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Black: The History of a Color by Michel…
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Black: The History of a Color

by Michel Pastoureau

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Author Michel Pastoureau takes us on a history tour from the book of Genesis to today's time on the color black and how it came to symbolize different meanings in certain contexts throughout the ages. Some of the instances where black is used are: in Ancient Egypt as symbol as fertility as the Nile left rich minerals after the spring floods and in funerals to represent the life-death cycle; in Western Europe as a symbol of wealth; in monastic orders to represent humility, abstinence, and sin; and its role in cinema, photography, and fashion in the modern age. While the book touches upon North America, it's mainly in the 20th century and Pastoureau concentrates the evolution of black in Western Europe and Northern Africa over a longer period of time. ( )
  macart3 | Apr 25, 2010 |
Black: The History of a Color looks remarkably like a coffee table book--large format hardcover; gorgeous color reproductions of paintings, sculptures, engravings; nice layouts--but don't be fooled. The text is not just for flipping through. Michel Pastoureau, who previously wrote Blue: The History of a Color, explains at the beginning that he is not intending to continue a franchise through all the major colors, partly because the history of each color is too interconnected with all the others.That interconnected history is apparent throughout Black, which, while focusing on black, can't tell most of its story without reference to red, green, blue, yellow, and especially white and gray.

Pastoureau begins in ancient times with the use of black among Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. In Pharaonic Egypt black was a color of fertility--like the silt of the Nile--and Germans thought the crow, the blackest of all animals, was "simultaneously divine, warlike, and omniscient" as well as a source of food before Christianity declared it unclean. He traces the social and cultural history of the color through the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of the Church, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance.

Pastoureau's most interesting discussion is of black's place in the larger scheme of the color spectrum, which changes over time. At first black was considered truly a color, on a par with red or yellow in the public consciousness. Eventually, though, the position of black--and its new partner white (they weren't always so closely associated)--changes to something of a noncolor. One reason for this is the rise of printing; black print on white paper created a new black-and-white world, in opposition to the color one around us. People even began to think that color could be represented in black and white. And while printing was separating black and white out of the realm of "color," advances in the study of optics were doing the same. Black and white had always been a part of the spectrum, but with Isaac Newton's new analysis of the rainbow and the nature of white light that would change.

The story continues through the present day, the fortunes of black--and the other colors--changing with political, economic, cultural, and artistic developments. Pastoureau has made this a fascinating history of aesthetics, culture, society, and religion, illustrated with dozens of examples of paintings, miniatures, and other documents. Information is drawn from coats of arms, paintings and other works of art, treatises on art and science, and records of household possessions. There are a few stylistic or translation issues (hard to tell which, but the phrase "par excellence" certainly appears more often than normal), but none of the historical detail is dry or inaccessible. An extremely attractive book with fascinating stories to tell about how Western civilization has interacted with the spectrum for the past two thousand years.
(more at http://www.bibliographing.com/2008/11/22/black-the-history-of-a-color-by-michel-... ) ( )
3 vote nperrin | Nov 23, 2008 |
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Many decades ago, at the beginning of the last century, or even in the 1950s, the title of the present book might have surprised some readers unaccustomed to considering black a true color.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 069113930X, Hardcover)

Black--favorite color of priests and penitents, artists and ascetics, fashion designers and fascists--has always stood for powerfully opposed ideas: authority and humility, sin and holiness, rebellion and conformity, wealth and poverty, good and bad. In this beautiful and richly illustrated book, the acclaimed author of Blue now tells the fascinating social history of the color black in Europe.

In the beginning was black, Michel Pastoureau tells us. The archetypal color of darkness and death, black was associated in the early Christian period with hell and the devil but also with monastic virtue. In the medieval era, black became the habit of courtiers and a hallmark of royal luxury. Black took on new meanings for early modern Europeans as they began to print words and images in black and white, and to absorb Isaac Newton's announcement that black was no color after all. During the romantic period, black was melancholy's friend, while in the twentieth century black (and white) came to dominate art, print, photography, and film, and was finally restored to the status of a true color.

For Pastoureau, the history of any color must be a social history first because it is societies that give colors everything from their changing names to their changing meanings--and black is exemplary in this regard. In dyes, fabrics, and clothing, and in painting and other art works, black has always been a forceful--and ambivalent--shaper of social, symbolic, and ideological meaning in European societies.

With its striking design and compelling text, Black will delight anyone who is interested in the history of fashion, art, media, or design.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:52 -0400)

"In the beginning was black, Michael Pastoureau tells us. The archetypal color of darkness and death, black was associated in the early Christian period with hell and the devil but also with monastic virtue. In the medieval era, black became the habit of courtiers and a hallmark of royal luxury. Black took on new meanings for early modern Europeans as they began to print words and images in black and white, and to absorb Isaac Newton's announcement that black was no color after all. During the romantic period, black was melancholy's friend, while in the twentieth century black (and white) came to dominate art, print, photography, and film, and was finally restored to the status of a true color.""For Pastoureau, the history of any color must be a social history first because it is societies that give colors everything from their changing names to their changing meanings - and black is exemplary in this regard. In dyes, fabrics, and clothing, and in painting and other art works, black has always been a forceful - and ambivalent - shaper of social, symbolic, and ideological meaning in European societies."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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