Color Theory – Part 3 – History

Early history

The beginning of color perception and the understanding of color is deeply intertwined with human evolution and the development of early civilizations.

It is believed that our earliest ancestors perceived the world in relatively simple terms, with their vision primarily focused on distinguishing between light and dark, rather than perceiving a wide range of colors. This limited color perception was likely sufficient for survival needs: ripe fruits against green foliage or detecting predators in natural surroundings.

As humans progressed, particularly with the development of language and culture, their ability to perceive and describe colors expanded. They used a variety of natural materials to create pigments for body painting and art. These pigments were derived from minerals, plants, and other organic sources found in their environment.

Red was believed to be one of the first colors that humans saw (ripe fruits, blood, fire, red sunset skies) and it was one of the most used color. Red ochre, derived from iron oxide minerals, most widely used pigments by early humans, was often used for body painting, cave art (over 40.000 years ago), and rock paintings. Red ochre symbolized blood, vitality, and life force, and it was associated with rituals, ceremonies, and spiritual beliefs.

Other used pigments were white (obtained from chalk, kaolin clay, gypsum, or crushed shells) and black (created from charcoal, manganese oxide, or burned bone).

Coming back to red as the first color that human perceived, it is argued that blue was the last. The hypothesis suggests that ancient languages lacked a word for the color blue, and that as language and culture evolved, blue was one of the last colors to be named. (William Gladstone and Lazarus Geiger).

Ancient historyEgypt

In Ancient Egyptian culture colors were not only used for aesthetic purposes but also held symbolic meanings deeply intertwined with religious beliefs, societal structures, and cosmological concepts.

In “Brooke Porter Colors of Ancient Egypt by Professor Darnell, University of Hartford” and “Color in Ancient Egypt” by Graciela Gestoso Singer, we can find a lot of information about the Color Palette of Ancient Egypt.

Red, known as “desher” in ancient Egypt, symbolized both positive and negative concepts. It represented the destructive power of natural elements and was linked to the god of chaos, Seth. However, red also symbolized life and protection, as seen in the blood of the goddess Isis and the use of red jasper amulets.

In Egyptian texts, red ink was used for negative or harmful words. Additionally, red symbolized anger and fire, with “acting with a red heart” indicating anger and “to redden” meaning “to die.” Seth, depicted with red eyes and hair, embodied both evil and victory, depending on context. Red was also associated with the fiery nature of the sun and was worn during celebrations as body paint or in amulets made of red stones like cornelian.

Overall, red in ancient Egypt carried ambivalent meanings, representing health and vitality as well as anger and violence. In wall paintings and tomb scenes, the interpretation of red requires careful consideration of the context. While it often signifies danger or evil, it is equally prevalent as a symbol of life or divine presence, as seen in the image of Anubis and the goddess Hathor that welcomes the pharaoh Tut into the underworld.

Image Sources: The God Ra (The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (2003) by Richard H. Wilkinson, p. 208), Anubis, Tut and Hathor (© The J. Paul Getty Trust, 2001), Papirus of Ani – from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Red Amulet Of Isis

Yellow, “khenet” was associated with the sun god Ra, representing sunlight, warmth, and vitality. Also symbolized gold, wealth, and prosperity, and was used in religious rituals and funerary practices. This term was also used to describe women skin and the skin of foreigner that lived in the Mediterranean area. Both the sun and gold, which were yellow, were associated with imperishability, eternity, and indestructibility.

The gods were believed to have skin and bones made of gold, reflected in statues and mummy masks plated with gold. Pharaohs, upon death, were considered the new Osiris, thus becoming gods themselves. In depictions like the “Opening of the Mouth” ceremony, divine beings such as the mummy and Anubis are depicted with golden skin tones, while humans, like priests and mourning women, have reddish-brown and pale pink skin tones.

Blue, “irtyu” in ancient Egypt held diverse symbolic meanings. It represented water, sky, and heavenly gods, symbolizing fidelity and faithfulness.

In ancient Egyptian language, there was no specific term for “blue”; instead, it was associated with lapis lazuli, extending to represent the color blue. “Egyptian blue,” a pigment made from iron and copper oxides, was used but could darken over time. Blue was linked to gods like Amun-Ra and Osiris, with depictions often showing them with blue skin or hair. It symbolized the sky, water, and the Nile, representing life, rebirth, and fertility.

