Blue is one of the three primary colours of pigments in painting and traditional colour theory, as well as in the RGB colour model. It lies between violet and green on the spectrum of visible light. The eye perceives blue when observing light with a dominant wavelength between approximately 450 and 495 nanometres. Most blues contain a slight mixture of other colors; azure contains some green, while ultramarine contains some violet. The clear daytime sky and the deep sea appear blue because of an optical effect known as Rayleigh scattering. An optical effect called Tyndall scattering explains blue eyes. Distant objects appear more blue because of another optical effect called atmospheric perspective.
Blue has been an important colour in art and decoration since ancient times. The semi-precious stone lapis lazuli was used in ancient Egypt for jewellery and ornament and later, in the Renaissance, to make the pigment ultramarine, the most expensive of all pigments. In the eighth century Chinese artists used cobalt blue to colour fine blue and white porcelain. In the Middle Ages, European artists used it in the windows of Cathedrals. Europeans wore clothing coloured with the vegetable dye woad until it was replaced by the finer indigo from America. In the 19th century, synthetic blue dyes and pigments gradually replaced mineral pigments and synthetic dyes. Dark blue became a common colour for military uniforms and later, in the late 20th century, for business suits. Because blue has commonly been associated with harmony, it was chosen as the colour of the flags of the United Nations and the European Union.
Surveys in the US and Europe show that blue is the colour most commonly associated with harmony, faithfulness, confidence, distance, infinity, the imagination, cold, and sometimes with sadness. In US and European public opinion polls it is the most popular colour, chosen by almost half of both men and women as their favourite colour. The same surveys also showed that blue was the colour most associated with the masculine, just ahead of black, and was also the colour most associated with intelligence, knowledge, calm and concentration.
In the ancient world
Blue was a latecomer among colours used in art and decoration, as well as language and literature. Reds, blacks, browns, and ochres are found in cave paintings from the Upper Paleolithic period, but not blue. Blue was also not used for dyeing fabric until long after red, ochre, pink and purple. This is probably due to the perennial difficulty of making good blue dyes and pigments. The earliest known blue dyes were made from plants – woad in Europe, indigo in Asia and Africa, while blue pigments were made from minerals, usually either lapis lazuli or azurite.
Lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone, has been mined in Afghanistan for more than three thousand years, and was exported to all parts of the ancient world. In Iran and Mesopotamia, it was used to make jewellery and vessels. In Egypt, it was used for the eyebrows on the funeral mask of King Tutankhamun (1341–1323 BC). Importing lapis lazuli by caravan across the desert from Afghanistan to Egypt was very expensive. Beginning in about 2500 BC, the ancient Egyptians began to produce their own blue pigment known as Egyptian blue by grinding silica, lime, copper, and alkalai, and heating it to 800 or 900 °C (1,470 or 1,650 °F). This is considered the first synthetic pigment. Egyptian blue was used to paint wood, papyrus and canvas, and was used to colour a glaze to make faience beads, inlays, and pots. It was particularly used in funeral statuary and figurines and in tomb paintings. Blue was considered a beneficial colour which would protect the dead against evil in the afterlife. Blue dye was also used to colour the cloth in which mummies were wrapped.
In Egypt blue was associated with the sky and with divinity. The Egyptian god Amun could make his skin blue so that he could fly, invisible, across the sky. Blue could also protect against evil; many people around the Mediterranean still wear a blue amulet, representing the eye of God, to protect them from misfortune. Blue glass was manufactured in Mesopotamia and Egypt as early as 2500 BC, using the same copper ingredients as Egyptian blue pigment. They also added cobalt, which produced a deeper blue, the same blue produced in the Middle Ages in the stained glass windows of the cathedrals of Saint-Denis and Chartres. The Ishtar Gate of ancient Babylon (604–562 BC) was decorated with deep blue glazed bricks used as a background for pictures of lions, dragons and aurochs.
