Green…Viridian…Veridis…Galbinus…Yereq

 

Saint Catherine of Alexandria in her Study, from Belles Heures of Jean, the Cloisters Collection, 1954
When Nero, emperor of Rome during the first century, got tired of looking at the gory, bloody gladiator fights, he would avert his eyes to his jewelry and stare at the green in the emeralds. Romans were fans of green naming the word: veridis. In the chariot races, the Blues represented the stables of the senatorial patricians while the Greens were the stables of “the people”.
 
For the Hellenistic Greeks, green as becoming a color in its own right was more complicated. The ancient Greeks had names for the colors: white (leukos), black (melanos), and red (erthros) but not for green. The reason being that they thought colors of nature did not need to be signaled out and given a name. Secondly, a true color is a manufactured color. To mix a color like blue and yellow to create green is bad kharma. Otherwise , in the words of First century AD Plutarch:
 
       “mixing produces conflict, blending pigments is deflowering…”
                                                                   Bright Earth, Philip Ball, page 19
 
Although, these ancient Greek artists were not opposed to glazing translucent colors over opaque ones to make a variety of tones, it was 
acceptable to mix black or white into another color. This practice of “glazing” continued into the Renaissance. Greens were created by glazing yellow over blue. One of the early pigments was from the organic compound malachite. Later in time, malachite green was replaced by a very poisonous emerald. Poisonous greens have an infamous history. Legend says that Napoleon Bonaparte died while in exile from being poisoned by the arsenic fumes of the painted green walls. Eventually, in 1859, a safer green was manufactured called “veridian”, a hydrated chromic oxide. Veridian  was adored by the Impressionists especially Cezanne.
 
Before 1000 AD , the color green must work for its acceptance and status as a single, honest color. To explore this, it helps to understand the sense of morality given to colors in the Middle Ages. For the most part, green was considered to be bad and dishonest by Catholic  saints, Roman  officials , and later by Protestant reformers.  First of all, although green was used abundantly in the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages, there was very little mention  of colors in the Bible and particularly green. Colors were identified with matter.  Like gold is a color and the shiny metal gold. The Hebrews had a word for green: “yereq”.  But for the Church fathers, green signified vegetation!
 
In the 13th century , Pope Innocent III codified the colors used in the Catholic liturgical mass. In this treatise on the mass, Pope Innocent III

included green as a liturgical color. No longer was green considered bad but became symbolically to mean the color of hope, life, abundance as in the green fields and forests of nature. Prior to this liturgical ordering, green meant sickness as when the human body turns green with disease. The “people”      accepted this new status for green, ranking green higher than yellow, blue, or purple. For that matter, blue was even rarer than green to be found in the Bible if at all.

 

Joan of Arc, Jules Bastien-Lepage,  1879, oil on canvas, The MetFifth Ave, Gallery 800

When the Germans  in the 5th century, introduced and tested new dying methods for making clothes, the industry brought new colors to the people. Clothing on one side was a monochrome color of either white, red, or yellow ; and on the other side , there were vivid combinations of blue, green, and yellow. The Romans tended toward yellow-green, which in  Latin is galbinus“. Since the Germans knew the superior cloth dying techniques, their sense of color  pervaded. Charlemagne wore green and red signifying his political power.  The Vikings wore green tunics, as the Germanic green was equivalent to the Scandinavian green worn by these pirates. These northern European dyers found their greens from the natural order. Ferns, plantains, oak leaves and even birch bark were used for green dye. However the green dye was very unstable and not very vivid.  This instability led to green’s tarnished reputation as a color.

 
Like the Bible, green was rarely mentioned in the Q’uran if at all.
Muhammed though favored green especially in fabrics. Upon his 
death in 632 AD, green became the color of his family.  This status was only a political one, not a sacred one. Various dynasties had their  own symbolic color like the Abbasids’ color was black; the Almoravids were white; and Almohads were red. During the crusades, the Christians wore red and white, while Islam adopted green as a unifying color, This green became  symbolic for paradise, happiness, water, sky, and hope.
  
