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The History of a Color
Michel Pastoureau

Winner of the 2009 Bronze Medal in Fine Art, Independent Publisher Book Awards
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2009

Hardcover | 2008 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691139302
216 pp. | 9 x 9 | 106 color illus.
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Introduction[PDF] pdf-icon

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.


"Who would have thought the history of a single color could be so fascinating? Black: The History of a Color, by Michel Pastoureau, (Princeton University Press, $35) proceeds chronologically from cave painting to modern fashion and focuses on mythology, heraldry, religion, science and painting along the way. The author, a historian at the Sorbonne, narrates developments in the material, aesthetic and sociological dimensions of the color black with infectious, wide-ranging curiosity and easy-going erudition. After this you'll want to read his previous book, from the same publisher, Blue: The History of a Color."--Ken Johnson, New York Times

Praise for Michel Pastoureau's Blue: "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 H. Gass, author of Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review

"This handsome, strikingly designed, richly illustrated book traces the history of the color black in Europe. . . . Like his earlier Blue, this book is well researched, skillfully written, and a pleasure to read."--R. M. Davis, Choice

"Michael Pastoureau, in Black: The History of a Color, sees the rise of puritanism and Protestantism as the war of the colours--a war against vivid colour that black usually won. . . . He has a terrific story to tell, and a multitude of gorgeous images to help tell it."--Robert Fulford, The National Post

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Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Michel Pastoureau:

Subject Areas:

Greek vase painting, Attic, black-figure painting
Greek vase painting, Attic, black-figure painting
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Portrait of a youth in front of a white curtain
Portrait of a youth in front of a white curtain
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La mort ©Svensk Filmindustri/DR
La mort ©Svensk Filmindustri/DR
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File created: 7/11/2017

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