Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Purple, the Imperial Color, History of Color #10

Byzantine Emperor Justinian, mosaic in St Vitale church, Ravenna, Italy

I wrote about red and blue as colors of power in my recent entry. But the ultimate color of power was purple, before red and blue rose to higher prominence. It was before the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, which I mentioned in the entry about the holy blood relic in Reichenau and Bruges. Constantinople never recovered enough to produce purple dyed clothes again. This fact might give you some insight how expensive purple dye was.

 The purple dye was so expensive that it was a subject of sumptuary laws, and mostly restricted for the imperial or royal families. It was produced from Murex sea snail, and tens of thousands were needed to dye one piece of garment. Color purple took the name from the dye, wasn't the description of color itself. The price of dye was equal of weight in gold.  The main center of the craft of dyeing in purple was Tyre, in Phoenicia. The name Purple of Tyre comes from it. This purple wasn't the hue we perceive today as such: it was more reddish brownish, a very muted but intense color. The emperors robe on the mosaic above looks more blueish than in person. The robe of Jesus looks more brownish, but it is difficult to take very accurate pictures of mosaics in the interior, where every detail will be of exact color. And the purple of Tyre doesn't get reproduced very well on the computer screens either. But you get the idea.
Mosaics at San Vitale church, Ravenna, Italy, via wiki commons, thanks to Tango

Not only rulers were depicted in purple, but also Jesus and Virgin Mary. Byzantine art showed them as rulers, full of dignity and somehow stern looking, as does the Christ dressed in purple on Byzantine mosaic from the church St Apolinare Nouvo, Ravenna, Italy (via wiki commons) The style is Early Byzantine.

And here is shroud of Charlemagne, early IXc. manufactured in Constantinople, today in Paris, Musée National du Moyen Âge. (via wiki commons). Purple on silk created wonderful effects that enchanted the eye: depending on light looked more blueish or reddish, had luster fro which was prized too. Not many fabric are left from Byzantine times, mostly fragments, and like this one found in the graves of the rulers of the time.

Shroud of emperor Charlemagne, purple dyed silk
 The purple was known already in Antiquity, and was mythologically credited to be discovered by the dog of Hercules. Plato mentioned this color in his Symposium as the greatest hue of all. It was used in Egypt, and became the color of Roman emperors. Sometimes the law was not harsh and women were allowed to wear purple, but other times anyone else than emperor wearing a purple robe would be killed. The first church in Europe was founded because of religious devotion and courtesy of a woman, Lydia, who was a business woman, a merchant in purple dyed fabrics. She must have only rich clients.

One of the Roman emperors forbid his wife to buy additional purples robes, as he considered too expensive.

Today, to all my knowledge there is only one pigment manufacturer mill, Kremmer Pigmente from Germany, which sells  this kind of  purple for art conservation purposes. One ounce would be 153,120 $, of course on the website for the art conservators this dye is sold in fractions of  1gram (1 once has 30 grams, to remind you), so , it is sold sold here in fractions of grams
According to Kremmer Pigmente, it takes 10,000 snails to make 1 gram of purple, which would be 300, 000 to make one ounce.

Later instead of purple silks were dyed with kermes, which was red dye made of the bodies of dried insects. I am for sure glad we use different process in fabric dyeing today, not involving killing masses of mollusc, or insects. (But still,  today fashion industry is terribly unfriendly toward the environment, one of the main polluters). Lucky for me, a fine artist, I can pick and chose which pigments I want. Honestly, I couldn't bear to buy paints or dyes containing colors made out of living creatures. I don't wear silk either for this reason.

This red coronation mantle of Roger II, silk and gold thread, pearls and precious jewels was done in royal workshops  from Palermo, Sicily. Now in Vienna treasury.We see the new fashion coming, replacing purple with red, which resulted in pictures of royals, nobles and Virgin Mary dressed in red mantles.

