Medievalists has a fun article up about colour. Me, I’m all about the red first. Black second. I was rather delighted to find out I’d be an evil knight. :D Some interestin’ bits:
Medieval scholars inherited the idea from ancient times that there were seven colors: white, yellow, red, green, blue, purple and black. Green was the middle color, which meant that it sat balanced between the extremes of white and black. It was also considered a soothing color, so much so that scribes often kept emeralds and other green objects beside them to look at when they needed to rest their eyes, while the poet Baudri de Bourgueil suggested writing on green tablets instead of white or black ones.
I wouldn’t mind keeping a few emeralds around…
Arthurian romances, one of the most popular forms of literature in the High Middle Ages, often made symbolic use of color, especially in the depiction of knights. Pastoureau writes:
The color code was recurrent and meaningful. A black knight was almost a character of primary importance (Tristan, Lancelot, Gawain) who wanted to hide his identity; he was generally motivated by good intentions and prepared to demonstrate his valor, especially by jousting or tournament. A red knight, on the other hand, was often hostile to the hero; this was a perfidious or evil knight, sometimes the devil’s envoy or a mysterious being from the Other World. Less prominent, a white knight was generally viewed as good; this was an older figure, a friend of protector or the hero, to who he gave wise council. Conversely, a green knight was a young knight, recently dubbed, whose audacious or insolent behavior was going to cause great disorder; he could be good or bad. Finally, yellow or gold knights were rare and blue knights nonexistent.
There’s also the mystery of why the colour blue took so very long to show up, and much more.
Michel Pastoureau has written extensively about symbolism and colors in the Middle Ages. His series A History of a Color, has four books that have been translated into English – Black, Blue, Green and Red.
I’ve already tracked these down at B&N and put my order in! :D Not only a lovely little history, but a nice read, and fun resource for artists. You can read everything at Medievalists.net.
Marcus Ranum says
I was rather delighted to find out I’d be an evil knight
I once had a bizzare discussion with a marketing professional who insisted that color in logos tremendously influences how customers perceive the company behind them. You know, IBM’s blue is particularly stolid, and Lucent’s flaming red butthole logo shows energy and passion and perhaps a love for sriracha, etc. Naturally, I don’t believe any of it -- they either have to argue genetic determinism (evolutionary psychology) or that it’s cultural -- and if it’s cultural, then, hey, let’s change culture not the other way around. I asked specifically about red and black and was told “the nazis ruined that combination” … So, now you know.
I don’t care, I love red and black, but the marketing person was right -- colour has a tremendous influence, not only on perception, but sales. There have been acres of studies on the influence of colour on people. People often have very solid cultural notions about colour, and what particular ones mean. Then there are things like finding out that bubblegum pink actually has a calming effect in jail situations, and so forth.
We are tremendously influenced by colour.
Oh, and about the red and black, yeah, it’s fine in clothing, but it can be death in logos because of the nazi connection. Red and black in logos has to be extremely well handled. (I used to do that sort of work.)
One thing I was told about color when I had to go to all those marketing classes: the claim is that as people age, the covering of the eye thickens somewhat and makes some colors harder to see. The claim is that this is why one often sees elderly men on the golf course wearing startling combinations of color; they are not able to see them very well, so they like things the rest of us might find hideous. So, they told me, when designing things intended to appeal to older people, use the color red. Older people, supposedly, can see that color better and find it more attractive. When designing with the intention of appealing to younger people, use the color blue; they are able to see it better, so the claim goes, so they tend to like it more.
****SIGH**** No evidence presented, of course. Just straight assertions. “You just paid a bunch of money for this, you are an idiot, Kestrel.”
Kestrel, yeah, I got the same thing. Kids see colour really well; when it comes to older people, you have to really ramp the colour up!
Yeah, well, I’m old, and I see colour just fine, thank you. Personally, I think some of the hideous colours of old guys on golf courses is simply because they like it, and you get to feeling a bit more freedom on that front as you age. Especially men, who are, for most of their professional life, highly restricted in somber dress and colours. I think they just let the fuck loose in retirement.
Marcus Ranum says
bubblegum pink actually has a calming effect in jail situations, and so forth.
I am told it is an auspicious color for hydraulic forging presses. But since I’m the person who told me that, I’m not sure if it’s accurate.
Kestrel, my partner got her cataracts done a few years ago, and the first thing she said was about the colours of the world being so brilliant! A jumper she had bought as tastefully matching her outfit got hurriedly returned to the op shop. Bright green objects suddenly jumped out of the brown back ground. So there is definitely some evidence for the claim.
Raucous Indignation says
Red and black works very nicely on sports cars too!
Raucous Indignation says
Please remember that the most common form of color blindness is an X-linked trait. I have partial penetrance, for example. I score poorly on those tests were you have to pick out the number in the field of different colored dots, but not poorly enough to have full red-green color blindness. The world still seems very vibrant to me, but I’ve learned to double check my color perception.
Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk- says
I’m a carrier for that particular little thingy. My dad isn’t the full red/green colour blind, but it was enough to destroy his dream of going to sea as a young man. Thing is that he never really noticed until then. OK, back in those days, colour was still expensive, so it wasn’t that much of a deal. Needless to say that he had to be checked over before leaving the house for anything not casual.
One of my art teachers once made the mistake of informing us that the mistresses and prostitutes would often be depicted in yellow.
From that day on, no matter what the period, what the image, one of my classmates would ask if this yellow person/object had a sexual meaning and then start some philosophical wankery until the poor woman ran out of the room crying.
FFS, some people are such wanton assholes. I would have found that sort of information fascinating, and would have wanted to know the roots and reasoning of it.
@#11, Caine: yeah, plus, some of this had to do with how hard the dye was to obtain and how hard it was to get it fast (light fast, so it wouldn’t fade) and what fibers were in use at the time. Protein fibers (wool, animal hair, silk etc.) take up dye really well, but you usually need to use a mordant. Once people had protein fibers that changed things; they had been using cellulose fibers (flax, cotton etc.) and you have to use a different process to get a good fast dye on those. Some of the dyes are still used today in about the same way. Cotton on your blue jeans is basically just coated with layers of indigo dye; that’s why blue jeans start to fade, the indigo wears off the fibers at the knees and other stress areas and you can then see the original colors of the fiber.