My name is Blue
Once upon a time, blue didn’t exist. No, seriously. I mean, sure it existed, but it didn’t have a name. The Greeks and Romans didn’t have a word for the colour, even their descriptions of rainbows omitted any mention of blue. And as we know, Homer, upon seeing the brilliant Aegean Sea, declared it the “wine-red sea”. But he wasn’t alone. Civilisations before him would depict seas in their poetry, or biblical tales, or folklore in vast terms, but never the colour blue.
While the colour is constantly evolving, it is nearly always associated with calm and tranquility and organic elements like the sky and the sea, and above all safe, perhaps because of this it is universally appreciated in most disciplines. Not only evoking peace and balance, trust and responsibility, honesty and loyalty, blue can be electric, brilliant, dynamic, dramatic, solid and strong. And towards the other spectrum it can be light, breezy, friendly, and delicate. Blue can be identified with royalty, heraldry and divinity, and is significant in religious and cultural beliefs. It can symbolise mourning in the East and love in the West.
It can communicate significance, importance, intelligence, and confidence, but then overwhelmingly it can create melancholy, sadness, insecurity, negativity.
The first known blue was created by the Egyptians, using their loved and precious stones lapis lazuli and turquoise. Unfortunately demand exceeded supply, and they devised a genius way to replicate it by mixing limestone, sand and copper which could be successfully applied to various materials. Early art and existing artifacts can attest to the presence, and durability, of blue which we now know as Egyptian Blue.
It wasn’t until when blue was finally perceived as a real pigment, 6th century, and imported into Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries- lets credit the Italians for that!, where it was given a more neutral name of Ultramarine (‘beyond the sea’). Soon after it was the colour sought most zealously in medieval times, making it more valued than gold. The cost was exorbitant, great artists were using it frugally, and in turn it was used for the most valued of clients. Blue, treated like royalty! And remaining expensive until mid 19th century when scientists were able to synthetically reproduce it.
Cobalt, discovered in the 8th and 9th centuries, was prolific in its use for ceramics and jewellery, and is more famously known for highlighting graceful designs on Chinese porcelain. Mixing this pigment with other blues, a variation in hues emerged and this is evidenced by the creative impressionist painters who favoured the shade; Monet, Van Gogh.
In the more tactile arts of decorative rugs and textiles, blue was obtained from the leaves of the Woad plant, but because of its lack of longevity (hence the difficulty in analysing the history of significant carpets) and expense to produce it was used by the wealthy and associated with nobility. That is until a new blue dye, Indigo, came onto the scene. Arriving from Asia, it was much more concentrated and created a richer, stable colour. Grown in abundance, it was an affordable dye, imported internationally, much in demand, and made more accessible in the late 19th century when a synthetic version was produced, and still used to this day.
Today blue is mostly synthetically man made, but the colour continues to unveil its artistic properties, carrying a rich history and significance for all in this colourful modern world.
So going back to that ‘couldn’t get any simpler name’ of Classic Blue, we recognise instead; Time-honoured, Traditional, Historic, Respected, Noble, Important, Illustrious, Universal Blue.