Roger's II coronation mantle, via wiki commons, by Gryfindor

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Colors of Power: red and blue- History of Color in Middle Ages # 9

Red and blue, most prominent color duo of the Middle Ages. People just loved them so much, that even when writing about rainbow  they wrote often only blue and red! Also the existence of separated guilds of dyesrs dedicated for each color may be a testimony for high esteem and priceses of those particular colors.

 We see here in the video the colorful splendor of the Middle Ages, about illuminated manuscripts about British royals. Lots of color, but most prominently the duo of red and blue. Fresh colors, most of the time.Video window may not come up in an instant.
Interesting movie by BBC about royal illuminated manuscripts.

Here Charlemagne is  being crowned.

Emperor's Charlemagne Coronation, Illuminated mansucript, via wiki commons

Red and blue were colors of power in the secular world, why?  Red and blue dyes were expensive, not common, and people loved those hues, of course. Red was used after the purple of Tyre, very expensive and reserved only for the rulers, became less and less available. Red in a more dark, dignified edition was replacing purple,which had a brownish tinge, not what we commonly classify as purple today, until appeared in its pure form, lighter and brighter. As we see bellow, on the Annunciation picture.The same with blue, it was considered a very noble color, and as the blue dye became to symbolize affluence and also royals were using it. (Royal blue).

Announciation by Petrus Christus, via wiki commons

Here on this Anounciation by Petrus Christus we see Virgin Mary dresses in a red mantle. We see the typical elements of Announciation, as the lilies signifying Mary's purity, the vase a pure vesel, open book also is traditional. Always opened on the same page on all paintings, Isaiah 7:14, or psalter pages in earlier book. Other written words is the passage from Announciation of the New Testament, the words spoken by the archangel ("Ave Maria,  gracia, plena"etc) was directly written in the picture. Mary is here depicted as a fine lady, dresses in a rich garment, expensive mantle.  Click here to read more about Announciation symbolism.
This painting is considered early Northern Renaissance, but still has elements of Gothic art. For example the folds of the robes of the angels are still very hard and geometric, the angel's posture is typical for Medieval art, also his wings, strong color, not white. But we see already linear perspective on the tiles of the floor, increased realism of depiction in painting, eye for detail.

Court scene from November,  Book of Hours of the Duke de Berry, Via Wiki commons

What a rich blue wears this duke! Probably he is the Duc de Berry himself, it is a miniature by Limbourg brothers, form the Tres Riches Heurs di Duc de Berry, form the magnificent manuscripts collection of the Musee Condee.
Announciation, unknown German Master, via wiki commons

The Announcaition again, this time we see all elements traditionally depicted in announciations, but this time the book is  not opened, but text is written on the banner held by the archangel.("Hail Mary, full of grace"). this banner as a speech bubble appears often.Wallraf Richttarzt Museum Cologne. Mary with a book again, it has significance, depends if closed or open, etc. Soon about Mary and book symbolism, an elaboration on this  important element of  iconography.

Altdorfer, Virgin Mary with Child, XIV.c via wiki commoms
Virgin Mary as queen, with infant Jesus in her arms, by Altdorfer, (German), museum in Budapest.Infant Jesus has a necklace symbolzsing his future Passion and death on the cross (coral ) which in secular symbolism and superstition of the days: it  was supposed to avert evil. The apple is relating to original sin, held by Jesus is a symbol of redemption, eradication of sin.
Death of the Virgin, by Konrad von Soest, Mary on her death bed attended by humans of saintly and common stature, and by angels themselves. We see richly embroidered blue mantle and blue angels, as the symbols of heavenly realm.Also prominent is red/blue color duo, gold background. Closed books also present, symbol of the Virgin. What is written on the open scroll, which is read by bearded man dressed in red, with his head covered as sign of respect and humility? The paleographers would tell. The saint whose hand holding quill  is almost touching Virgin's hand is, has "Saint John the Apostle" written on his hallo.

Death of Mary by Konrad von Soest, via wiki coomons