realized I had never posted this. Unlikely as it seems, this coffee table book was a fascinating look at how blue came to be the most popular color among artists and in society, and taught me for the first time that there were sumptuary laws in various nations at various times designed to restrict the type and color of clothing commoners could wear so they didn't compete with the raiment of royalty. As I recall, one factoid was that the popularity of black and white for men's clothing, still epitomized in the tuxedo, came from sumptuary laws that restricted wealthy merchants to those colors.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    While this book is full of pictures, it is very imformative. It discusses the history of color pigment, use and maeaning, and not only of the color blue. For example red was made from madder, a rusty red, and was the most common with yellow and black till the middle ages? Purple came from sea urchins and blue from lapis rocks. Very interesting, and since its translated from the original French, I'd like to know just how Euro-centric it is. While this book is full of pictures, it is very imformative. It discusses the history of color pigment, use and maeaning, and not only of the color blue. For example red was made from madder, a rusty red, and was the most common with yellow and black till the middle ages? Purple came from sea urchins and blue from lapis rocks. Very interesting, and since its translated from the original French, I'd like to know just how Euro-centric it is.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Pastoureau's other books were already on my "to-read" list, but after finishing this one they've all jumped up to the top. It is heavy on French history -- I would have happily traded several pages about the French flag for more on other topics -- but overall it's a fascinating study, well-translated (so far as I can tell) and beautifully illustrated. Pastoureau's other books were already on my "to-read" list, but after finishing this one they've all jumped up to the top. It is heavy on French history -- I would have happily traded several pages about the French flag for more on other topics -- but overall it's a fascinating study, well-translated (so far as I can tell) and beautifully illustrated.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Wm

    Fascinating and very approachable for a lay audience. In particular, his explanations of how earlier cultures thought about/related to color and incorporated it in to their philosophical and material cultures were eye opening and foreign and really interesting.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    Fascinating analysis of the changing symbolic and social role of the color blue over time. Very informative.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    The story of a color is, of course, the story of how humans perceive that color and, comparatively, other colors. It was fascinating to read about the lack of mention in early records of the color we know as blue. The color blue seemed to arise out of a growing human perception of color, of the color wheel, and ofthe development of dyeing techniques. Superstitions, and belief systems played an important part in establishing a color hierarchy in fashion in the 13th century, when this book begins i The story of a color is, of course, the story of how humans perceive that color and, comparatively, other colors. It was fascinating to read about the lack of mention in early records of the color we know as blue. The color blue seemed to arise out of a growing human perception of color, of the color wheel, and ofthe development of dyeing techniques. Superstitions, and belief systems played an important part in establishing a color hierarchy in fashion in the 13th century, when this book begins it's history. The influence of religion and politics continues with some effect to this day. The story of dye discoveries, using woad in the earliest years of blue colorizing and then indigo as a brighter, more resilient dye, and also, who had access to the colorants is, again, a story of humanity and civilization. In the late 19th and early 20th century, while France was insistant on having blue uniforms for it's soldiers, England controlled most of the supply of indigo. The French government compromised and gave their troops blue coats but bright red trousers. The heavy human losses in French military campaigns into World War 1 have been blamed on their soldiers' visibility in the field. This study of blue diverges weirdly into several pages on the history of the French flag (and a couple of it's competitors). (Blue, may I remind you, comprises only a third of the French flag. True, the author is French, but as much time could have been spent on the British, the US, the Czech, the Russian, or any other tricolored flag. I picked up this book because blue is my favorite color. The book concludes that blue is about half the world's favorite color, so I, or you, if you share this characteristic, should feel so special. I found the final sentences oddly philosophical, if not judgemental. After a discourse on how the color blue evolved in human perception from a warm color to a cold color, and how that change might have occurred with the growing use of blue to signify bodies of water on maps, rather than the green used in the earliest maps, the author concludes: "In the collective imagination and daily life, however, it took quite a while for water to become blue, and for blue to become cold. Cold like our contemporary Western societies, for which blue is at once the emblem, symbol, and favorite color."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nat