The ancient Greeks classified colours by whether they were light or dark, rather than by their hue. The Greek word for dark blue, kyaneos, could also mean dark green, violet, black or brown. The ancient Greek word for a light blue, glaukos, also could mean light green, grey, or yellow. The Greeks imported indigo dye from India, calling it indikon. They used Egyptian blue in the wall paintings of Knossos, in Crete, (2100 BC). It was not one of the four primary colours for Greek painting described by Pliny the Elder (red, yellow, black, and white), but nonetheless it was used as a background colour behind the friezes on Greek temples and to colour the beards of Greek statues.
The Romans also imported indigo dye, but blue was the colour of working class clothing; the nobles and rich wore white, black, red or violet. Blue was considered the colour of mourning, and the colour of barbarians. Julius Caesar reported that the Celts and Germans dyed their faces blue to frighten their enemies, and tinted their hair blue when they grew old. Nonetheless, the Romans made extensive use of blue for decoration. According to Vitruvius, they made dark blue pigment from indigo, and imported Egyptian blue pigment. The walls of Roman villas in Pompeii had frescoes of brilliant blue skies, and blue pigments were found in the shops of colour merchants. The Romans had many different words for varieties of blue, including caeruleus, caesius, glaucus, cyaneus, lividus, venetus, aerius, and ferreus, but two words, both of foreign origin, became the most enduring; blavus, from the Germanic word blau, which eventually became bleu or blue; and azureus, from the Arabic word
In the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic World
Dark blue was widely used in the decoration of churches in the Byzantine Empire. In Byzantine art Christ and the Virgin Mary usually wore dark blue or purple. Blue was used as a background colour representing the sky in the magnificent mosaics which decorated Byzantine churches.
In the Islamic world, blue was of secondary importance to green, believed to be the favourite colour of the Prophet Mohammed. At certain times in Moorish Spain and other parts of the Islamic world, blue was the colour worn by Christians and Jews, because only Muslims were allowed to wear white and green. Dark blue and turquoise decorative tiles were widely used to decorate the facades and interiors of mosques and palaces from Spain to Central Asia. Lapis lazuli pigment was also used to create the rich blues in Persian miniatures.
During the Middle Ages
In the art and life of Europe during the early Middle Ages, blue played a minor role. The nobility wore red or purple, while only the poor wore blue clothing, coloured with poor-quality dyes made from the woad plant. Blue played no part in the rich costumes of the clergy or the architecture or decoration of churches. This changed dramatically between 1130 and 1140 in Paris, when the Abbe Suger rebuilt the Saint Denis Basilica. He installed stained glass windows coloured with cobalt, which, combined with the light from the red glass, filled the church with a bluish violet light. The church became the marvel of the Christian world, and the colour became known as the “bleu de Saint-Denis”. In the years that followed even more elegant blue stained glass windows were installed in other churches, including at Chartres Cathedral and Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.
Another important factor in the increased prestige of the colour blue in the 12th century was the veneration of the Virgin Mary, and a change in the colours used to depict her clothing. In earlier centuries her robes had usually been painted in sombre black, grey, violet, dark green or dark blue. In the 12th century the Roma Catholic Church dictated that painters in Italy (and the rest of Europe consequently) to paint the Virgin Mary with the new most expensive pigment imported from Asia; ultramarine. Blue became associated with holiness, humility and virtue.
Ultramarine was made from lapis lazuli, from the mines of Badakshan, in the mountains of Afghanistan, near the source of the Oxus River. The mines were visited by Marco Polo in about 1271; he reported, “here is found a high mountain from which they extract the finest and most beautiful of blues.” Ground lapis was used in Byzantine manuscripts as early as the 6th century, but it was impure and varied greatly in colour. Ultramarine refined out the impurities through a long and difficult process, creating a rich and deep blue. It was called bleu outremer in French and blu oltremare in Italian, since it came from the other side of the sea. It cost far more than any other colour, and it became the luxury colour for the Kings and Princes of Europe.
King Louis IX of France, better known as Saint Louis (1214–1270), became the first king of France to regularly dress in blue. This was copied by other nobles. Paintings of the mythical King Arthur began to show him dressed in blue. The coat of arms of the kings of France became an azure or light blue shield, sprinkled with golden fleur-de-lis or lilies. Blue had come from obscurity to become the royal colour.
