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Blue: The History of a Color
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Blue: The History of a Color

(Histoire d'une couleur #1)

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  1,051 ratings  ·  69 reviews
A beautifully illustrated visual and cultural history of the color blue throughout the ages

Blue has had a long and topsy-turvy history in the Western world. The ancient Greeks scorned it as ugly and barbaric, but most Americans and Europeans now cite it as their favorite color. In this fascinating history, the renowned medievalist Michel Pastoureau traces the changing mean
Hardcover, 216 pages
Published October 1st 2001 by Princeton University Press (first published 2000)
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Average rating 3.99  · 
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 ·  1,051 ratings  ·  69 reviews

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Apr 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

We are so used to see colours at their best that we no longer see their richness. Any tone, any tint, any hue now is as it should be.

But it wasn’t always like this. Not too long ago, endowing colours to objects was a difficult, expensive, laborious, and sometime politically dangerous endeavour. Back then it was not so much their chromatic tone as their depth that mattered. Luminosity and richness, saturation and concentration were the valued qualities of a colour. Those were t
Michael Finocchiaro
Argh! I wrote a 300 word review for this book and it was eaten by the GR popup :(
Will rewrite.
In two words: blue rocks. And there are other colors too.
La guerre entre guede rt garance a été gagné par indigo!
Susan Dermond
Feb 27, 2008 rated it liked it
fascinating; did you know Europeans never wore blue until the Middle Ages or later? not for everyone; it's a specialized subject. I think you have to like history and/or art. Lavishly illustrated.
Ruth Charchian
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Who would have thought that the color blue was not only hated but not named, or tolerated until the 14th century. Prior to that time it was thought to be a "hot" color. Now it is considered to be a "cool" color. It was culturally and socially unacceptable to wear blue. Today, most people prefer blue to any other color. Our culture accepts it primarily due to the unversal acceptance of blue jeans beginning with Levi Strauss in the 1850s. Red, white and black were the only recognized colors for ce ...more
Dec 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Lovely overview of the emergence of blue as an important color in medieval Europe an of its changes of connotations up to the modern period, when blue constitutes the most neutral color.
Jackson Cyril
Apr 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, art
Blue was a color the Romans associated with barbarism. It is rarely found in bronze age art. Many medieval artists preferred to depict water as green rather than blue. Why? How, when it was so rare throughout history, did blue come to be the most common color in the world today? How-- and why-- did various laws try to prohibit the creation of certain colors? Why did the color blue become associated with the Virgin? These are the questions that M. Pastoureau answers in this sumptuously illustrate ...more
Feb 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: art-history, history
I just realized I had never posted this. Unlikely as it seems, this coffee table book was a fascinating look at how blue came to be the most popular color among artists and in society, and taught me for the first time that there were sumptuary laws in various nations at various times designed to restrict the type and color of clothing commoners could wear so they didn't compete with the raiment of royalty. As I recall, one factoid was that the popularity of black and white for men's clothing, st ...more
Aug 24, 2018 added it
The story of a color is, of course, the story of how humans perceive that color and, comparatively, other colors. It was fascinating to read about the lack of mention in early records of the color we know as blue. The color blue seemed to arise out of a growing human perception of color, of the color wheel, and ofthe development of dyeing techniques.
Superstitions, and belief systems played an important part in establishing a color hierarchy in fashion in the 13th century, when this book begins i
Aug 12, 2009 rated it it was ok
The author begins this history with audacious claims about the irrelevance (p.10) of human biology to the "process of ascribing meaning to color", insisting instead that color is a "social phenomenon". The author does a fine job illustrating the second claim throughout the book, showing how attitudes towards colors change over time with changes in religious belief and social practices. But the first, audacious claim has to be false. There is ample evidence that the structure of color perception ...more
Dec 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2008
While this book is full of pictures, it is very imformative. It discusses the history of color pigment, use and maeaning, and not only of the color blue. For example red was made from madder, a rusty red, and was the most common with yellow and black till the middle ages? Purple came from sea urchins and blue from lapis rocks.
Very interesting, and since its translated from the original French, I'd like to know just how Euro-centric it is.
Mar 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Pastoureau's other books were already on my "to-read" list, but after finishing this one they've all jumped up to the top. It is heavy on French history -- I would have happily traded several pages about the French flag for more on other topics -- but overall it's a fascinating study, well-translated (so far as I can tell) and beautifully illustrated.
Apr 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Fascinating and very approachable for a lay audience. In particular, his explanations of how earlier cultures thought about/related to color and incorporated it in to their philosophical and material cultures were eye opening and foreign and really interesting.
Jan 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Fascinating analysis of the changing symbolic and social role of the color blue over time. Very informative.
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
So what is your favorite color? If it's blue then join the majority of Western Europe and the United States adults today.

