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Green: The History of a Color

by Michel Pastoureau Princeton University Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 240 pages
AU$82.99 NZ$86.95
Product Status: Out of stock. Not available to order.
In this beautiful and richly illustrated book, the acclaimed author of Blue and Black presents a fascinating and revealing history of the color green in European societies from prehistoric times to today. Examining the evolving place of green in art, clothes, literature, religion, science, and everyday life, Michel Pastoureau traces how culture has profoundly changed the perception and meaning of the color over millennia--and how we misread cultural, social, and art history when we assume that colors have always signified what they do today. Filled with entertaining and enlightening anecdotes, Green shows that the color has been ambivalent: a symbol of life, luck, and hope, but also disorder, greed, poison, and the devil. Chemically unstable, green pigments were long difficult to produce and even harder to fix. Not surprisingly, the color has been associated with all that is changeable and fleeting: childhood, love, and money. Only in the Romantic period did green definitively become the color of nature. Pastoureau also explains why the color was connected with the Roman emperor Nero, how it became the color of Islam, why Goethe believed it was the color of the middle class, why some nineteenth-century scholars speculated that the ancient Greeks couldn't see green, and how the color was denigrated by Kandinsky and the Bauhaus. More broadly, Green demonstrates that the history of the color is, to a large degree, one of dramatic reversal: long absent, ignored, or rejected, green today has become a ubiquitous and soothing presence as the symbol of environmental causes and the mission to save the planet. With its striking design and compelling text, Green will delight anyone who is interested in history, culture, art, fashion, or media.

Introduction 7

An uncertain color (From the beginning to the year 1000) 11
Did the Greeks see green? 14
Green among the Romans 20
The emerald and the leek 26
Hippodrome green 31
The silences of the Bible and the church fathers 36
A middle color 40
Islamic green 46

A courtly color (11th-14th centuries) 51
The beauty of green 54
A place for green: the orchard 58
A time for green: the spring 65
Youth, love, and hope 71
A chivalrous color 78
A green hero: Tristan 83

A dangerous color (14th-16th centuries) 87
Satan's green bestiary 90
From green to greenish 97
The green knight 103
The dyer's vats 112
"Gay green" and "lost green" 118
Heraldic green 125
The colors of the poet 129

A secondary color (16th-19th centuries) 135
Protestant morals 138
The green of painters 142
New knowledge, new classifications 152
Alceste's ribbons and the green of the theater 155
Superstitions and fairy tales 159
Green in the age of the enlightenment 167
A romantic color? 172

A soothing color (19th-21st centuries) 179
A fashionable color 182
Return to the palette 186
Chevreul and the scientists did not like green 193
Neither did Kandinsky or the Bauhaus 200
Green in everyday life 205
Nature in the heart of the cities 209
Green today 217

Acknowledgments 223
Notes 224
Bibliography 235
Photography credits 240

"As this beautifully illustrated work shows, the 'uneasiness' of being green is what makes its story so interesting."---Fiona Capp, Sydney Morning Herald
Michel Pastoureau is a historian and director of studies at the Acole Pratique des Hautes Atudes de la Sorbonne in Paris. A specialist in the history of colors, symbols, and heraldry, he is the author of many books, including 'Blue 'and 'Black' (both Princeton) and 'The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes'. His books have been translated into more than thirty languages.