In the case of shabti statues, which were funerary figurines placed in tombs to serve the deceased in the afterlife, by depicting them in blue, it may have been believed that they would be imbued with the protective and regenerative qualities associated with these deities, ensuring the well-being and assistance of the deceased in the afterlife.

As regarding the blue scarabs,  they were associated with rebirth, regeneration, and the cycle of life due to its habit of rolling dung balls, which resembled the movement of the sun across the sky and its ability to emerge from the ground seemingly reborn.

Green, “wahdj” was mixed from malachite, a copper mineral, symbolizing goodness, growth, life, the afterlife, and resurrection. The Egyptian afterlife, known as The Field of Reeds or The Field of Malachite in some eras, was always associated with the color green.

Green represented growing things and positive, life-producing behavior, contrasting with red symbolizing evil. It was the color of Osiris, the dying and reviving god (he was both associated with blue and green because of his multifaceted role as a deity embodying themes of cosmic order, resurrection, and the eternal renewal of life), and the Eye of Horus.

The distinctions between the Eye of Ra and the Eye of Horus signify the unique characteristics and abilities of each god. Ra, being a commanding and feared deity, contrasts with Horus, who embodies compassion and restoration.

Depictions of the deceased transitioned from white to green, associating them with Osiris and resurrection.

Green also symbolized the goddess Hathor, Lady of the Sycamore, linked with renewal, transformation, and rebirth.

Actually both Hathor and Isis were associated with the color green in ancient Egyptian mythology as it symbolized aspects of fertility, renewal, and growth, which were central to the roles and attributes of these goddesses.

Green was valued for its associations with vitality, health, and prosperity. It was used in various aspects of daily life, from clothing and jewellery to cosmetics and household items.

Black, “kem” held profound symbolic significance across various aspects of life and belief. Primarily associated with death and the underworld, black symbolized the fertile soil of the Nile, signifying the cycle of life emerging from death. It also represented the darkness of the night sky, believed to be inhabited by the deceased and supernatural beings.

The mummy wrappings and burial chambers were colored in black, this usage symbolized the journey of the deceased into the afterlife and their transformation into a new existence.

Moreover, black held cosmic significance, representing the primordial darkness from which the world emerged and the potential for creation and renewal. The goddess Nut, depicted as the starry sky, was closely associated with black, embodying the cosmic order.

In mythology, black was linked to deities like Anubis, the god of funerary rites, often depicted with dark skin. His association with black underscored his role in guiding souls to the afterlife and emphasized the connection between death and rebirth.

White, “hedj” embodied purity and divinity, with deep associations to the afterlife and spiritual transcendence. It symbolized the clarity of the desert sands and the luminous purity of the sun’s rays, evoking a sense of sacredness and transcendence. In religious rituals and ceremonies, white was used to denote purity and sanctity, with priests and priestesses often donning white robes as a symbol of their divine connection. Temples and sacred spaces were adorned with white limestone, reflecting the eternal light of the gods and the sanctity of the divine presence.

The Hedjet, also known as the White Crown, was one of the ancient Egyptian crowns worn by pharaohs as a symbol of their rule and divine authority, representing their sovereignty over Upper Egypt and their connection to the gods.

Overall, white in ancient Egypt represented purity, divinity, and the transcendence of earthly limitations, weaving through religious beliefs, funerary practices, and cosmic mythology as a symbol of spiritual enlightenment and eternal renewal.

Ancient historyGreece

Colors in ancient Greece held significant cultural and symbolic meanings, impacting art, religion, and daily life, although their interpretations varied across different city-states and time periods. They were derived from natural sources like minerals and plants, with ochre, charcoal, and chalk being common pigments. Symbolically, white represented purity, red symbolized vitality, while blue and green depicted landscapes and nature. Cosmetics, clothing, and architecture also reflected color symbolism, with purple being associated with royalty. Additionally, colorful mosaics and frescoes adorned buildings and interiors, enriching Greek visual culture.

Image sources: Freepick Ai generated image

White: held multifaceted symbolic and cultural meanings, exerting a profound influence across various domains of art, religion, and daily life. Revered for its associations with purity, divinity, and spiritual enlightenment, white adorned sacred temples, statues, and ceremonial attire, serving as a visual marker of the sacred and the divine.

