Blue has had a long and topsy-turvy history in the Western world. The ancient Greeks scorned it as ugly and barbaric, but most Americans and Europeans now cite it as their favorite color. In this fascinating history, the renowned medievalist Michel Pastoureau traces the changing meanings of blue from its rare appearance in prehistoric art to its international ubiquity today.
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 became a powerful element in church decoration and symbolism. Blue gained new favor as a royal color in the twelfth century and became a formidable political and military force during the French Revolution. As blue triumphed in the modern era, new shades were created and blue became the color of romance and the blues. 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.
Beautifully illustrated, Blue tells the intriguing story of our favorite color and the cultures that have hated it, loved it, and made it essential to some of our greatest works of art.
"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
"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, The Independent Magazine
"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, Daily Telegraph
"Taken together, the earlier volumes on blue (2001), black (2009), green (2013) and red (2017), plus the new book, [Yellow,] represent ‘an edifice’ that [Michel Pastoureau] has been working to build for half a century: a history of colours in (for the most part) Europe from the ancient Greeks and Romans to the 18th century and beyond. . . . [The books] amount to an ambitious project deserving not merely respect but even a touch of awe. There are very few comparable enterprises."—Kevin Jackson, Literary Review
"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