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Blue: The History of a Color. Hardcover – October 1, 2001

12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"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

From the Inside Flap

"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


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (October 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691090505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691090504
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 9.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #416,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

132 of 137 people found the following review helpful By Dianne Foster HALL OF FAME on February 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Woad, Indigo, Azurite, Lapis, Copper Silicate, Blue Vitriol are some of the sources of the color blue. BLUE, THE HISTORY OF A COLOR, by Michel Pastoureau, is a beautiful art history book, whose organizing principle is the color--blue. Pastoureau's book is a bit "Francocentered" but nevertheless, who better to reflect on blue than a Frenchman. BLUE is both informative and entertaining and a must for any serious art book collector. The photgraphy of various works of art--including selected stained glass windows from the early church--is stunning. The book is loaded with illustrations showing pages from psalters, cathedral windows, figurines, and other art.
For millions of years, the major colors for artistic expression were Black-White-Red. Ancient tales such as "Little Red Riding Hood", "Snow White", and "The Fox and the Crow" reflect this primary triad. The Romans considered blue an inferior color, especially since the Celts up North had discovered the leaves from the Woad plant could be made into a beautiful blue "pastel" suitable for body painting. The liturgal colors of the Catholic Church date from Roman times and are red-white-black (green was added later). However, at some point between the time the Romans lost Europe and the Catholic Church reentered recorded history, blue became associated with Mary the mother of Christ. When Abbe Suger built St. Denis, blue began to rival red for supremacy within the church, although blue never became a vestment color. When St. Louis built his Chapel and the Capet family became the rulers of France with Mary as their patron, the fleur de lis on a blue background became the family standard and the flag of France (fleur de lis = lily of Mary, although it may be a blue flag or iris).
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By S. B. Garcia on December 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover
A negative review of this book deemed the author "arrogant", "Francophile" and "contemptuous". It is true that this text is Western-focused, and Pastoureau is very clear from the beginning that he does not attempt to achieve a universal history of blue. However, while Franco-centrism is at times self evident, it never gets to the point of being annoying, much less depreciating the overall quality of his job. This is a beautiful, well-researched and much appealing text that serves much more as a question opener and debate setting object rather than a final word on the matter.

Pastoureau's work is chronologically ordered, and revolves around the central idea that blue was ignored for much of mankind's early history, until its faith started to change around the twelfth and the thirteen century for a number of ideological and technical reasons. According to this hypothesis, blue then suffered a radical transformation for good which enabled it to achieve the well known status of being the West's favorite color that we know today.

His prose is elegant and engaging, the translation is flawless and supporting pictures are carefully chosen to ensure the reader's commendation. I would, however, point out two weak points in the book:

1) It can be immediately appreciated that Pastoureau's historical expertise is at his best on the period covering from the Late Middle Ages to probably the seventeenth century (this is an achievement of its own, however). I found his command of relevant primary sources impeccable and his ideas strongly supported by the latter. As the book progresses, tough, the analysis becomes coarser, more speculative and less supported by historical research (though not less appealing, for sure).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By rachel on February 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gorgeous illustrations and just a really cool topic, especially for those interested in both history and art. I gave this as a gift to someone for Christmas and they absolutely loved it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By YUXIANG WANG on December 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Beautifully written. Should have read it earlier. Michel's other book "The devil's cloth: History of stip" is also a great book.
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By Denka on April 13, 2015
Format: Hardcover
A real book of history that can be read like a novel, this is so rare!
All the links between blue and the other colors in the western way of thinking since the Middles Ages until nowadays: absolutely amazing!
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By friday on January 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The times reviewed it best. And I would agree it ranks up there as one of the most engaging nonfiction reads of that year.
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