Philosophers and scholars donned white robes as an emblem of their pursuit of truth and moral purity, while religious festivals and rituals often featured participants attired in white garments as a mark of reverence and piety. White clothing was also common among athletes participating in the Olympic Games, reflecting the ideals of fairness and integrity.

Yet, white’s significance extended beyond the spiritual realm, permeating funerary practices where it symbolized the journey of the soul to the afterlife and adorned marble gravestones and monuments. In architecture, white marble, prized for its luminous appearance and aesthetic beauty, became synonymous with Greek craftsmanship and architectural excellence, adorning iconic structures like the Parthenon in Athens. Thus, white emerged as a symbol of both spiritual purity and ceremonial solemnity, woven intricately into the fabric of ancient Greek culture and civilization.

Image sources: Marble Wrestlers, Freepick Ai generated images

Red: was associated with vitality, passion, and courage. It was a prominent hue for military attire and armor, embodying the fierce spirit and indomitable resolve of warriors on the battlefield. Its vivid presence on shields, helmets, and weaponry not only served practical purposes but also conveyed a potent visual message of strength and valor, instilling a sense of confidence and determination in both soldiers and spectators alike.

Moreover, red was used in arts, particularly in pottery decoration, where its bold hues infused vessels with energy and dynamism. From amphorae to kylixes, red-figure and black-figure techniques were employed to depict mythological narratives, heroic exploits, and scenes of daily life.

Beyond its aesthetic appeal, red carried deeper symbolic connotations in religious rituals, where it evoked the primal essence of life itself. As the color of blood sacrifice, red symbolized the sacred bond between mortals and immortals, serving as a conduit for communion with the divine and a manifestation of the life force inherent in the gods.

Blue and Green: While less commonly mentioned in ancient Greek texts compared to other colors, blue and green were still present in various aspects of Greek life.

Blue was associated with the sea and sky, symbolizing the vastness of the cosmos and the mysteries of the natural world, appearing in murals, pottery, and sculptures.

Green, derived from natural dyes like plants and minerals, was used in textiles and artwork, although its symbolism is not as well-documented as other colors.

Image sources: Abduction of Persophone – Mosaic, Greek Traveling Costume

Black: Black was often associated with mourning and solemnity in ancient Greek culture. It was worn by individuals grieving the loss of a loved one and featured prominently in funerary rites and ceremonies. Black pottery, known as black-figure pottery, was also a common artistic style used for depicting scenes from mythology and everyday life.

Purple: Purple, specifically the dye known as Tyrian purple, was highly prized in ancient Greece due to its rarity and expense. It was meticulously extracted from Murex snails through a laborious process. Harvesters diligently collected these mollusks, particularly abundant in the eastern Mediterranean near Tyre. The snails were then crushed or boiled to release a colorless secretion. Upon exposure to air and sunlight, this liquid transformed into a rich purple dye due to oxidation.

Textiles, predominantly wool and silk, were dyed using this pigment, with the intensity of color varying based on factors such as dye concentration and exposure duration. Following dyeing, the textiles underwent treatments to fix the color, ensuring its longevity. The sheer effort involved in obtaining this dye rendered it extraordinarily costly, thus making it a symbol of prestige and wealth. Consequently, Tyrian blue was reserved for the elite, often regulated by sumptuary laws, and adorning only the attire of royalty and high-ranking officials.

Ancient historyRome

While both ancient Greece and Rome shared some similarities in the symbolic associations of colors, there were also differences influenced by cultural, religious, and historical factors. Red, black and white had the same symbolism and usage, but Romans contributed significantly to the development of color terminology and distinction between various shades of blue.

Image sources: Freepick Ai generated image

While yellow was not as prominent in ancient Greek symbolism, it held significance in Roman culture as a symbol of divinity, vitality, and prosperity. It was associated with the sun god Sol Invictus and used in religious ceremonies and imperial regalia..

Ancient Romans were the ones who developed a more extensive vocabularies for color, distinguishing between shades of blue, such as “caeruleus” for sky blue and “azureus” for deep blue.

Caeruleus: This term referred to a specific shade of blue, often described as “sky blue” or “cerulean.” It evoked the color of the sky on a clear day and was associated with qualities like clarity, serenity, and divine beauty.