By the 1000’s and 1200’s, green was very popular. The color was valued as a middle color with a soothing effect. Green emeralds were pulverized to make an eye balm. Competition between blue and green
furthered cemented the use and significance of green. Although not very evident in the heraldry of the European Middle Ages, green was symbolic of youthfulness, love and chivalry. The “orchard motif” popularized during this Romanesque period employed green generously. The orchard was the place for courtly romances, usually including an enclosed garden space with a gate. The orchard was thought of as a place of rest, harmony, and relaxation: a place full of trees, vineyard,meadow flowers, magical and mythical beasts like unicorns and phoenixes and what better color to use to paint or embroider this paradise than green!
 
resources:
  •    Green, the History of Color, Michel Pastoureau ,Princeton University Press,2014
  •     Bright Earth, Art  and the Invention of Color,Philip Ball, The University of Chicago Press,2001
  • The Artist’s Magazine, June 2017,Vol.34 #5, “Brushing Up” by Michael C.Johnson, article: Going Green

Is White a Color?

 

 

 

 

oil painting on board,
by Beth
As far back as ancient Egypt, white has signified omnipotence and purity. Other cultures have added innocence and freedom. Egyptians at  their holy ceremonies wore white sandals to signify purity. For China though, white means death and illness. According to Taoism, white next to black symbolizes contrast like that of ying-yang.

 

Sissinghurst Gardens in England

Artists like Russia’s Wassily Kandinsky and Dutch artist Piet Mondrian comment on their likeness and use of white in their paintings. Familiar with the Impressionist painters view of white, Kandinsky appreciates “white” to be the absence of color, being like a great silence. White harmonizes negatively as well as acting full of possibility like the nothingness just before birth.

                  
Blue and White, Piet Mondrian

Between 1923 and 1935, Mondrian painted Composition A, Red, White, and Blue. Between 1923 and 1935, Mondrian painted Composition A, Red, White, and Blue, and Blue and White.Each included areas of white pigment. In Red, White, and Blue, the simple and larger white areas drew interest because everything about these white squares seemed spotless. Mondrian did admit that he added color to his white subject to cheer up his paintings for whom a lot of white seemed gloomy. He writes:

” The persisting white field in heightened contrast to the black             lines is a luminous ground, it has what may  be called after               Keats: the power of white    Simplicity…”

to read more: Mondrian on the Painting of Abstract  Painting,  by MeyerShapiro  p.26                                                   

White as a pigment is not all the same. Four different types of whites are used by painters from prehistoric times to the present: lime white, lead white, flake white, and Cremnitz white.

                 Blue Snow, oil painting, Saul Bellows

Most of what was known about lime white, which was often referred inaccurately to chalk, was from Cennini’s The Craftsman’s Handbook of the Middle ages. The process of making lime white was more complex than making chalk.The first step was to soak lime powder in water for 8 days after which small cakes were dried in the sun thus making lime white. Unfortunately, Lead white was banned by 19th-century European painters when it was discovered how poisonous lead was to painters. A curious story tells of the blackening of angel faces painted in British 14th-century manuscripts. Theses angel faces were painted with lead white that turned black when exposed to the hydrogen sulfide of the gas lamps used in reading these manuscripts. These discolored angels became known as the Black Angels. Titanium white is twice as opaque as lead white and is a brilliant all-purpose white. The dried residue of titanium ore is very spongy and not conducive for paints so zinc oxide with its brittle residue was added and the mix created a pliable medium for oil paints which most professional artists use. Zinc white is slow drying and very clean which makes it valuable for tinting with other colors.But zinc white also dries to a brittle film that could crack a painting loaded with this pigment. A winter landscape would be better served by using another white like titanium instead of zinc white.

Is white a color? One way to answer this question is to emphasize that pure white is the absence of color and unlike black cannot be mixed from paint tubes of other colors. Another way to answer this question is to consider the physical properties of white pigment coming from ores grounded into white mixes. Titanium and zinc oxide after grinding produce excellent nuances of white.

hibiscus from my yard