The History of A Color

Book - 2001
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Blue has a long and topsy-turvy history in the Western world. Once considered a hot color, it is now icy cool. The ancient Greeks scorned it as ugly and barbaric, but most Americans and Europeans now pick it as their favorite color. In this entertaining history, the renowned medievalist Michel Pastoureau traces the changing meanings of blue from its rare appearances in prehistoric art to its international ubiquity today in blue jeans and Gauloises cigarette packs.

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 entered the Church despite the efforts of chromophobic prelates. Blue was reborn as a royal color in the twelfth century and functioned as a formidable political and military force through the French Revolution. As blue triumphed in the modern era, new shades were created, and blue became the color of romance. 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.

With an exceptionally elegant design and strikingly illustrated with one hundred color plates, Blue tells the fascinating history of our favorite color and the cultures that have hated it, loved it, and created great art with it.

Publisher: Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2001
ISBN: 9780691090504
Branch Call Number: 701.85 PASTOURE
Characteristics: 216 p. : col. ill. ; 25 cm


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Dec 09, 2014

A lovely, deep book, full of cultural history of the most unexpected sort. Pleasantly concise, with delicious illustration, it is strongest on Middle Ages and Renaissance, but carries the story to the present in compelling fashion. The Gallic self-confidence may irk some, but the signal to noise ratio is much higher than the norm for such scholars. Fun for all is to be had.

ser_library Dec 04, 2013

wonderful illustrations, popular history

Jan 06, 2012

As a scholar and teacher (art history, visual studies), I found this book fascinating, and I'm eager to add it to my own library. Pastoureau's writing can be discomfiting. At first, he struck me as snobbish and crotchety, but I came to the conclusion he's just a French academic. It's worth bearing in mind that the literature has expanded mightily in the last decade. Although Pastoureau dismisses popular studies, I think he might have approved Victoria Finlay's Color: A natural history of the palette and A Perfect Red by Amy Butler Greenfield (both of which I enjoyed). What I really liked about his study is its criticality and the probing, productive questions he raises.


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