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Green: The History of a Color by Michel…

Green: The History of a Color

by Michel Pastoureau

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Green is an intriguing color whose value in the worlds or art and fashion has fluctuated greatly over the years. The ancient Greeks referred to it so rarely and ambiguously that some nineteenth-century classicists thought that the Greeks couldn't differentiate between green and blue. In the Middle Ages, green was associated with fickleness, mutability, destiny and young love, as well as witchcraft, disease, and bad luck. Traditionally, painters used green sparingly, if at all, because green pigments tended to be unstable, and in some cases, even toxic. It wasn't until the modern era, during which green has become a signifier for "healthy", "peaceful" and "ecological', that the color has been given its due respect.

My expectations for this book were high; its author is a distinguished European professor known for his works on the history of colors, and it was published by a prestigious university press. Unfortunately, the book wasn't as well-produced as I had hoped. The reproductions of paintings were beautiful, but the text was marred by redundancy (how many times do readers need to be told that the green is traditionally the color of instability, envy, and Spring?) and there are several careless errors of translation and/or editing. For example, the biblical book of Revelation is referred to incorrectly as "Apocalypse" and a painting of the Roman matron Lucretia misidentified her as "Lucretius" in the caption.

Moreover, Professor Pastoureau did not consider the modern era (apart from the ecology angle) in very much detail. I had hoped that he would comment upon everyday appearances of the color such as the ubiquitous avocado green of appliances in the 1970's, but he did not. He had nothing to say about the significance of chartreuse (aka acid green or neon green) either.

The book's lack of an index was also disappointing.

The color green, which, according to the text, Napoleon loved and Schubert feared, is an interesting subject. I don't think the definitive work on this color has been written yet. ( )
  akblanchard | Nov 28, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 069115936X, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:01 -0400)

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