July 13, 2010

Life in purple

Purple is a color between blue and red

Purple was a sign of nobility due to the high costs of Tyrian purple, a dye first produced by Phoenicians or even before in Crete (around 20 century B.C.). According to the legend, it was discovered by Heracles' dog, who ate some snails found in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Phoenicians established a colony on a group of islands in front of Morocco called today Îles Purpuraires, off to Mogador, where the sky looks sometimes purple as well.

But thousands of snails were required to dye a single cloth, so the "purpura" was very expensive, a luxury reserved to the nobles. The Roman Emperors used to wore a purple clad. The idiom "Born in the purple" meant "born among the nobles".

The process lasted centuries, till Constantinople fall to the Muslims. Short after that, Europe learned about cochinilla, an insect who grows on nopales used by Mayas and Aztecs to dye red. French called it vermillon.

There is even a rare and gorgeous purple marble used in Italian churches, like this columns in a Roman church.

Or this "Annunciation" by Fra Angelico in a very smooth and soft delicious purple in San Marco.

Raphael painted his master Michelangelo in gray-purple in his "School of Athens".

More recently, Jimmy Hendrix popularized among the hippies the psychedelic purple with his movie and song "Purple Rain".

When I think of purple I have to think of Rufino Tamayo and his love for this color. Here, just a single example: "Retrato de niños - Pareja de niños" (1966).

Or of the "Bugambilias" of Saturnino Herrán (1917), which are almost bluish.

Photographs of the 80s and made with a Polaroid camera used to obtain a particular violet-like tone, like this beautiful shot by Anna Beard of Bello Ucello.

But the real Purple Rain occurred rather in Cape Town, when the police decided to use purple water against the anti-apartheid demonstrators in 1989.

I got this painting of beautiful jacarandas in Mexico, my favorite tree
I. Mojica, "Jacarandas en primavera" (2008)

And there is also the red wine, which looks, depending on many conditions, neither "black" (as it is called in some languages) nor "red", but "tinto", i.e. a very elegant reddish purple. Perfect for shoes. But that is another story.


Keith said...

nice post with lots of good information. However, consistent with the photo you have, Hendrix's song was "Purple Haze". The movie and song for "Purple Rain" was Prince. From the 1980s.

Enrique G de la G said...

Right! Thanks.