Fifty Shades of Blue
A Short Guide of The Most Mysterious Colour in Trial To Understand Its Nature
Spiritual, intellectual comprehension of the world – this is how blue is treated by psychologists, describing this colour as infinity, incomprehensibility, divinity and mind. It slows down the sense of time as if making it clear about its relativity and immortality of spiritual. The origins of blue lead to the very past and have a rich history to tell as the many shades appeared eventually, acquiring new values and interpretation.
Beloved by many aesthetes blueness of sky and water wasn’t always in favour: ancient Greeks and Roman couldn’t really distinguish these colours from each other and didn’t even try to. At least, the philologist of the XVIII believed so, noting that blue tones relatively rarely appear in the ancient art pieces, and, mostly, in the lexicon of the classical Greek and Latin languages. Moreover, according to proven sources, Romans associated colour blue with barbarian tribes of the Celts and Germans, who painted their bodies blue in order to bring into intimidation their enemies. Perhaps, that’s why the blue clothes weren’t sufficiently appreciated in Rome – furthermore, it was considered as a symbol of mourning.
While Romans tried to pull away from the importance of blue, in ancient Egypt this colour had a significant meaning. Sacrifices and hallows to gods were depicted in many shades of blue. The same colour was used for images of gods, pharaohs and queens’ wigs in order to emphasise their highest, divine origins; during various cult ceremonies, Egyptians wore blue wigs. Ancient Mayan used blue as a part of their traditional sacrifices – wooden and ceramic objects, wall murals, aromatic resins – everything that was linked to ritual sacrifices were brought to blue painting and coating. Even people, who meant to become an object of immolation, used to colour their faces blue.
“Originally made from (semi-precious stone) Lapis Lazuli, this colour was, for centuries, the most prized, rare and expensive of hues, literally worth its weight in gold,” explains Canadian colour expert and designer Janice Lindsay.
The rich sociocultural background of blue made an impressive impact on the history of society: a semantic load connected to this colour had been changing over centuries, sometimes in downright opposite directions. It’s curious to think that blue is key to an understanding of the social structure evolution. For example, how did it happen that blue that was rhymed with concept go might, wealth and spirituality for a long time, turned into a synonym of unification and social labour?
In order to get to know better a dual nature of such enigmatic colour, I tried to reproduce a guide-to-be list of things and phenomenons that took a significant part in history and culture.
At least anyone once in life tried this famous cream, and who didn’t, will distinguish it anyway from other creams among a colossal vast assortment of cosmetic products. In the ‘90s, when I was a young, beautiful and silly, Nivea creams were a super-hit among my mother, my grandmother, my mother’s friends, my mother’s enemies, and everyone who needed decent nourishment and moistening of their skin.
The most recognisable cosmetic jar in the world takes its origins since 1911, in Hamburg, Germany, and counts already more than a hundred years of success and consumers’ loyalty. The beginning of the story appears by the invention of a fundamentally new component named eucerit – an emulator produced from sheep wool and represents a water-oil composition destined to become an ideal base for skincare. Its creator, a doctor Isaac Lifschütz presented a new formula to Paul Gerson Unna, a dermatologist, who appreciated Lifschütz’s experience and knowledge and introduced him to Oscar Troplowitz, a chemist and a co-founder of Beiersdorf company. And the production began.
It had to come up with a name, and Troplowitz, inspired by the cream itself and its snow-white colour, named it NIVEA, from Latin «nix, nivis» (snow). It turns out, NIVEA translated from Latin as «white as snow».
The jar, as we know it now, had a colour of yellow, not a blue one. And only in 1924, the company changed its branded style into blue and white, that became iconic and worldwide famous till nowadays.
We all remember the cult scene from «Devil Wears Prada» that made a history of the worldwide cinematography when Miranda read a mini-lecture on cerulean when Andy grinned at fashion director being indecisive of «different» tones of belts. The history of this colour has never been presented in such a thought-provoking manner, when started considering the meaning of colours in fashion and how it affected on trends, social movements, the political state of affairs, and other factors that had a deeper definition than just a «blue colour».
The ward cerulean finds its roots from the Latin word caeruleum, which means «sky» or «heavens». Moreover, the meaning was in turn from Latin caeruleus deep blue: resembling the blue of the sky.
In the past, the definition was used to describe blue pigments, precisely, mixtures of coppers and cobaltous oxides, called genuine cerulean. The early attempts to invent a sky blue tone was more than unsatisfactory due to greenish hues and lack of permanence. When the artificial pigment cerulean blue was finally fabricated, people started using this instead.
