Blue | A brief history

Blue | A brief history

Blue | A brief history. The best example for the history of colour is blue. Since the 40’s blue has won multiple surveys in western countries as peoples colour of choice. It’s popularity came late in history. A number of ancient languages don’t have a term for blue. 

Poets describe sky or sea in their pros, but they didn’t see ‘blue’ in them. For the Romans, blue was a barbaric colour. Tacitus and Caesar said if the  Celts and Germanic tribes who  painted themselves blue to scare off their invaders. Blue eyes was perceived as a physical defect – they depicted a savage or a woman of virtue. Ancient Egyptians revered the colour blue, they believed it brought good luck in the nether world. 

The Egyptians produced blue pigment, like glass, from a mixture of limestone, sand and minerals containing copper. The resulted in a glaze, ground and mixed with glue or egg white, produced a pale blue shade and was the first known synthetic pigment in history.

The Middle Ages blue got some appreciation. God was associated with light, and light was blue. Pale shades of blue started to appear in the backgrounds of illuminations, and blue glass, next to the ruby coloured ones started to get insetted into Gothic windows. 

As the sun sets, reds can appear black in colour, while blues and purples stay visible for longer. 

Blue in Gothic stained-glass windows shows it’s importance and can be attested by the number of blues shades: from pearl-blue through to turquoise and saturated sapphire blues. 

Blue became in time the colour of firmament. Haloes were often depicted in blue, especially the square nimbuses used for the ‘living saints’. Cherubs, and angels of Divine Wisdom, were depicted with blue wings. What made the colour blue fashionable was the depiction of the Virgin Mary’s cloak.

The House of Capet 987 to 1792, called the Capetian dynasty adopted golden lilies on a blue background as their royal crest and blue once seen as  ‘barbarian’ – became a royal colour and triumphantly joined black, red and white in heraldry. It started to complement, but also rival the colour red.

The 15th and 16th centuries, Renaissance takeover contributed to blue. Instead of gold being used in the background of frescoes and panel paintings, bright blue skies appeared. Shades of blue were also used in the Reformation. Its followers advocated sternness, so the painterly palette and clothing were dominated by grey, discreetly joined by blue. It wasn’t just its shades that were changing, but also how they were interpreted. A blue tailcoat was worn by Werther (The Sorrows of Young Werther is a 1774 epistolary novel by Johann Wolfgang Goethe) when he had his first dance with Charlotte. Young men started wearing the same all across Europe in response to the book. 

Towards the end of the 18th century, blue became a romantic and melancholic colour and continued to today. In English, the ‘blue hour’ means the end of the working day, when workers in the fading light, stop for a drink returning home. 

In the 20th century, blue, along with black and grey, has dominated clothing, being the colour used policemen, sailors, firemen, customs officers and postmen uniforms. The same goes for the young and old, who wear jeans. Yet, as noted by Michel Pastoureau, a scholar researching the history of colour, blue jeans could not play such a role for long. It is not a colour of dissent, but rather of consensus and peace. Used by many flags including the European Union, NATO and the United Nations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.