But it wasn't always that way. Despite the gorgeous blue tiles on the Ishtar gates of Babylon and the blue tiles in Roman mosaics, blue was barely recognized in early human history. Water was green or gray so was the sky. As far as the Romans were concerned, blue was a barbarian color defined by the woad that Germanic tribes dyed their skin and hair therefore it was to be dist
Aug 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
So fascinating! I think the author got a little sidetracked talking about France and the French Revolution, but he is French so...
Mar 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, read-in-2013
Did you know blue has been the favourite colour of Westerners over the last couple of centuries?

An intriguing idea, although not entirely well executed. I enjoyed the broad sweep of time that Pastoureau attempted to cover - the Neolithic and ancient use of colour very briefly, the medieval world and on in a bit more detail - because the comparison across hundreds of years is fascinating. Unsurprisingly though, this was also one of its downfalls, since the occasional times it treated an idea or
Jan 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art
This was an interesting book, a new way of looking at a color and it's social development. He also had some interesting ways of looking at how historians and sociologists look at color and how our biases of today..well...color the way we look at the past. No pun intended. I'm still not sure how or when blue went from being a unconsidered, un-respected color to being the most popular color in the Western world, but perhaps that is one of the things that can never be fully known considering social ...more
Jun 30, 2017 rated it liked it
I never thought I'd find myself reading a "history of a color," but a recent review of another entry by this author (red, to be exact), was surprisingly interesting, so I thought I'd give this first volume a try. A lot of it is about the development of favored/prominent colors in general, not just blue, but that makes sense since this was his first "history." What was most surprising was that blue was ignored as a color for thousands of years. The ancients hardly used it or talked about it, exce ...more
Sanjay Varma
Sep 20, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
A lot of fascinating information linking color to material sciences, perception, religion, social and economic structures. The big story is that all cultures had a 3 color system consisting of white, black, and red. The rise of blue's prevalence in heraldry, paintings, and cloth, from the 11th century, was a profound shift. It's hard to comprehend that the sea used to be depicted as green, and blue had no association with divinity or purity. Blue was helped along by being unregulated... a lack o ...more
Margaret Sankey
I always enjoy Pastoureau's lavishly illustrated books about the history of color--this one traces blue, neglected by the ancient world in favor of white, red and black, associated with barbarians because of woad and indigo, but rehabilitated by Saint-Denis' decorating scheme and elevated to the signature color of the Virgin Mary and the French monarchy. With sidelights on the economic battle between woad and madder (red) dyers, Protestant austerity and blue, Young Werther's blue coat and yellow ...more
Dec 04, 2013 rated it liked it
It appears people did not see blue or at least react to blue until the middle ages. This book is filled with such fun facts. Woad vs Indigo, stained glass windows and in our current era it is our favorite and dominant color. The book spends several chapters explaining why the French army switched from red to blue and why blue is the treasured color of the French flag. I guess the book must have been published first in France. I was not too interested in these facts.
Bonnie Brandt
Apr 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
I just couldn't stay interested in this book. I would have thought it would be right up my alley, it got wonderful reviews, and it came highly recommended by my sister.

I found myself several times having read PAGES of the book and not remembering any of it. I think it was just too much minutiae and too much church stuff for me.
Mar 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Good social history of the color blue, focusing on religious, cultural, legal, and symbolic iconography. Worthwhile, but lacked comparable attention paid to technology and economic development. Very pretty pictures throughout.
Jan 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Nice book - very interesting and beautifully done. If you like history (yes) and if you love blue (yes), then this book should be on your shelves.
Sep 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
I really liked what I read, but I was unable to finish the book before the due date.
Osura Hettiarachchi
This si the first book I finished in this year.
Apr 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Almost my favorite art book!
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
After reading "the black", I read "the blue". This book is as beautiful as the previous one.
Ruth Coleman
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed reading about how the color blue changed through the ages. The illustrations were beautiful.
Dec 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really only discusses Europe (+USA), in particular, the normal Western European conception of Europe (Anglo-French + German, with an eye to what happens in the papacy, but not really Italy). That said, totally bizarre, the first history of its kind I've read, but even though this isn't really something I would have said I was interested in, it does its job very well, and successfully made me think about some new things related to the ideology of color, for example. I think he really goes to far ...more
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Pastoureau was born in Paris on 17 June 1947. He studied at the École Nationale des Chartes, a college for prospective archivists and librarians. After writing his 1972 thesis about heraldic bestiaries in the Middle Ages, he worked in the coins, medals and antiquities department of the French National Library until 1982.
Since 1983 he has held the Chair of History of Western Symbolism (Chaire d'his

Other books in the series

Histoire d'une couleur (5 books)
  • Black: The History of a Color
  • Green: The History of a Color
  • Red: The History of a Color
  • Yellow: The History of a Color

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