Nowadays, cerulean has at least thirteen tones: from light and less replete to deep and dark and saturated.
Denim / Jeans
We all know the history of jeans invention: famous Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis got a patent for creating working coveralls for farmers and miners. Uniform made out of denim (serge de Nîmes – fabric from Nîmes) with rivets on pockets and double orange stitching (which became a trademark) was literally eternal.
The appearance of the principal object of the daily outfit, blue jeans, was defined by a historical oddity. The ship, sailing in 1867 with a batch of the Genoese canvas for Live Strauss jeans production, caught in a storm – the barrels stored in the hold appeared to be broken and poured bales with a cloth. Sewed together out of the resulting fabric the batch of trousers had defined a style of the most universal thing of the modern wardrobe. Blue jeans in a contemporary world is a banality, a clothing ersatz as it is, and a genuine magic wand, in case, when you got nothing to wear, or you don’t want to bother yourself with thinking of your look because of mood or uncertainty. In an example, British scientists assert that a constant wearing of the regular blue jeans might witness about depression. And, of course, we undoubtedly trust them.
When Mark Zuckerberg was asked about the reason the Facebook logo is blue, he presented an intimate, well-prepared answer. The creator of the most famous and influential social media on the planet is colourblind and is unable to distinguish red and green shades, therefore he coloured his brainchild in blue. This breathtaking legend is from the category of those, which are attractive to customers and users (we all do remember that the brand’s story and background lead to higher per cent of loyalty and audience’s interest) to perceive and consider there’s more deep sense than just sympathy to a colour. But it won’t produce the desired effect on professional web-marketers and colourise-psychologist which yet at the dawn of Internet daily implementation understood which colour spectrum should be used in corporate sites make up.
Have you ever noticed that the largest social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, VK, LiveJournal, Tumblr, Foursquare, and many other choose blue for their identity with a purpose: this is a colour of intellect, reliability and communication. Moreover, it has a neutral perception, simultaneously calms down and creates an atmosphere of security and trust. That’s what we all need in constantly changing dynamic of an updating newsfeed.
Nowadays, dark-blue and violet are traditionally associated with luxury and wealth. The reason is pretty simple: in the fifteenth century, Arabic merchants brought indigo dye to Europe that let European dyers do what their predecessors weren’t able to do for centuries – to give a cloth alluring, deep, saturated, vivid, and – what is a more important – resistant blue colour. Indigo was harvested from a special type of snails, and costed a fortune – almost at the price of gold – so, only the privileged segments of the population could afford to wear clothes made of blue: kings and queens, aristocrats and other representatives of the social elite. This way blue turned into a mark of clothes costliness and special social status of its owner.
A traditional Russian style of porcelain painting is the most recognisable national pattern in Russian art history along with Khokhloma. Initially, Gzhel was multicoloured, the famous blue-white colour produced in 27 villages of the «Gzhel bunch» was first applied in the eighteenth century, when cobalt trend came from Europe and Asia and found its adaptation in porcelain-making and semi-faience products. The Gzhel pattern is usually applied with black cobalt – the well-known blueness appears right after roasting that may vary up to 20 different shades of blue – it depends on the master’s way of the smear overlay.
But the most intriguing secret of Gzhel isn’t revealed yet – when the name of the handicrafts comes from. There are some different versions: from old Russian «zhgel» – when tableware is roasted. In honour of the river Gzhelka in Smolensk region. Or from «gzhiolka» as people used to call wagtail. The secret has already been carried through the centuries.
Blue Screen of Death
In the middle of the ‘90s, Windows 95 became even more significant in a global history than Christianity and Tetris. In addition to revolutionary accessibility and comfort, the system differentiated by its outstanding instability. At the moment when Windows mistakes reached the critic level, a screen was flooded in dark-blue, meanwhile, white letters reported an end of a session of the virtual reality with an incomprehensible computer code provoking a user’s heart-attack and bouts of despair mixed with anger. This is how the term of the Blues Screen of Death appeared.
Its colour wasn’t chosen by accident: according to creators, blue calms down promotes physical and mental relaxation that is so necessary for the moments of fatal system errors. Reality became crueller that is supposed to be: a view of the screen caused a wild annoyance and misunderstanding of what is happening to an electronic little friend. After a while – a decade –Microsoft came to decision to get rid of the system imagery of mockeries and changed the screen colour from dark-blue into pale blue. And when you start crying again over an unsaved document of the thesis you wrote during the month, this smile – 🙁 – will feel sad along with you.
