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The colour of life; stands for passion and is seen as a warning colour against danger
Stands for love, sympathy, compassion and helpfulness
Mixed colour, stands for joie de vivre, excitement and creativity
Connection to the sun, stands for the spiritual and intellect, inspiration, and a search for the truth
Contains the warmth of brown and crispness of white. Dependable, conservative, flexible
Colour of harmony and balance, joyful energy, inner peace, nature, healing
Introversion, calm, concentration on the important things, loyalty, dedication. Light blue - creativity, dark blue - intelligence
Joins the soul and body, sorcery/magic, transformation, spirituality
Contains all colours. Colour of light, brightness, spiritual clarity, innocence
Elegance, objectivity, thoughtfulness
The past, the subconscious, the moon, passivity, femininity, dedication
The wisdom of god, harmony, sun, activity, the future
Love & compassion (pink) combined with divine wisdom (gold)
We have more than 250 million receptors in our eyes, which makes seeing our main sense and colours our most immediate source of information. They immediately reach the brainstem and releasing emotions and instincts, which we have acquired throughout evolution.
Colours don’t exist as a material and are only created by the refraction of light on the surface of objects. In 1671 Newton was the first to discover this refraction of light. The surface swallows and reflects different parts of the light spectrum, and the reflected light waves create the colour that we see.
Why do colours even exist? Colours ultimately serve as signals. The primary colours blue, red and yellow are the strongest as the eye reacts to contrasts to pick up on what sticks out of the immediate environment, which shows how colours are necessary for survival. For example, flowers use bright and often contrasting colours to lure in animals and insects, who then carry on their pollen and make their procreation possible.
Humans also react to colours. The first traces of decorations with colours are from the Stone Age. Shells with pieces of ochre were found in African caves, apparently, the ochre was combined with water and then used to paint faces. It served as a way for individualisation, to separate yourself from the group. But groups could also use these colours to create a norm and a feeling of togetherness. Through jewellery, patterns and symbols, cultural communities were able to distinguish themselves. So, colours also served as a way to distinguish yourself as either belonging to or being separate from a group.
Red is seen as the key colour in evolution, as the ability to see red came around to be able to see the ripeness of fruit. This ability is more developed in women than men, as women were responsible for the gathering of fruit. That’s also why red-green colour blindness is more prominent in men than women. Red is an important guiding colour as it also has a biological purpose: blushing can be picked up on as a sign for shyness or for excitement, and therefore influences the approach of a possible partner. Since the Stone Age, red has also been used as a signal colour. In Stone Age paintings the key details were drawn in red- also because red was the only strongly pigmented colour that could be found in nature at the time.
Red is seen as the key colour in evolution, as the ability to see red came around to be able to see the ripeness of fruit."
Blue as the colour of the sky and of the ocean has always had a special effect on humans, its exclusive status further highlighted as it was a colour that could not be found in nature for dyeing or decorative purposes. Only with the discovery of lapis lazuli in Afghanistan was it possible to use blue for decorations. Lapis lazuli belongs to the mainsprings of the first globalisation, as for its trade the first preliminary stage of the silk road was created. But the stone could not be used for pigment extraction as it loses its shade when pulverised. The Egyptians were the first to create colour pigments chemically, they developed blue from copper oxide. Together with gold, blue was the symbol of the sun, the sky and of divine power.
With the chemical development of blue colour pigments, a door was opened for further chemical colour creations. A green hue was created out of pulverised Malachite. Ori pigment, an arsenic sulphite, was used to create a foundation for yellow. Cinnabar, which contains quicksilver, was used for a fiery red. The effort to create colour became even greater with the discovery of Safran crocus, which has to be picked and taken apart by hand to get to the crocin dye. When clothes are submerged in a brew of Safran, the clothes turn yellow. Even more extravagant was the creation of the colour shade purple - the Phoenicians discovered it as a result of the observed reaction of a shell-secretion with oxygen. Its creation was so costly, that it could only be worn by and became a symbol of kings and the most powerful of the church.
The Antique world seems incredibly colourful - dyes from Asia were traded to Europe and Africa. They lavishly decorated the architecture and the clothes of the rich. Colours were very precious, loved and even signalled societal status. In Rome, only the emperor could wear purple. The senators could wear one stripe of purple on their otherwise white toga. Nobles and the middle class wore colourful clothes, whereas slaves wore brown and grey. With the games in the Colosseum and in the Circus Maximus, colours started getting another function, as they marked groups who then gained more and more political influence and formed the beginning of the political colouring. To this day, red is the colour of the labour movement and black is the colour of the Christian democrats, which links back to the dark garments that priests wore.
In China, the emperor also used colours to establish a clear hierarchy in his country. Yellow, seen as the colour of wealth and creation, could only be affiliated with the Chinese emperor until 1911. Red, as the colour of fire and power, was the colour for high ranking members of the court. Brown and white were given to the farmers.
But in the early Middle Ages, all colour seemed to disappear from European society. In the chaotic wake of the Migration Period, humans were preoccupied with the fight for survival. There were climatic fluctuations in the middle of the 1st century, leading to hunger and illnesses. No more plants for dyeing were planted, and colours slowly started to disappear. Only 800 A.D the so-called grey era ended with the ascension of Charlemagne. He instated land reforms for the planting of flowers and roots that could be used for dyeing with the hopes of reigniting trade in Europe. His plan worked out, and the craft of dyeing developed into a very honourable guild.
"Only 800 A.D the so-called grey era ended with the ascension of Charlemagne."
It is around this time that colour codes developed that partially exist to this day. Once again purple was reserved for kings and high-ranking members of the church. Blue stood for loyalty, calmness, and objectivity. Modern application coaches still give the advice to wear a blue shirt with a purple tie to positively influence the interview. The negative association with yellow also comes from this era. From the 12th century onwards, yellow was proclaimed by Christian preachers as the colour of greed and sin. Judas is therefore often painted in a yellow garment. Jews later first had to wear yellow hats and then the yellow Jewish badges. In the animal kingdom yellow is a used as a signal to put off possible enemies. Humans turn slightly yellow when they’re ill. Yellow is to this day one of the least popular colours in Europe.
From the 15th century onwards colours were the driving force behind the departure into the modern world. Their trade and easy transport made them almost as valuable as gold. Columbus was looking for indigo in India when he found South America instead of India. That’s how he came into contact with the cochineal, an insect which was used by the Native Americans as a red dye. Columbus established a new trading route for cochineal to Europe where it was used to produce carmine. The hunt for indigo continued and in India the Portuguese, British and Dutch outbid themselves with increasingly larger plantations. Brazil was named after the Brazilwood which gives off a red dye and was found in its jungles. The colour trade united continents and boosted the discovery of the world.
Around 600 years later colours have become such a constant, natural presence in our day to day life that it’s hard to believe how much of an influence they’ve had on the political and economic development of the world. Through the development of chemical colourants we are no longer dependent on natural raw materials for dyeing. Companies such as Bayer or BASF can produce hundreds of litres of colours in more than 200 possible shades on a daily basis. Due to the massive presence of colours in our lives, they remain a great influence on our thoughts and emotions. When it comes to choosing the “right” colour, just trust your instincts- they will lead you to the right decision.