Azureus: Azureus denoted a deeper, richer shade of blue compared to caeruleus. It represented the depths of the sea or the expanse of the heavens at night. This deep blue hue carried connotations of mystery, depth, and majesty.

These distinctions in vocabulary allowed the ancient Romans to express subtle differences in color perception and to articulate the nuances of their visual experiences more precisely. The development of such detailed color terminology reflects the Romans’ keen observation of the natural world and their appreciation for the aesthetic qualities of color.

Image sources: House from Pompeii, Roman Mosaic, Yellow Sol Invictus Mosaic, Fresco in ancient house Rome

Medieval Europe

During the medieval period, the vibrant exchange between art, science, and culture gave rise to a kaleidoscope of colors that could be found in lluminated manuscripts, architectural wonders, and religious artefacts.

Monastic centers meticulously crafted illuminated manuscripts, where vibrant pigments brought intricate illustrations to life, while stained glass windows in Gothic cathedrals bathed interiors in a symphony of hues, symbolizing divine glory. Patronage from monarchs and ecclesiastical institutions supported the production of these colorful masterpieces, reflecting the era’s creativity and intellectual inquiry.

Image sources: Freepick – Ai generated image

Purple: Similar to ancient Rome, purple remained a symbol of royalty, nobility, and imperial power in medieval Europe. It was associated with kings, queens, and other rulers, reflecting their elevated status and divine authority. Purple garments and textiles were often reserved for monarchs and high-ranking officials, signifying their wealth and prestige.

Manuscripts such as the illuminated gospels and other religious texts often incorporated purple as a symbol of royalty and divinity. These manuscripts were meticulously crafted by scribes and artists, who used pigments derived from natural sources to create vibrant and rich colors, including purple. The use of purple in religious texts served to elevate the importance of the content within, highlighting the divine nature of the words and the authority of the Church. Additionally, purple was sometimes used to embellish initial letters, decorative borders, and illustrations, adding a sense of opulence and reverence to the sacred texts

Red: Red symbolized a range of emotions and concepts in medieval Europe. It was associated with passion, love, and vitality, as well as courage and strength. Red was commonly used in heraldry to denote nobility and bravery, appearing on coats of arms, banners, and flags of noble families and knights.

It also bore religious importance, symbolizing Christ’s blood and the flames of Hell, alongside secular connotations denoting love, glory, and beauty. However, with the onset of the Protestant Reformation, ed faced a decline in status due to changing religious attitudes and reforms that sought to distance from perceived excesses and symbolism associated with Catholic practices.

Image sources: Red Knights – Freepick, Heraldic art , Purple Gospel, Hell Depiction in Hortum Deliciarum, Santa Trinita Maesta Painting

Blue: In medieval times, blue held symbolic significance but was not as prevalent as other colors like red or green. Blue was associated with divine attributes such as the sky and the heavens, as well as with qualities like loyalty, truth, and piety. Its use in religious art often depicted the Virgin Mary’s blue robes, symbolizing her purity and connection to heaven.

However, due to the costly nature of blue pigments, particularly ultramarine derived from lapis lazuli, blue was not as widely used in medieval artwork as other colors. Instead, it was often reserved for important figures, sacred scenes, or architectural elements in cathedrals and churches. Despite its limited use, blue still held a significant place in medieval art and culture, representing both spiritual and earthly realms. Blue was used starting with the Renaissance period.

Green: Green symbolized fertility, growth, and renewal in medieval European symbolism. It was associated with the natural world, representing the lushness of the countryside and the cycle of life. Green was also linked to rebirth and regeneration, particularly in the context of springtime and the revitalization of the earth. e primary source of green pigments was various plant-based materials, such as leaves, moss, and certain minerals like malachite. Overall, the accessibility of plant-based materials contributed to the widespread use of green in medieval art and culture.

In the painting “May” from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, created by the Limbourg Brothers between 1413 and 1416, blue is prominently featured in the background sky and in various decorative elements. The scene depicts a lush landscape with blooming flowers, verdant trees, and a tranquil river, evoking the renewal and abundance associated with the arrival of spring.

In medieval European culture, the color white embodied profound symbolism, representing purity, innocence, and virtue. Brides wore white attire on their wedding day, signifying their chastity and the auspicious start of a new life journey. Beyond its matrimonial connotations, white held significant religious symbolism, often associated with the divine light of God and the unblemished purity of the soul, reflecting spiritual enlightenment and transcendence.

