Wednesday, April 01, 2009

April 1st - A month of Colour...or Color ;o)

The wonderful Leah over at the Creative Every Day Blog has announced that the optional theme for April is Colour.
Ever since she announced it I've been thinking "Oh yeah - I can do that!".

Actually ever since Leah announced it, my mind has thought of little else other than colours ....appearing to have gone off on wild tangents of it's own accord, revisiting distant memories & dreams.
The brain cells briefly revisited facts learned years ago when I was researching historical costuming in order to acquire the right fabrics & textiles to complete some projects at the time, before taking of in the direction of favourite exotic locations & all that nature has to offer.

The colours that we take for granted these days haven't always been so easily obtainable. Naturally occurring pigments such as the ochres and the iron oxides have been used as colourants since very early times, but the one whose history always fascinated me was Purple – the colour of royalty & wealth.

Have you ever wondered why Purple was the colour of Royalty, associated with power, pomp & ceremony, & often associated with words such as "Imperial"?

Purple was purportedly first produced by the Canaanites (or Phoenicians according to the Greek) in the Land of Canaan, from the mucus of various marine molluscs, but most notably the Murex. Then again later discoveries showed the same shells unearthed on Crete – so it could be perhaps that the Minoans were producing the dye centuries beforehand.
No matter who discovered it first, it took around 12,000 shellfish & an extremely drawn out (& smelly) process to produce a meagre 1.5 grams of the dye they called ‘purpura’…. which would have been enough to dye a single toga. This became known as Tyrian Purple.

Emperors were known to refuse their wives robes dyed with purpura – simply because the dyed silk would cost more than it’s weight in gold.
With the fall of Constantinople in 1453 large scale production of Tyrian Purple ceased.

It was found that a similar colour could be produced from the same species of plant that produces Indigo. Indigo is one of the oldest dyes to be used textile dying & made it’s way from India to Europe & North Africa via the various trade routes. This alone meant it was a luxury item in many civilisations.

Over the years ‘purple’, as a colour, changed. Right through to Elizabethan times there were restrictions as to who could wear purple, essentially it was limited to immediate family of royalty.

Computers are unable to display the true purples – but the closest we can come is this.

In the mid 1800’s William Perkin, an 18 year old chemistry student managed to isolate the first aniline dye – bringing purple to the masses.

Fortunately, Manganese and Manganese Dioxide, the ions used in colouring glass purple are much easier to find. The Egyptians were using this very early on in their history. Then again they were also using ground, powdered Lapis Lazuli as an eye shadow (believing it to improve eyesight). Later, lapis was used as a pigment in paint, but best that I don’t even start on the history of ‘blues’….

Next time you see purple in nature, or in the stores, admire that piece of fabric & think of how fortunate we are to have it so easily available....for wearing, at least, it wasn't always thus ;o)

Disclaimer: I have no personal affiliation with purple what so ever. I've never worn it & never will ....well, apart from purple nail polish.
And, I'll bet you all thought I'd start with orange ;o)


Anonymous said...

Great post! The photos are beautiful!

Sweetwater Designs said... favorite color comes from mucous. Lovely.
I don't wear it either but I sure like looking at it. Interesting post Deb!

angelinabeadalina said...

Fascinating lore! I never realized how much history was behind the royal purple. Thanks for putting together such a great overview and such fantastic purples for the illustration of it!

So, is the orange essay coming soon? You know I love reading your writing, and I'm betting the orange one is going to be spectacular :)

Leah said...

oh my goodness, i just love how you are embracing color!!

thank you for sharing all this fascinating information about purple!