    The author begins this history with audacious claims about the irrelevance (p.10) of human biology to the "process of ascribing meaning to color", insisting instead that color is a "social phenomenon". The author does a fine job illustrating the second claim throughout the book, showing how attitudes towards colors change over time with changes in religious belief and social practices. But the first, audacious claim has to be false. There is ample evidence that the structure of color perception The author begins this history with audacious claims about the irrelevance (p.10) of human biology to the "process of ascribing meaning to color", insisting instead that color is a "social phenomenon". The author does a fine job illustrating the second claim throughout the book, showing how attitudes towards colors change over time with changes in religious belief and social practices. But the first, audacious claim has to be false. There is ample evidence that the structure of color perception is dependent on the fact that humans are trichromats, and that facts about color opposition (red is opposed to green, blue to yellow) are due to the role of opponent-processes in the human visual system. And biological facts, like genetic color deficiencies, surely affect the "meaning" of colors for those with the deficiencies. There are other weird gaps in the book's scholarship as well. There are brief discussions of opinion polls that try to determine what our "favorite color" is, but there is no discussion of Komar and Melamed's famous "Most Wanted" survey of world aesthetic tastes, which concluded that blue was the favorite color of majorities in most countries. The book offers evidence that black, white and red were the primary color categories of the ancient world, with blue not figuring in treatises on color, even when describing the colors of the rainbow. That interestingly confirms the famous claims by anthropologists Berlin & Kay (and Kay & McDaniel) that there is a specific pattern to the development of color vocabulary whereby "blue" is always a later basic color term than "black", "white" and "red". But there is no mention of Kay & Berlin's work in relation to the interesting historical fact about ancient color terms. There is also a near-total focus on European, and in the post-medieval period, French, attitudes and practices with regard to color (the author is French). During an extended discussion of the significance of different colors during the French Revolution, and in particular the tricolor, the author says: "It is easy to imagine that if the British flag had not been red, white, and blue, that of the American Revolution would not have been either, and therefore neither the French Revolution, nor the Empire or Republic that followed, would have used these colors. To understand the American and French flags, then, WE MUST GO BACK TO THE ORIGINS OF THE BRITISH FLAG, which was already red, white, and blue in the early seventeenth century..." (p.148). But then the author only spends TWO sentences explaining the origins of the British flag, before returning to an extended discussion of the color of cockades in the French Revolution. I thought the British flag was important, because the author just told me it was!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    So what is your favorite color? If it's blue then join the majority of Western Europe and the United States adults today. But it wasn't always that way. Despite the gorgeous blue tiles on the Ishtar gates of Babylon and the blue tiles in Roman mosaics, blue was barely recognized in early human history. Water was green or gray so was the sky. As far as the Romans were concerned, blue was a barbarian color defined by the woad that Germanic tribes dyed their skin and hair therefore it was to be dist So what is your favorite color? If it's blue then join the majority of Western Europe and the United States adults today. But it wasn't always that way. Despite the gorgeous blue tiles on the Ishtar gates of Babylon and the blue tiles in Roman mosaics, blue was barely recognized in early human history. Water was green or gray so was the sky. As far as the Romans were concerned, blue was a barbarian color defined by the woad that Germanic tribes dyed their skin and hair therefore it was to be distrusted and avoided. Even blue eyes were unacceptable - a sign of weak morals and weak character. Even the rainbow was defined as having three, four or even just five colors: red, yellow, green, violet, with rare additions of orange and purple. No blue. It was in the late 1200's that blue started being fashionable and aristocratic initially associated with the Virgin mourning. The color eventually became brighter as it reflected a 'divine illumination'. The Chartres blue glass in various cathedral windows are an example of the luminosity. Blue became part of heraldry, the blue of the French royal family as well as the assigned arms of many ancient kings. And then came the dying of fabric - the cultivation of woad was, unfortunately, due to a distillation of the color and highly labor intensive. And resistance from other countries lead to conflicts between not only the merchants of madder (red) and woad (blue) but regulations on the dye guilds themselves. Those that dyed red cloth could not dye blue and vice versa. Eventually though, the import of indigo provided not only a less expensive production cost (even with the cross of the ocean from the West Indies) but a more consistent solid color. The author also comments on the suggestion that ancient eyes may not have been able to 'see' the color blue but I have to agree that it was most likely a cultural thing. Sub-Saharan societies place little importance on color, rather is is dry or damp, smooth or rough. To Japanese perception, it is more important to know if the color is dull or shiny. Dark blues has become the color of military and community services - soldiers, police, guards, firemen, customs agents and more. Blue suits for formal wear gained acceptance over black and dark grays. Dark blue is the dominant color of the jeans that have been a clothing cultural revolution. Today, we live on the blue marble of Earth. Blue is the dominant color of peace and still is a bit neutral. Blue is the Olympic ring for Europe. Blue is the color of the European Union flag as well as that of the United Nations. Blue has come quite far from being the ignored color. Note: this is part of a five-series on the History of a Color that only recently was translated into English 2020-007