Conversely, black conveyed contrasting meanings in medieval society, embodying both mourning and authority. As a symbol of mourning, black garments were worn to express sorrow and reverence for the departed, serving as a visual testament to grief and remembrance. Simultaneously, black attire denoted authority, dignity, and wisdom, commonly worn by clergy, judges, and scholars as a representation of their esteemed status and intellectual prowess. This duality of black’s symbolism illustrates its multifaceted nature, encompassing themes of sorrow and solemnity alongside notions of power and reverence within medieval European culture.

Image sources: Jean Wauquelin presenting his ‘Chroniques de Hainaut’ to Philip the GoodWikipedia

Mesoamerican Civilization

On the other side of the globe, were the Mesoamerican civilization, where each empire had remarkable achievements in architecture and infrastructure. The Maya (2000 BCE – 900 CE) and Aztecs (1345 CE – 1521 CE) constructed pyramids, while the Aztecs engineered causeways and aqueducts to navigate their challenging terrain. Additionally, the Incas (1438 CE – 1533 CE) established a vast  16.900 km-road (10. 000mile) network to unify their empire.

The Maya were known for their advanced writing, math, art, and astronomy, as well as their unique practice of skull deformation.

The Aztec civilization was heavily influenced by religion, with numerous gods, including those of the sun and war. They constructed pyramids as temples and engaged in warfare to capture sacrifices for their gods.

In contrast, the Inca Empire focused on organization and peace, boasting a sophisticated government and extensive road networks that facilitated societal development and connectivity.

In the civilizations of the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas, colors held cosmic significance, symbolizing celestial bodies, natural elements, and divine forces. These hues were integral to religious rituals, invoking the power of gods and ancestors. Additionally, colors denoted social hierarchy and status in all three societies. Royalty, priests, and nobility reserved specific colors, while commoners and laborers wore others, reflecting their societal position

Image sources: Wikipedia

Aztec Civilization

In Aztec civilization, colors held profound symbolic meanings, deeply intertwined with religious beliefs and cultural practices. The Aztecs engaged in warfare to capture prisoners for sacrificial purposes, contributing to their reputation for being a martial society.

Red: Red was associated with blood, warfare, and sacrifice in Aztec culture. It symbolized the life force of the sun god, Huitzilopochtli, and was used in rituals involving human sacrifice and bloodletting ceremonies.

Blue: Blue held sacred significance in Aztec religion, representing water, fertility, and the divine. It was associated with Tlaloc, the god of rain and agriculture, and was used in ceremonies to invoke his blessings for bountiful harvests. They would paint sacrificial victims with blue dye before offering them to their gods.

Yellow: Yellow symbolized preciousness, wealth, and the divine in Aztec culture. It was associated with the god Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent deity, and was used in ceremonies honoring him as a symbol of abundance and prosperity.

Image sources: Huitzilopochtli from Codex Telleriano-Remensis , Human Sacrifice for Huitzilopochtli – Codex Magliabecchi, Representations of Tlaloc – Codex Borbonicus, Quetzalcóatl – Codex Borbonicus, Natural colour dyes in use in pre –Hispanic Mexico: detail of mural by Diego Rivera, National Palace, Mexico 

Maya Civilization

While the Mayans engaged in warfare, it was not as central to their society as it was for the Aztecs. Instead, Mayan civilization placed greater emphasis on rituals, ceremonies, and agricultural practices. Mayan warfare was often ritualistic and ceremonial, with captives sometimes taken for sacrificial purposes, although not to the extent seen in Aztec society.

The Maya distinguished themselves as a civilization to advance a sophisticated written language, alongside notable achievements in mathematics, art, architecture, and astronomy.
For them colors also held significant symbolic meanings, closely linked to their religious beliefs and cultural tradition.

Red: Symbolized blood, life force, and vitality. It was associated with war and sacrifice, representing the power of the sun and the gods of war. Red was commonly used in religious rituals and ceremonies, particularly those involving bloodletting and human sacrifice.

Blue: Held sacred significance, representing water, fertility, and the divine. Blue was associated with Chaac, the rain god, and was used in ceremonies to invoke his blessings for agricultural abundance. It also symbolized the celestial realm, including the sky and the cosmos.

