[Tig] Michel Pastoureau's "Green: The History of a Color"

Rob Lingelbach rob at colorist.org
Wed Sep 10 00:21:15 BST 2014

The September 25, 2014 issue of The New York Review of Books features a review by Michael Gorra of Michel Pastoureau’s _Green: The History of a Color_.

From Gorra’s review:

The sumptuously illustrated Green is his third such volume, following those devoted to blue and to black, but he insists in the face of his own title that no color can truly stand on its own.1 Its social and symbolic meanings always hang on its use, on the particular way it is “combined with or opposed to” others, and to talk about green requires that one speak as well about “blue, yellow, red.” Each figures as an element in a system of signification whose terms change over time; and the corollary is that no color has either an absolute meaning or one determined by its presence in the natural world alone.


The epigraph to Green comes from the first chapter of Genesis, where green itself figures, in some translations, as the only color to be mentioned by name. The epigraph to Black is drawn, in contrast, from Wittgenstein, who wrote:

To answer the question, “What do the words red, blue, black, and white mean?” we can, of course, immediately point to things that are those colors. But our ability to explain the meaning of these words goes no further.
Scientific definitions won’t help us here. Knowing the wave-length of yellow tells us precisely nothing about what it looks like, and we almost invariably treat color as but an attribute of something else, as in the visual arts the Florentines always subordinated it to disegno. For colors remain impossible to conceive of apart from their embodiment, abstract nouns that really only function as adjectives, blue flower or green light.

1. Blue (2000), translated by Markus I. Cruse (Princeton University Press, 2001); Black (2008), translated by Jody Gladding (Princeton University Press, 2009). 

[end of quotes from the review]

An intriguing illustration in this review is of Van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Wedding” circa 1435, where the woman wears a sumptuously green garment against deeply red objects.  The book’s concerns “range from Latin etymologies to the green neon crosses that hang ouside modern French pharmacies."

See http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/sep/25/deep-green/?insrc=toc  


Rob Lingelbach
rob at colorist.org

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