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Colors Demonic and Divine: Shades of Meaning in the Middle Ages and After Paperback – December 7, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Unfortunately for brunettes, gentlemen have preferred blondes since the 12th century, according to this engaging chromatic history lesson chronicling the rise of carnivalesque colors during the Middle Ages. The blues, crimsons and purples that adorned everything from churches to women’s dress were shaded with meaning about a person’s class, political persuasion or character. Blond hair, for example, embodied the warm, light-bearing rays of the sun, while black hair was considered dirty and evil. Brown hair, skin or clothing was also deemed sinister, yet ironically, brown eyes were seen as piously humble. Blue eyes, on the other hand, signaled insanity or sexual promiscuity. The rare brown-eyed blonde symbolized feminine perfection. Pleij’s book, ably translated by Webb, is filled with plenty more delightfully archaic beliefs and considerations of how they’ve changed with the times. Overall, people in the Middle Ages regarded color as part of God’s creative miracle, he says; for them, color was "not a substance but a quality made manifest by light," as seen in the rich, vivid stained glass and paintings of the period. But the Reformation put an end to the gay parade of colors. Over time, black, white and gray crept back into European wardrobes, art and decoration. The opulent colors of the Middle Ages, once used to create class distinctions, were left to the lower classes, and were thus soon considered garish. In the world of modern designer hues, which the author describes as the "progress of discoloration," black still spells sophistication, while muted pastels—those "colors that dare not speak their name"—flourish among the masses. 20 color photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Pleij's book will serve as a useful tool in the recreation of life and experience in medieval and early modern Europe.

(Comitatus 1900-01-00)

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