Green: Signified growth, renewal, and the natural world. Green was associated with vegetation, agriculture, and the cycle of life and death. It represented the lushness of the tropical environment and the bountiful harvests essential for Maya survival.

Yellow: Symbolized preciousness, wealth, and the divine. Yellow was associated with the sun god Kinich Ahau and represented the energy and vitality of the sun. It was also used in ceremonies related to rulership, prosperity, and abundance.

Black: Black held dual symbolism in Maya culture, representing death and regeneration. It was associated with the underworld and the journey of the soul after death, as well as with the fertile soil that nourished new life.

Image sources: Huitzilopochtli from Codex Telleriano-Remensis , Human Sacrifice for Huitzilopochtli – Codex Magliabecchi, Representations of Tlaloc – Codex Borbonicus, Quetzalcóatl – Codex Borbonicus, Natural colour dyes in use in pre –Hispanic Mexico: detail of mural by Diego Rivera, National Palace, Mexico 

Inca Civilization

Although Inca shared certain cultural elements with the other two civilizations, such as the development of advanced agricultural techniques and complex social structures, the Inca were distinguished by their unique engineering feats, including the construction of extensive road networks and impressive stone architecture, such as Machu Picchu. Additionally, the Inca Empire was known for its highly centralized government and meticulous record-keeping system, which facilitated efficient administration and communication across vast distances.

Inca art, colors were important and symbolic, though not as diverse as in Maya and Aztec art. They used natural pigments to create textiles, ceramics, and architectural decorations. The colors carried meanings related to nature, religion, and social status. Inca textiles were particularly notable for their intricate designs and use of color to convey cultural narratives.

Red: Symbolized power, energy, and vitality. It was associated with the sun, the emperor, and the military.

Yellow: Represented gold, wealth, and the sun god Inti. It was a sacred color reserved for the emperor and high-ranking officials.

White: Symbolized purity, peace, and the moon. It was associated with the goddess Mama Quilla and used in religious ceremonies.

Black: Signified the underworld, death, and mourning. It was also associated with agricultural fertility and the earth.

Green: Represented nature, fertility, and agricultural abundance. It symbolized the lush vegetation of the Andean landscape.

Blue: Held cosmic significance, representing water, lakes, and the sky. It symbolized life-giving rains and agricultural fertility.

Image sources: Inca textiles – tunics, white tunic, Inca artefacts

In Asian cultures during the medieval period, color symbolism played a significant role, reflecting similar themes of religion, society, and culture. Here are some key aspects of color symbolism in various Asian cultures during this time:

In traditional and medieval China, colors held deep symbolic significance, often associated with the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water), as well as other cultural and philosophical concepts. Here are some key aspects of color symbolism in Chinese culture:

Red: Red is considered the most auspicious color in Chinese culture, symbolizing happiness, prosperity, and good fortune. It is often used in celebrations such as weddings, festivals, and the Lunar New Year. Red is also associated with fire and the element of yang, representing warmth, energy, and vitality.

Yellow: Yellow was the color of the emperor in ancient China and symbolized royalty, power, and the center. It is associated with the element of earth and represents stability, neutrality, and the harvest. Yellow was reserved for imperial use and forbidden to commoners.

Blue and Green: Blue and green are associated with the element of wood and symbolize growth, vitality, and renewal. They are often used to represent nature, plants, and springtime. In traditional Chinese painting, landscapes are often depicted in shades of blue and green to evoke a sense of tranquility and harmony with the natural world.

Black: Black is associated with the element of water and represents the unknown, mystery, and depth. It is also associated with the concept of yin, representing darkness, receptivity, and introspection. In traditional Chinese culture, black is worn as a color of mourning and solemnity.

White: White is associated with the element of metal and symbolizes purity, righteousness, and spirituality. It is often used in funerary rites and represents the afterlife and the journey of the soul. White is also associated with mourning in some Chinese regions.

Image Sources: Chinese Red Knot, Clothes from the Ming Dynasty, Painting from the Ming Dinasty, Yellow Emperor, Chinese Paintings (Bird and Lanscape), Holy Men Painting, Chinese color and cardinal coordinates


Ancient Japanese used colors in various aspects of their lives, including art, clothing, architecture, and religious rituals.

Red: In Japan, red symbolized vitality, life force, and protection against evil spirits. It was commonly used in Shinto rituals, traditional clothing (such as the ceremonial kimono), and festive decorations during seasonal celebrations. Red is more associated with traditional rituals and garments rather than prosperity (comparing with Chinese culture).

