Blue: The History of a Color / Edition 1

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Blue has a long and topsy-turvy history in the Western world. Once considered a hot color, it is now icy cool. The ancient Greeks scorned it as ugly and barbaric, but most Americans and Europeans now pick it as their favorite color. In this entertaining history, the renowned medievalist Michel Pastoureau traces the changing meanings of blue from its rare appearances in prehistoric art to its international ubiquity today in blue jeans and Gauloises cigarette packs.

Any history of color is, above all, a social history. Pastoureau investigates how the ever-changing role of blue in society has been reflected in manuscripts, stained glass, heraldry, clothing, paintings, and popular culture. Beginning with the almost total absence of blue from ancient Western art and language, the story moves to medieval Europe. As people began to associate blue with the Virgin Mary, the color entered the Church despite the efforts of chromophobic prelates. Blue was reborn as a royal color in the twelfth century and functioned as a formidable political and military force through the French Revolution. As blue triumphed in the modern era, new shades were created, and blue became the color of romance. Finally, Pastoureau follows blue into contemporary times, when military clothing gave way to the everyday uniform of blue jeans, and blue became the universal and unifying color of the Earth as seen from space.

With an exceptionally elegant design and strikingly illustrated with one hundred color plates, Blue tells the fascinating history of our favorite color and the cultures that have hated it, loved it, and created great art with it.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
It has adorned everything from the Virgin Mary's robe to imported cigarette boxes. It represents the sky and the sea, royalty, and sadness. In this brilliant work, Michel Pastoureau examines the social history of the color blue from its uses in prehistoric art up to the present day. Pastoureau's writing, at once scholarly and vibrant, draws readers into the mesmerizing story of how the color blue has been represented in art, apparel, language, and religion. Beautifully illustrated in full color, Blue is a unique work that will delight lovers of art, history, and pop culture.
Chicago Tribune
A generous, gorgeous book full of nearly 100 historical and artistic plates, all illustrating the meaning and role of the color blue in Western history. . . . Pastoureau has created something rare: a coffee table book that is also a good read. And not just a good read, but a compelling read.
— Brian Bouldrey
This beautifully illustrated book is well written and informative, and makes an important contribution to the social history of art.
Daily Telegraph
The material history of a certain section of the spectrum, from the costly tones of the Virgin's cloak to uniforms, Picasso and jeans. History can make you blind, but some historians can make you see again.
— James Davidson
Le Monde
. . . a rich volume, intelligently illustrated. . . . With sure-footed scholarship, trenchant opinions, Michel Pastoureau goes beyond a perfunctory visit: he makes us realize the importance of this material and avoids the errors of a number of other historians.
. . . a delicious mix of erudition and lighthearted fun.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Pastoureau's text moves us through one fascinating area of activity after another. . . . The jacket, cover and end-papers of this luscious book are appropriately blue; its double-columned text breathes easily in the space of its pages; it is so well sewn it opens flat at any place; and fascinating, aptly chosen color plates, not confined to the title color, will please even those eyes denied the good luck of being blue.
— William Gass
Blue . . . is confident, stylish, well-turned out. . . . The book's sapphire glow will grace the most discriminating coffee tables.
— Jane Gardam
A miracle of poetry in the midst of academic rigidity.
The Independent Magazine
In this beguiling and beautiful mixture of art book and social history, the distinguished French scholar shows how the rarest of all colors became the commonest.
— Emma Hagestadt and Boyd Tonkin
Times Literary Supplement
Blue is both prettily produced and whimsically enjoyable.
— Julian Bell
Washington Post Book World
Michel Pastoureau takes us into territory that could be made to feel impossibly dense and absurdly specialized. To his credit, the tour is brisk and challenging.
— John Loughery
William Gass
The jacket, cover and end-papers of this luscious book are appropriately blue; its double-columned text breathes easily in the space of its pages; it is so well sewn it opens flat at any place; and fascinating, aptly chosen color plates, not confined to the title color, will please even those eyes denied the good luck of being blue.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
William R. Wineke
Among the things you might not have known about the Virgin Mary is that she didn't wear blue for the first 12 centuries of her role as an object of religious veneration.
Wisconsin State Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691090504
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 9/17/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 9.49 (w) x 9.75 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Color Is Not Black and White 7
1 An Uncommon Color: Prehistory to the Twelfth Century 13
2 A New Color: The Eleventh to the Fourteenth Century 49
3 A Moral Color: The Fifteenth to the Seventeenth Century 85
4 The Favorite Color: The Eighteenth to the Twentieth Century 123
5 Blue Today 179
Notes 182
Bibliography 206
Index 213
Photography Credits 216
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"Michel Pastoureau paints a massive canvas in which the history of one color becomes the history of culture itself. This is a study not of color as mere matter but as idea—presenting thousands of years of thinking in blue."—Michael Camille, author of The Medieval Art of Love and Glorious Visions

"Michel Pastoureau brilliantly uses the shifting meanings of blue to challenge a whole spectrum of assumptions about color and its symbolic value. . . . Thanks to this study, which is certain to become a classic, blue will never look the same again."—Jori Finkel and Jonathon S. Keats

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