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.