Using the expressive properties of the blue colour became a distinctive feature of the palette of Dutchmen, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). The feeling of anxiety and confusion overwhelm all his masterpieces whether it’s a portrait, landscape, still life, or genre scene. In the «Starry Night» picture van Gogh expressed his mental confusion and fear, bordering on a cry of despair by means of contrast between yellow and blue condensed to black. Van Gogh painted his picture being confined in the hospital for the mentally ill in the moments when his consciousness was clear enough to think and create. Creativity helped him to come to himself, was his rescue. And when you admire again the swirls of the clouds reminding of the galactic funnel, remember it was painted by an affection of fascination of madness and fear.
Picasso’s Blue Period
Picasso’s Blue period is the most significant example of how depression may provoke a creative takeoff and literally forge an artistic individuality.
The blue of loneliness and sorrow was entrenched in the history of the world culture namely by Picasso (1901-1904). The master was taken possession by questions of old age and death, melancholy and grief. Astounding by its emotional mood blue colour dominates over canvases of this period – Picasso was fulfilled with the bitterness of loss, guilt, feeling of death coming closer. Depressed motives appeared in his artworks right after the death of his close friend’s suicide – of the artist, Carlos Casagemas. Later Picasso told: «I plunged into a blue colour when I realised Casagemas is dead.»
Blue collars / Uniform
When British king, Georg II (1683-1760) saw duchess Bradford prancing by on white horse during monarch’ morning walk on Hyde Park, he was struck by an elegant beauty of the blue suit of her, led to an immediate order to the head of the Admiralty to develop a new uniform for sailors. Lady Bradford and king’s refined taste was quickly appreciated not only in England but all around the world: style and colour of the English uniform became a standard, whereby many other kinds of uniform clothes were developed.
Nowadays, blue is the primary colour of working, medical and businesslike uniform. One of the most noticeable details of the uniform – blue collars – became a steady expression defining the whole working class. This way was called a working proletariat in America of the ‘20s, which was occupied by a physical work with piecework, hourly pay.
The Virgin Mary
A breadth of interpretations of blue in religion, especially, in Christianity is vast: blue defines the truth, the prudence, the godliness. In the visual arts, iconography distributes definite tones behind individual characters of the New Testament. According to Steven Bleicher, an art history professor of Coastal Carolina University, since the fifth-century Catholic church started to shape a peculiar colour code: Peter appears before us wearing white and blue robes, Paul – in a green and red one, Maria Magdalena – in violet, meanwhile the Virgin Mary – in blue.
Blue wasn’t only an expensive textile dye, it was an extremely expensive pigment for painters that tried to find out different approaches to reproducing different tones of blue in a cheaper manner. Because of its cost, it was only used for the most important subjects.
In the Renaissance, the Virgin Mary had more than just a meaningful sense of human admiration and worship, but the most important woman in people’s lives. As she was almost always painted with her robes blue, the colour became a synonym of purity, humility, and the divine.
Mood and Blood
Don’t be afraid, in this context mood and blood are related at all, but sometimes sh*t happens. This time blue takes shape of not a habitual representation of a characteristic of this or that object, but completely different, a linguistic phenomenon of the colour. How many times have you probably hear the meaning of «blue blood»? In fact, this definition applies to aristocrats which are inherent to turn up their noses in order to demonstrate their importance. High society ladies were so proud of the paleness of their skin and always sought to avoid even the slightest spot of tan under a burning summer sun. As a result, their skin was such thin that blue streaks of veins were visible – this could cause the thought of their blood is blue, not red like others.
A definition of mood is also strongly related to blue. It’s normal to say «I’m blue» in order to make others understand you aren’t in good condition to enjoy life and jump over cloud altogether with unicorns. By the way, an Italian music band Eiffel 65 once sang a song that made a top of music charts and is famous by its uncomplicated word set, revealing how sad they are in a very particular manner and a clockwork motif.
Meanwhile in Russia, whose culture is tightly tied with the culture of the use of alcohol-containing substances, inevitably turned out to be related to blue. «To get blue» (sinyachit – from Russian «siniy» that means «blue») – to get drunk, «Blue Monday» – a hangover and getting out of a drunken state), «bruise» («sinyak») – alcoholic.