  15. 4 out of 5

    Erika

    This was an interesting book, a new way of looking at a color and it's social development. He also had some interesting ways of looking at how historians and sociologists look at color and how our biases of today..well...color the way we look at the past. No pun intended. I'm still not sure how or when blue went from being a unconsidered, un-respected color to being the most popular color in the Western world, but perhaps that is one of the things that can never be fully known considering social This was an interesting book, a new way of looking at a color and it's social development. He also had some interesting ways of looking at how historians and sociologists look at color and how our biases of today..well...color the way we look at the past. No pun intended. I'm still not sure how or when blue went from being a unconsidered, un-respected color to being the most popular color in the Western world, but perhaps that is one of the things that can never be fully known considering social changes weren't really documented deliberately in the past but have to be inferred by what is considered important enough to put down in writing of some sort. I feel he lost the thread of his book...or changed it towards the end and got a little more caught up in specific points in history or a specific artist. His section on Vermeer is an example. It felt more like he took the opportunity to write about his favorite artist and had to find a way to shoehorn him into the topic rather than the topic naturally allowing for the artists insertion. Overall I enjoyed this book, though I do have a fascination for the development of color and the way we use and manufacture it so it would have to be rather bad for me to at least not be interested in it. I do wish it were formatted in a standard book form vs. the "coffee table" size and shape, it made it awkward to read and I couldn't take it with me.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael Flick

    History of the color blue.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Johns

    Almost my favorite art book! Gives the reader new insight as to why artists used the color in some of their most important work. The color blue was costly in the Renaissance; donors could flaunt their wealth by requiring liberal use of only the best blues in commissioned work. Therefore the Madonna was most usually enswathed in blue. (This tidbit is not the only message of this very fine book.)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Morna

    Nice book - very interesting and beautifully done. If you like history (yes) and if you love blue (yes), then this book should be on your shelves.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Adrien

    After reading "the black", I read "the blue". This book is as beautiful as the previous one. After reading "the black", I read "the blue". This book is as beautiful as the previous one.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ruth Coleman

    I really enjoyed reading about how the color blue changed through the ages. The illustrations were beautiful.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Virginia

    So fascinating! I think the author got a little sidetracked talking about France and the French Revolution, but he is French so...

  22. 5 out of 5

    Elisa De Bonte

    Interesting book about the color blue. Not only it goes back to the ancient roots of blue, it also covers its entire history until today. The study of colors have often been neglected and this book does an amazing, precise and trustworthy job. I would have liked to read more about its use in painting, but I am being a stickler here.

  23. 5 out of 5

    John Nordin

    Want to learn about something you never thought about before? Colors have histories. Blue hasn't always meant what we (in the US) associate it with now. Pastoureau has written a whole series of books on the histories of specific colors. Want to learn about something you never thought about before? Colors have histories. Blue hasn't always meant what we (in the US) associate it with now. Pastoureau has written a whole series of books on the histories of specific colors.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

    Did you know blue has been the favourite colour of Westerners over the last couple of centuries? An intriguing idea, although not entirely well executed. I enjoyed the broad sweep of time that Pastoureau attempted to cover - the Neolithic and ancient use of colour very briefly, the medieval world and on in a bit more detail - because the comparison across hundreds of years is fascinating. Unsurprisingly though, this was also one of its downfalls, since the occasional times it treated an idea or Did you know blue has been the favourite colour of Westerners over the last couple of centuries? An intriguing idea, although not entirely well executed. I enjoyed the broad sweep of time that Pastoureau attempted to cover - the Neolithic and ancient use of colour very briefly, the medieval world and on in a bit more detail - because the comparison across hundreds of years is fascinating. Unsurprisingly though, this was also one of its downfalls, since the occasional times it treated an idea or subject in detail it felt out of place; and the lack of detail in some areas annoyed me. In some ways this felt, perhaps deliberately, like this was a preparatory work; a number of times Pastoureau raised questions as areas requiring further research, or mentioned medieval manuscripts that have yet to be transliterated or studied in any fashion. In appearance this is halfway between a history book and a coffee table number. It's beautifully presented, and the pictures themselves are delightful - most pages have one or two, sometimes three, pictures, illustrating some pertinent point about where and how blue was being used, or other uses of colour at relevant points. But the text is too dense to really work as an art book, while it's not long enough somehow for it to feel like a really serious treatment of the subject - especially not over such a vast span of time. As a history book, I remain unconvinced by some of Pastoureau's suggestions about how blue worked in culture. The lack of blue in very early art, Neolithic right through to much ancient illustration, is curious but I didn't entirely buy his explanation for its lack of symbolism and therefore appearance and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it just didn't feel explained enough to accept such a radical idea. This problem permeated much of the text, in fact; the sober, moral overtones that blue acquired thanks to the Protestants, as well as the issues discussed around its symbolism in the later medieval period, were presented as a little bit too definitive, a little bit too unarguable, for me to be entirely comfortable. Clearly Pastoureau was not setting out to write the definitive work on the colour; he himself points out that a vast amount more work needs to be done in a whole range of areas before such a thing is possible. And perhaps it's also a fault of translation; maybe there was a bit more uncertainty in the original French? Anyway, overall this is a fascinating book that has made me think about colour and its uses, but not entirely satisfactory.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    I LOVED this book. It talked about how blue meant different things throughout history, how it was made and used throughout history. I just found it interesting and the pictures were gorgeous.

