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Yellow

Yellow is commonly associated with gold, sunshine, reason, optimism and pleasure, but also with envy, jealousy and betrayal. It plays an important part in Asian culture, particularly in China.

Yellow in History and Art

Antiquity

In Ancient Egypt, yellow was associated with gold, which was considered to be imperishable, eternal and indestructible. The skin and bones of the gods were believed to be made of gold. The Egyptians used yellow extensively in tomb paintings; they usually used either yellow ochre or the brilliant orpiment, though it was made of arsenic and was highly toxic. A small paintbox with orpiment pigment was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun.

The Middle Ages and Renaissance

During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, yellow became firmly established as the color of Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Christ, even though the Bible never describes his clothing. From this connection, yellow also took on took associations with cowardice, envy jealousy and duplicity.

The tradition began in the Renaissance of marking non-Christian outsiders, such as Jews, with the color yellow.

The 18th and 19th centuries

The 18th and 19th century saw the discovery and manufacture of synthetic pigments and dyes, which quickly replaced the traditional yellows made from arsenic, cow urine, and other substances.

The 19th century British painter J.M.W. Turner was one of the first in that century to use yellow to create moods and emotions, the way romantic composers were using music. His painting Rain Storm and Speed the Great Central Railway was dominated by glowing yellow clouds.

The painter Vincent Van Gogh was a particular admirer of the color yellow, the color of sunshine. Writing to his sister from the south of France in 1888, he wrote, “Now we are having beautiful warm, windless weather that is very beneficial to me. The sun, a light that for lack of a better word I can only call yellow, bright sulfur yellow, pale lemon gold. How beautiful yellow is!”

Yellow in China

Yellow has strong historical and cultural associations in China, where it is the color of happiness, glory, and wisdom. In China, there are five directions of the compass; north, south, east, west, and the middle, each with a symbolic color. Yellow signifies the middle.

The legendary first emperor of China was known as the Yellow Emperor or Huangdi. Members of the imperial family of China at that time were the only ones allowed to display the color yellow in buildings and garments.  Distinguished visitors were honored with a yellow, not a red, carpet.

In Chinese symbolism, yellow, red and green are masculine colors, while black and white are considered feminine. In the traditional symbolism of the two opposites which complement each other, the yin and yang, the masculine yang is traditionally represented by yellow.

Yellow in other cultures

The ancient Maya associated the color yellow with the direction South. The Maya glyph for “yellow” (k’an) also means “precious” or “ripe”.

The term “yellow” has been used as a term for both Northeast Asian  and, in the early 20th century, light-skinned African-Americans. “Yellow” (“giallo”), in Italy, refers to crime stories, both fictional and real. This association began in about 1930, when the first series of crime novels published in

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