Once blue became the colour of the king, it also became the colour of the wealthy and powerful in Europe. In the Middle Ages in France and to some extent in Italy, the dyeing of blue cloth was subject to license from the crown or state. In Italy, the dyeing of blue was assigned to a specific guild, the tintori di guado, and could not be done by anyone else without severe penalty. The wearing of blue implied some dignity and some wealth.
Besides ultramarine, several other blues were widely used in the Middle Ages and later in the Renaissance. Azurite, a form of copper carbonate, was often used as a substitute for ultramarine. The Romans used it under the name lapis armenius, or Armenian stone. The British called it azure of Amayne, or German azure. The Germans themselves called it bergblau, or mountain stone. It was mined in France, Hungary, Spain and Germany, and it made a pale blue with a hint of green, which was ideal for painting skies. It was a favourite background colour of the German painter Albrecht Dürer.
Another blue often used in the Middle Ages was called tournesol or folium. It was made from the plant Crozophora tinctoria, which grew in the south of France. It made a fine transparent blue valued in medieval manuscripts.
Another common blue pigment was smalt, which was made by grinding blue cobalt glass into a fine powder. It made a deep violet blue similar to ultramarine, and was vivid in frescoes, but it lost some of its brilliance in oil paintings. It became especially popular in the 17th century, when ultramarine was difficult to obtain. It was employed at times by Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, El Greco, Van Dyck, Rubens and Rembrandt.
In the European Renaissance
In the Renaissance, a revolution occurred in painting; artists began to paint the world as it was actually seen, with perspective, depth, shadows, and light from a single source. Artists had to adapt their use of blue to the new rules. In medieval paintings, blue was used to attract the attention of the viewer to the Virgin Mary, and identify her. In Renaissance paintings, artists tried to create harmonies between blue and red, lightening the blue with lead white paint and adding shadows and highlights. Raphael was a master of this technique, carefully balancing the reds and the blues so no one colour dominated the picture.
Ultramarine was the most prestigious blue of the Renaissance, and patrons sometimes specified that it be used in paintings they commissioned. The contract for the Madone des Harpies by Andrea del Sarto (1514) required that the robe of the Virgin Mary be coloured with ultramarine costing “at least five good florins an ounce.” Good ultramarine was more expensive than gold; in 1508 the German painter Albrecht Dürer reported in a letter that he had paid twelve ducats – the equivalent of forty-one grams of gold – for just thirty grams of ultramarine.
Often painters or clients saved money by using less expensive blues, such as azurite smalt, or pigments made with indigo, but this sometimes caused problems. Pigments made from azurite were less expensive, but tended to turn dark and green with time. An example is the robe of the Virgin Mary in The Madonna Enthroned with Saints by Raphael in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The Virgin Mary’s azurite blue robe has degraded into a greenish-black.
The introduction of oil painting changed the way colours looked and how they were used. Ultramarine pigment, for instance, was much darker when used in oil painting than when used in tempera painting, in frescoes. To balance their colours, Renaissance artists like Raphael added white to lighten the ultramarine. The sombre dark blue robe of the Virgin Mary became a brilliant sky blue. Titian created his rich blues by using many thin glazes of paint of different blues and violets which allowed the light to pass through, which made a complex and luminous colour, like stained glass. He also used layers of finely ground or coarsely ground ultramarine, which gave subtle variations to the blue.
Blue and white porcelain
In about the 9th century, Chinese artisans abandoned the Han blue colour they had used for centuries, and began to use cobalt blue, made with cobalt salts of alumina, to manufacture fine blue and white porcelain, The plates and vases were shaped, dried, the paint applied with a brush, covered with a clear glaze, then fired at a high temperature. Beginning in the 14th century, this type of porcelain was exported in large quantity to Europe where it inspired a whole style of art, called Chinoiserie. European courts tried for many years to imitate Chinese blue and white porcelain, but only succeeded in the 18th century after a missionary brought the secret back from China.
Other famous white and blue patterns appeared in Delft, Meissen, Staffordshire, and Saint Petersburg, Russia.