  26. 4 out of 5

    E

    I never thought I'd find myself reading a "history of a color," but a recent review of another entry by this author (red, to be exact), was surprisingly interesting, so I thought I'd give this first volume a try. A lot of it is about the development of favored/prominent colors in general, not just blue, but that makes sense since this was his first "history." What was most surprising was that blue was ignored as a color for thousands of years. The ancients hardly used it or talked about it, exce I never thought I'd find myself reading a "history of a color," but a recent review of another entry by this author (red, to be exact), was surprisingly interesting, so I thought I'd give this first volume a try. A lot of it is about the development of favored/prominent colors in general, not just blue, but that makes sense since this was his first "history." What was most surprising was that blue was ignored as a color for thousands of years. The ancients hardly used it or talked about it, except at times in Egypt. Some scholars even thought that the Romans and Greeks couldn't even SEE blue. And the early church much favored red, black, and white. It wasn't until the last 700 years that blue because valued; the rise of New World indigo helped a lot too. Now blue is listed as one's favorite color by over 50% of respondents in most surveys. It is the color of unity and world peace, of "cool," of reasonableness, etc. It is by far the most common color on Western flags. It has really become THE color. So what about the others? Well, Pastoureau has also written about black, yellow, and red. I will probably give those a try too.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sanjay Varma

    A lot of fascinating information linking color to material sciences, perception, religion, social and economic structures. The big story is that all cultures had a 3 color system consisting of white, black, and red. The rise of blue's prevalence in heraldry, paintings, and cloth, from the 11th century, was a profound shift. It's hard to comprehend that the sea used to be depicted as green, and blue had no association with divinity or purity. Blue was helped along by being unregulated... a lack o A lot of fascinating information linking color to material sciences, perception, religion, social and economic structures. The big story is that all cultures had a 3 color system consisting of white, black, and red. The rise of blue's prevalence in heraldry, paintings, and cloth, from the 11th century, was a profound shift. It's hard to comprehend that the sea used to be depicted as green, and blue had no association with divinity or purity. Blue was helped along by being unregulated... a lack of sumptuary laws regarding who could wear it, or how it could be used symbolically in art. But the author tends to repeat the same insights over and over again, as if padding the page count. The pictures, while an impressive survey of paintings, somehow don't make his points come alive.

  28. 5 out of 5

    M

    Really only discusses Europe (+USA), in particular, the normal Western European conception of Europe (Anglo-French + German, with an eye to what happens in the papacy, but not really Italy). That said, totally bizarre, the first history of its kind I've read, but even though this isn't really something I would have said I was interested in, it does its job very well, and successfully made me think about some new things related to the ideology of color, for example. I think he really goes to far Really only discusses Europe (+USA), in particular, the normal Western European conception of Europe (Anglo-French + German, with an eye to what happens in the papacy, but not really Italy). That said, totally bizarre, the first history of its kind I've read, but even though this isn't really something I would have said I was interested in, it does its job very well, and successfully made me think about some new things related to the ideology of color, for example. I think he really goes to far with some of his conclusions especially based off of the sources he uses –– but it was really interesting and new for me, so I don't mind.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    I always enjoy Pastoureau's lavishly illustrated books about the history of color--this one traces blue, neglected by the ancient world in favor of white, red and black, associated with barbarians because of woad and indigo, but rehabilitated by Saint-Denis' decorating scheme and elevated to the signature color of the Virgin Mary and the French monarchy. With sidelights on the economic battle between woad and madder (red) dyers, Protestant austerity and blue, Young Werther's blue coat and yellow I always enjoy Pastoureau's lavishly illustrated books about the history of color--this one traces blue, neglected by the ancient world in favor of white, red and black, associated with barbarians because of woad and indigo, but rehabilitated by Saint-Denis' decorating scheme and elevated to the signature color of the Virgin Mary and the French monarchy. With sidelights on the economic battle between woad and madder (red) dyers, Protestant austerity and blue, Young Werther's blue coat and yellow trousers, blue jeans and the BASF company.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    It appears people did not see blue or at least react to blue until the middle ages. This book is filled with such fun facts. Woad vs Indigo, stained glass windows and in our current era it is our favorite and dominant color. The book spends several chapters explaining why the French army switched from red to blue and why blue is the treasured color of the French flag. I guess the book must have been published first in France. I was not too interested in these facts.

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