Synopses & Reviews
In this vivid and captivating journey through the colors of an artist's palette, Victoria Finlay takes us on an enthralling adventure around the world and through the ages, illuminating how the colors we choose to value have determined the history of culture itself.
How did the most precious color blue travel all the way from remote lapis mines in Afghanistan to Michelangelo's brush? What is the connection between brown paint and ancient Egyptian mummies? Why did Robin Hood wear Lincoln green? In Color, Finlay explores the physical materials that color our world, such as precious minerals and insect blood, as well as the social and political meanings that color has carried through time.
Roman emperors used to wear togas dyed with a purple color that was made from an odorous Lebanese shellfish which probably meant their scent preceded them. In the eighteenth century, black dye was called logwood and grew along the Spanish Main. Some of the first indigo plantations were started in America, amazingly enough, by a seventeen-year-old girl named Eliza. And the popular van Gogh painting White Roses at Washington's National Gallery had to be renamed after a researcher discovered that the flowers were originally done in a pink paint that had faded nearly a century ago. Color is full of extraordinary people, events, and anecdotes painted all the more dazzling by Finlay's engaging style.
Embark upon a thrilling adventure with this intrepid journalist as she travels on a donkey along ancient silk trade routes; with the Phoenicians sailing the Mediterranean in search of a special purple shell that garners wealth, sustenance, and prestige; with modern Chilean farmers breeding and bleeding insects for their viscous red blood. The colors that craft our world have never looked so bright.
"[A] blend of travelogue and historical exploration....Thanks to Finlay's impeccable reportorial skills and a remarkable degree of engagement, this is an utterly unique and fascinating read." Publishers Weekly
"A well-rounded exploration...from an engagingly personal vantage....A labor of love and a lifetime's interest expressed in a series of integrated essays that are substantial without being weighty." Kirkus Reviews
"Curious social mores, serendipitous science, and lots of skulduggery are all part of the rich spectrum Finlay so cheerfully illuminates." Donna Seaman, Booklist
"Loaded with fascinating tidbits, this portrait of colors and their histories will provide readers with lots of conversation-starters." Boston Herald
"In this engaging travelogue, a rainbow of hues determined the author's choice of destinations....By the time you read 'Violet,' you will have traversed much of the world, sharing Finlay's contagious fascination with color." Condé Nast Traveler
"This is a rare and wonderful book a model of erudition and charm, the writing elegant and precise, and with at least one new and fascinating revelation on every single page. I could not be more enthusiastic." Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman
"Until I read this book, I was colorblind." Cynthia Rowley
"Color is the essence of landscape, of mood, of our whole perception of the physical world. Victoria Finlay has traveled through Iran, Afghanistan, and other places to investigate the origin of all those tantalizingly sensual ochers and reds and blues. What a creative idea for a book!" Robert D. Kaplan, author of The Ends of the Earth and Eastward to Tartary
Discover the tantalizing true stories behind your favorite colors.
For example: Cleopatra used saffron—a source of the color yellow—for seduction. Extracted from an Afghan mine, the blue “ultramarine” paint used by Michelangelo was so expensive he couldnt afford to buy it himself. Since ancient times, carmine red—still found in lipsticks and Cherry Coke today—has come from the blood of insects.
As a color, black comes in no other shades: it is a single hue with no variation, one half of a dichotomy. But what it symbolizes envelops the entire spectrum of meaningandmdash;good and bad. The Story of Black travels back to the biblical and classical eras to explore the ambiguous relationship the worldandrsquo;s cultures have had with this sometimes accursed color, examining how black has been used as a tool and a metaphor in a plethora of startling ways.and#160;John Harvey delves into the colorandrsquo;s problematic association with race, observing how white Europeans exploited the negative associations people had with the color to enslave millions of black Africans. He then looks at the many figurative meanings of blackandmdash;for instance, the Greek word melancholia, or black bile, which defines our dark moods, and the ancient Egyptiansandrsquo; use of black as the color of death, which led to it becoming the standard hue for funereal garb and the clothing of priests, churches, and cults. Considering the innate austerity and gravity of black, Harvey reveals how it also became the color of choice for the robes of merchants, lawyers, and monarchs before gaining popularity with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century dandies and with Goths and other subcultures today. Finally, he looks at how artists and designers have applied the color to their work, from the earliest cave paintings to Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Rothko.and#160;Asking how a single color can at once embody death, evil, and glamour, The Story of Black unearths the secret behind blackandrsquo;s continuing power to compel and divide us.
About the Author
A British citizen living in Hong Kong, Victoria Finlay has worked for Reuters and was the arts editor for the South China Morning Post for four and a half years before leaving to write this book. She writes regularly about arts and travel for Hong Kong newspapers and international media.
Table of Contents
Introduction: How Black is Black?
1 The Oldest Colour
2 Classical Black
3 The Black of God
4 Black in Society: Arabia, Europe
5 Two Artists in Black
6 Black Choler
7 Servitude and Nandeacute;gritude
8 Black in the Enlightenment
9 Britainandrsquo;s Black Century
10 Our Colour?
A Note on Chessboards, Death and Whiteness