War of the blues – indigo versus woad
While blue was an expensive and prestigious colour in European painting, it became a common colour for clothing during the Renaissance. The rise of the colour blue in fashion in the 12th and 13th centuries led to a blue dye industry in several cities, notably Amiens, Toulouse, and Erfurt. They made a dye called pastel from woad, a plant common in Europe, which had been used to make blue dye by the Celts and German tribes. Blue became a colour worn by domestics and artisans, not just nobles. In 1570, when Pope Pius V listed the colours that could be used for ecclesiastical dress and for altar decoration, he excluded blue, because he considered it too common.
The process of making blue with woad was long and noxious – it involved soaking the leaves of the plant for from three days to a week in human urine, ideally urine from men who had been drinking a great deal of alcohol, which was said to improve the colour. The fabric was then soaked for a day in the resulting mixture, then put out in the sun, where as it dried it turned blue.
The pastel industry was threatened in the 15th century by the arrival from India of the same dye (indigo), obtained from a shrub widely grown in Asia. The Asian indigo dye precursors is more readily obtained. In 1498, Vasco de Gama opened a trade route to import indigo from India to Europe. In India, the indigo leaves were soaked in water, fermented, pressed into cakes, dried into bricks, then carried to the ports London, Marseille, Genoa, and Bruges. Later, in the 17th century, the British, Spanish, and Dutch established indigo plantations in Jamaica, South Carolina, the Virgin Islands and South America, and began to import American indigo to Europe.
The countries with large and prosperous pastel industries tried to block the use of indigo. The German government outlawed the use of indigo in 1577, describing it as a “pernicious, deceitful and corrosive substance, the Devil’s dye.” In France, Henry IV, in an edict of 1609, forbade under pain of death the use of “the false and pernicious Indian drug”. It was forbidden in England until 1611, when British traders established their own indigo industry in India and began to import it into Europe.
The efforts to block indigo were in vain; the quality of indigo blue was too high and the price too low for pastel made from woad to compete. In 1737 both the French and German governments finally allowed the use of indigo. This ruined the dye industries in Toulouse and the other cities that produced pastel, but created a thriving new indigo commerce to seaports such as Bordeaux, Nantes and Marseille.
Another war of the blues took place at the end of the 19th century, between indigo and synthetic indigo, discovered in 1868 by the German chemist Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer. The German chemical firm BASF put the new dye on the market in 1897, in direct competition with the British-run indigo industry in India, which produced most of the world’s indigo. In 1897 Britain sold ten thousand tons of natural indigo on the world market, while BASF sold six hundred tons of synthetic indigo. The British industry cut prices and reduced the salaries of its workers, but it was unable to compete; the synthetic indigo was more pure, made a more lasting blue, and was not dependent upon good or bad harvests. In 1911, India sold only 660 tons of natural indigo, while BASF sold 22,000 tons of synthetic indigo. In 2002, more than 38,000 tons of synthetic indigo was produced, often for the production of blue jeans.
The invention of new synthetic pigments in the 18th and 19th centuries considerably brightened and expanded the palette of painters. J.M.W. Turner experimented with the new cobalt blue, and of the twenty colours most used by the Impressionists, twelve were new and synthetic colours, including cobalt blue, ultramarine and cerulean blue.
Another important influence on painting in the 19th century was the theory of complementary colours, developed by the French chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul in 1828 and published in 1839. He demonstrated that placing complementary colours, such as blue and yellow-orange or ultramarine and yellow, next to each other heightened the intensity of each colour “to the apogee of their tonality.” In 1879 an American physicist, Ogden Rood, published a book charting the complementary colours of each colour in the spectrum. This principle of painting was used by Claude Monet in his Impression – Sunrise – Fog (1872), where he put a vivid blue next to a bright orange sun, (1872) and in Régate à Argenteuil (1872), where he painted an orange sun against blue water. The colours brighten each other. Renoir used the same contrast of cobalt blue water and an orange sun in Canotage sur la Seine (1879–1880). Both Monet and Renoir liked to use pure colours, without any blending.