Black: Black represented formality, elegance, and sophistication in Japanese culture. It was often worn for formal occasions, such as weddings and funerals, and symbolized discipline, refinement, and dignity.

White: White held dual symbolism in Japan, representing purity and mourning. It was worn by brides on their wedding day to symbolize purity and innocence, while also worn by mourners at funerals to signify grief and reverence for the deceased.

Green and blue: green symbolized nature, growth, and harmony, while blue represented the sky and sea, signifying purity and spirituality. Green was linked to vitality and tranquility, reflecting the lush countryside, while blue evoked expansiveness and depth, like the vast heavens and oceans. Both colors held significance in art and culture, portraying the beauty of the natural world and spiritual realms.

Blue is often associated with divine energy and is believed to represent the vastness of the sky and the depth of the ocean, symbolizing the limitless potential and boundless wisdom of the deity. It signifies the transformative and healing qualities attributed to Zaō Gongen, as well as his ability to dispel negativity and provide spiritual guidance to believers.

Image Sources: Japanese Art, Red Kimono, Court Lady in Green and Red Dress, Ceramic Painted Elephants, Budist Monk in Travelling Costume, Blue Zao Gongen, The Great Wave


Red: Similar to China, red held auspicious symbolism in Indian culture, representing fertility, prosperity, and marital bliss. It was commonly used in traditional weddings, religious ceremonies, and festive celebrations as a symbol of good fortune.

Yellow: Yellow was associated with spirituality and knowledge in India, symbolizing the divine light of wisdom and enlightenment. It was also associated with the Hindu deity Vishnu and used in religious rituals and offerings.

Blue: symbolizes divine love and transcendence, often associated with the Hindu deity Krishna, whose blue skin represents cosmic consciousness and compassion. It also signifies the vastness of the universe, purity of water, and is prominent in Indian art and aesthetics.

White: White symbolized purity and spiritual liberation in Indian culture, representing the attainment of enlightenment and the transcendence of worldly desires. It was commonly worn by ascetics and spiritual seekers as a symbol of renunciation and detachment.

Image Sources: India – Krishna representation, Visnu Statue

During the Renaissance, a period of cultural and artistic flourishing in Europe, there were significant advancements in the understanding and portrayal of color.

Artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo played pivotal roles in exploring techniques to depict light, shadow, and color more realistically in their works of art. These artists studied the interplay of light and color, experimenting with various pigments and methods to achieve lifelike representations of the natural world.

Leonardo da Vinci, renowned for his mastery of light and shadow, conducted extensive studies on the perception of color and its interaction with light. Through meticulous observation and experimentation, he developed techniques to create depth and dimensionality in his paintings, achieving a sense of realism unparalleled in his time.

Similarly, Michelangelo’s monumental works, such as the Sistine Chapel ceiling, showcased his command of color and form. His mastery of chiaroscuro, the use of light and shadow to create a sense of volume and depth, revolutionized the way artists approached color composition.

These Renaissance artists not only expanded the technical aspects of color representation but also contributed to the development of color theory. Their explorations of color mixing, tonal variations, and optical effects laid the groundwork for future generations of artists to further refine and innovate in their use of color.

We explored how colors held diverse symbolic meanings across different cultures and historical epochs. In contemporary times, the range of available colors has expanded exponentially. Advancements in pigment production and digital technology have enabled the creation of an extensive spectrum of hues, previously unseen by humanity.

Today, AI algorithms are actively involved in the creation of art, utilising the knowledge passed on by humans to produce unique and innovative pieces.

In the modern era, the study of color perception and psychology has evolved into a multidisciplinary endeavor, merging insights from physics, biology, psychology, and art. Scientific breakthroughs have deepened our comprehension of how the human eye interprets color, leading to innovations in fields like printing, photography, and digital imaging.

Today, colors remain pivotal in shaping culture, design, and communication. The evolution of language and societal norms has facilitated the identification and naming of a broad spectrum of colors. Blue (the last color that was named), alongside red and green, now stands as one of the primary colors. From the vibrant hues of advertising to the subtle tones of fine art, the perception and significance of colors remain as rich and complex as ever, reflecting the diversity and creativity of human expression.

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