Some Fun Color History
Since many of you are painting to your heart’s desire now, as you do the first lessons of my online Color Play for Quilters class at Craftsy.com, I thought you might be interested in a bit of obscure history about violet.
For centuries, it was against the law for anyone to wear violet except kings, queens, and heads of state. Later others of highest power were given the privilege too. Interestingly, although the name of the head of state of Ancient Rome and the Roman Empire changed throughout history—from king to consul to caesar to emperor, one item remained a constant throughout the reigns—the use of violet.
Depending on the time, the formal dress of Rome’s head of state was either a white toga with a wide violet stripe or a violet toga. When Cicero was Rome’s consul, he proudly wore his white toga with its wide violet stripe whenever he left his home. Statesmen of lesser importance wore white togas with narrow violet stripes. A person’s high-state importance could be observed immediately for all to see by the amount of violet displayed on a man’s toga. A man with a toga bearing no violet was a man with no power. Again, it was illegal for all others to wear violet.
You might wonder how violet became the color of power. Here’s its story:
During the reign of the Roman Empire, violet dye was extraordinarily rare. It could only be made from the crushing of thousands of the rare Mediterranean Murex sea shells. These shells were found in Tyre, Lebanon. In today’s high finance, the cost of dying the violet from these shells for one toga would cost more than $ 45,000.00.
Even during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, violet continued to be illegal for all but the royal family. Not only was the cost of procuring the shells and making the dye prohibitive, but the cost of shipping the dyes to England and other European countries was formidable. As the dying process became less costly, due to using plant dyes, religious leaders of the highest stature were allowed to wear violet.
Violet still holds a place of power, importance, and status throughout the world. To this day you will see royalty and religious leaders wearing violet during special ceremonies. It’s still consider a color of power and royalty. Today violet is often used in Europe as a marketing tool. You can find classic chocolates and other good eats wrapped in violet paper or cloth—-a subtle reminder that these products are of high quality—-and fit for royalty.
Perhaps you can have fun in the future watchin special ceremonies and taking note of who is wearing violet for the occasion—even if it’s just a scarf, color, or belt. You will notice the hues of these royal violets does vary. Some are middle of the road violet while others lean toward blue-violet, red-violet, and some even sway to the much warmer color purple. No matter which hue it is, it still reflects the vision of power, high-birth, and royalty.
When you’re creating violet hues for your index cards, just think about how much easier it is for you to create violet than those who lived centuries ago.
Joen is a color enthusiast who teaches and lectures on color. She has written three color books: Color Play, Visual Coloring, and The Magical Effects of Color. Her Studio Color Wheel is used to illustrate color concepts in many of these blog posts. She is also the designer of the 3-in-1 Color Tool. Her new book Adventures in Designis now available. Joen’s newest design tool, the Magic Design-Ratio Tool is also available. All books and products are published by C & T Publishing.