Monet and the impressionists were among the first to observe that shadows were full of colour. In his La Gare Saint-Lazare, the grey smoke, vapour and dark shadows are actually composed of mixtures of bright pigment, including cobalt blue, cerulean blue, synthetic ultramarine, emerald green, Guillet green, chrome yellow, vermilion and ecarlate red. Blue was a favourite colour of the impressionist painters, who used it not just to depict nature but to create moods, feelings and atmospheres. Cobalt blue, a pigment of cobalt oxide-aluminium oxide, was a favourite of Auguste Renoir and Vincent van Gogh. It was similar to smalt, a pigment used for centuries to make blue glass, but it was much improved by the French chemist Louis Jacques Thénard, who introduced it in 1802. It was very stable but extremely expensive. Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo, “‘Cobalt [blue] is a divine colour and there is nothing so beautiful for putting atmosphere around things …”
Van Gogh described to his brother Theo how he composed a sky: “The dark blue sky is spotted with clouds of an even darker blue than the fundamental blue of intense cobalt, and others of a lighter blue, like the bluish white of the Milky Way … the sea was very dark ultramarine, the shore a sort of violet and of light red as I see it, and on the dunes, a few bushes of prussian blue.”
In the 20th and 21st century
At the beginning of the 20th century, many artists recognised the emotional power of blue, and made it the central element of paintings. During his Blue Period (1901–1904) Pablo Picasso used blue and green, with hardly any warm colours, to create a melancholy mood. In Russia, the symbolist painter Pavel Kuznetsov and the Blue Rose art group (1906–1908) used blue to create a fantastic and exotic atmosphere. In Germany, Wassily Kandinsky and other Russian émigrés formed the art group called Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), and used blue to symbolise spirituality and eternity. Henri Matisse used intense blues to express the emotions he wanted viewers to feel. Matisse wrote, “A certain blue penetrates your soul.”
In the art of the second half of the 20th century, painters of the abstract expressionist movement began to use blue and other colours in pure form, without any attempt to represent anything, to inspire ideas and emotions. Painter Mark Rothko observed that colour was “only an instrument;” his interest was “in expressing human emotions tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.”
In fashion blue, particularly dark blue, was seen as a colour which was serious but not grim. In the mid-20th century, blue passed black as the most common colour of men’s business suits, the costume usually worn by political and business leaders. Public opinion polls in the United States and Europe showed that blue was the favourite colour of over fifty per cent of respondents. Green was far behind with twenty per cent, while white and red received about eight per cent each.
In 1873 a German immigrant in San Francisco, Levi Strauss, invented a sturdy kind of work trousers, made of denim fabric and coloured with indigo dye, called blue jeans. In 1935, they were raised to the level of high fashion by Vogue magazine. Beginning in the 1950s, they became an essential part of uniform of young people in the United States, Europe, and around the world.
Blue was also seen as a colour which was authoritative without being threatening. Following the Second World War, blue was adopted as the colour of important international organisations, including the United Nations, the Council of Europe, UNESCO, the European Union, and NATO. United Nations peacekeepers wear blue helmets to stress their peacekeeping role. Blue is used by the NATO Military Symbols for Land Based Systems to denote friendly forces, hence the term “blue on blue” for friendly fire, and Blue Force Tracking for location of friendly units. The People’s Liberation Army of China (formerly known as the “Red Army”) uses the term “Blue Army” to refer to hostile forces during exercises.
The 20th century saw the invention of new ways of creating blue, such as chemiluminescence, making blue light through a chemical reaction.
In the 20th century, it also became possible to own your own colour of blue. The French artist Yves Klein, with the help of a French paint dealer, created a specific blue called International Klein blue, which he patented. It was made of ultramarine combined with a resin called Rhodopa, which gave it a particularly brilliant colour. The baseball team the Los Angeles Dodgers developed its own blue, called Dodger blue, and several American universities invented new blues for their colours.
With the dawn of the World Wide Web, blue has become the standard colour for hyperlinks in graphic browsers (though in most browsers links turn purple if you visit their target), to make their presence within text obvious to readers.
Source From Wikipedia