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The History of a Color
Michel Pastoureau

Hardcover | 2002 | This edition is out of print | ISBN: 9780691090504


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.


"A miracle of poetry in the midst of academic rigidity."--Télérama

". . . 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."--Le Monde

". . . a delicious mix of erudition and lighthearted fun."--Livres

"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, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Blue is both prettily produced and whimsically enjoyable."--Julian Bell, Times Literary Supplement

"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, Washington Post Book World

"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, Chicago Tribune

"Blue . . . is confident, stylish, well-turned out. . . . The book's sapphire glow will grace the most discriminating coffee tables."--Jane Gardam, Spectator

"This beautifully illustrated book is well written and informative, and makes an important contribution to the social history of art."--Choice

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File created: 3/10/2015

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