Red: The History of a Color

Written by Michel Pastoureau | Translated by Gladding Jody
Princeton University Press | February 14, 2017

The color red has represented many things, from the life force and the divine to love, lust, and anger. Up through the Middle Ages, red held a place of privilege in the Western world. For many cultures, red was not just one color of many but rather the only color worthy enough to be used for social purposes. In some languages, the word for red was the same as the word for color. The first color developed for painting and dying, red became associated in antiquity with war, wealth, and power. In the medieval period, red held both religious significance, as the color of the blood of Christ and the fires of Hell, and secular meaning, as a symbol of love, glory, and beauty. Yet during the Protestant Reformation, red began to decline in status. Viewed as indecent and immoral and linked to luxury and the excesses of the Catholic Church, red fell out of favor. After the French Revolution, red gained new respect as the color of progressive movements and radical left-wing politics.

Michel Pastoureau is a historian and director of studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études de la Sorbonne in Paris. A specialist in the history of colors, symbols, and heraldry, he is the author of many books, including Green, Black, and Blue (all Princeton) and The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes. His books have been translated into more than thirty languages.

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REVIEWS

"Pastoureau . . . deftly weaves a tapestry that takes in not just the history of Western art, but also etymology, fairy tales and even the origins of modern road signage in heraldry. There can be no doubting his passion."Stephen Patience, World of Interiors

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, Los Angeles Times Book Review

Praise for Michel Pastoureau's Green :"[C]omprehensive and lavishly illustrated."Natalie Angier, New York Times

Praise for Michel Pastoureau's Green :"[S]umptuously illustrated. . . . These are books to look at, but they are also books to read. . . . Individual colors find their being only in relation to each other, and their cultural force depends on the particular instance of their use. They have no separate life or essential meaning. They have been made to mean, and in these volumes that human endeavor has found its historian."—Michael Gorra, New York Review of Books

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