The Perfect Blue
The exquisite blue didn’t give peace of mind to artists of the twentieth century. To find a downright perfect colour, which would become an embodiment of spirituality and infinity, intended a French artist, Yves Klein. As he confessed, he was inspired to start his researches by the sky depicted on the Giotto’s pictures, and through colour, he realised an intangible. Blue for Klein is a «perceived clear space», meanwhile a «monochrome space» is the simplest way «to everything, to an immense susceptibility of painting».
He began his research in the late fifties. In 1957, in Milan: eleven blue paintings of the same size – Klein found the way to keep intact an ultramarine pigment and patented it in 1960 under his name (International Klein Blue, IKB). So, Klein made his dream come true to find a downright perfect colour.
In the epoch, when gender boundaries are about to be erased, sexism is the hottest topic to discuss and to fight against, the meaning of the colour in the wardrobe of young boys and girls has already lost its importance. If girls were mostly allowed to wear every colour of choice, boys were strictly «forbidden» even to come closer to pink that was always perceived as girlish colour. If a boy expressed his desire to implement pink in his daily outfit, parents and society (how can we really survive without its meaningless opinion?) started sounding the alarm and make an appointment to the best psychiatrist in town – a kid definitely got some problems.
There are lots of version on how this stereotype became a principal part of the family traditions (remember baby shower parties – a cake filled with a definite colour – pink or blue – revealed gender of your future baby). Some scientist agrees on an opinion that such kind of preferences rooted in the ancient times when men were engaged in hunting, while women were occupied by gathering. The blue clear sky meant good weather for hunting, meanwhile red colour and its shades determined berry ripeness.
Notable, some sources keep information about the opposite situation of such states of affairs. Blue was regarded as women’s colour, pink – men’s one. As many explain, pink is watered red, which symbolises aggression, meanwhile blue/light blue is more subtle and personifies lovely girls. Remember the image of the Virgin Mary.
First origins of blues occurrence had been followed since the epoch of the slave system in America. Tough conditions of life, work and social device of those times found their reflection in Afroamerican songwriting. They hot their own new music genres: working songs, roll-songs named «holler», religious songs «spirituals». So, by way of interaction of national African motives, Western trends and social problems of Afroamericans in the South-East of USA, the blues was born.
The term itself happened in 1895 from an English word «blues» which, probably, was an abbreviation of «blue devils» expression, and translated, approximately, like «depression», «despondency», «anguish».
At least once in a life you might a very unfriendly expression «bluestocking» against one or another girl. You probably have no idea what does it mean, but it has a lot of sense for those kinds of women who put their interest before anything else. Na marriage too.
It describes a girl, who since school has gone deep into science or study of something else, so much so, she couldn’t even remember the importance of self-care, and, at least, use makeup. In addition to all of it, she doesn’t communicate to anyone and doesn’t make close friends.
In the 1760s, among literary club fans of certain Elisabeth Monthegue, appears the first mention of the «definition». According to sources, there was a scientist keen on botany, who entered the circle of her friends that gathered together pretty often. He was remarkable by a thing, that instead of wearing an etiquette prescribed black stockings, he wore blue ones, that were notably distinguished among others. As a result, those days, when he was absent at the next meeting, many participants started noticing they were bored without «bluestockings». Consequently, initially, a given description applied to men, not to women.
Though, there is another version of events. In the Elisabeth Monthegue’s club was a certain lady, who was too much interested in everything that was discussed there (poetry and literature). Her husband appeared to become so mad at her for it and started calling her along with other club members «bluestocking».
L’Heure Bleue, Guerlain
Great things aren’t necessarily born out of great feelings. A French perfumer, Jacques Guerlain throughout his life felt jealous anxiety due to the success of another genius of perfumes – Francois Coty. Thereby, the world has seen a whole new brood of aromas the made up an era within new European history – alongside with Mosin’s rifle, dresses without corsets, and penicillin discovery.
«L’heure Bleue» means «blue hour» – blue as Claude Monet water lilies. Forty minutes between sunset and darkness French also call «an hour between dog and wolf» – the time of no one between culture and nature. The smell of L’heure Bleue perfume, which Jacques Guerlain created two years before World War I, had to transmit a tedious taste of twilight on the Seine, narcotic fleur of lush flowers, a splash of water, the warmness of skin. This was a response of Guerlain company to a competitor’s best-seller – L’Origan perfume (1905), which Francois Coty built up mixing together citrus, clove, heliotrope and oriental vanilla.