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RED

Talking about the “color red” may be a nonsense. Red is “the color” for excellence.

Red is the color of blood, a ruby, and strawberries and is commonly associated with danger, sacrifice, passion, fire, beauty, love, anger, socialism and communism, and in China and many other cultures, with happiness. 

In the ancient world

Red, black and white were the first colors used by artists in the Palelithic age, probably because natural pigments such as red ochre and iron oxide were readily available where early people lived. In ancient Egypt, red was associated with life, health, and victory. Egyptians would color themselves with red ochre during celebrations. Egyptian women used red ochre as a cosmetic to redden cheeks and lips, and also used henna to color their hair and paint their nails.

But, like many colors, it also had a negative association, with heat, destruction and evil.

In ancient Rome, purple was the color of the Emperor, but red had an important religious symbolism. Romans wore togas with red stripes on holidays, and the bride at a wedding wore a red shawl, called a flammeum.  Red was used to color statues and the skin of gladiators. Red was also the color associated with army; Roman soldiers wore red tunics. In Roman mithology red is associated with the god of war, Mars. A Roman general receiving a triumph had his entire body painted red in honor of his achievement.

In the Middle Ages

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the princes of Europe adapted red as a color of majesty and authority. It also played an important part in the rituals of the Catholic Church – it symbolized the blood of Christ and the Christian martyrs – and it associated the power of the kings with the sacred rituals of the Church.

Red clothing was a sign of status and wealth. It was worn not only by cardinals and princes, but also by merchants, artisans and townpeople, particularly on holidays or special occasions.

In the Renaissance and Baroque eras

In Reinassance painting, red was used to draw the attention of the viewer; it was often used as the color of the cloak or costume of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or another central figure.

The finest and most expensive variety of red made from insects was the Kermes of Armenia, It was made by collecting and crushing the Porphyophora hameli, an insect which lived on the roots and stems of certain herbs. The pigment and dye merchants of Venice imported and sold all of these products and also manufactured their own color, called Venetian Red, which was considered the most expensive and finest red in Europe. Its secret ingredient was arsenic, which brightened the color.

By the beginning of the 17th century it was the preferred luxury red for the clothing of cardinals, bankers, courtisans and aristocrats.

In the 18th and 19th centuries

During the French Revolution, Red became a symbol of liberty and personal freedom used by the Jacobins and other more radical parties. During the height of the Reign of Terror, Women wearing red caps gathered around the guillotine to celebrate each execution. They were called the “Furies of the guillotine”.

In the mid-19th century, red became the color of a new political and social movement, socialism.

The 19th century also saw the use of red in art to create specific emotions, not just to imitate nature. It saw the systematic study of color theory, and particularly the study of how complementary colors such as red and green reinforced each other when they were placed next to each other. These studies were avidly followed by arists such as Vincent Van Gogh . Describing his painting, The Night Cafe, to his brother Theo in 1888, Van Gogh wrote: “I sought to express with red and green the terrible human passions. The hall is blood red and pale yellow, with a green billiard table in the center, and four lamps of lemon yellow, with rays of orange and green. Everywhere it is a battle and antithesis of the most different reds and greens.”

Red in Imperial China

Red has been an important color in Chinese culture, religion, industry, fashion and court ritual since ancient times.

Red played an important role in Chinese philosophy. It was believed that the world was composed of five elements: metal, wood, water, fire and earth; and that each had a color. Red was associated with fire. Each Emperor chose the color that his fortune-tellers believed would bring the most prosperity and good fortune to his reign. During the Zhou, Han, Jin, Song and Ming Dynasties, red considered a noble color, and it was featured in all court ceremonies, from coronations to sacrificial offerings, and weddings.

In the 20th and 21st century

In the 20th century, red was the color of Revolution; it was the color of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and of the Chinese Revolution of 1949.  Red was the color of Communist Party.

The color that attracts attention

Red is the color that most attracts attention. Surveys show it is the color most frequently associated with visibility, proximity, and extroverts. It is also the color most associated with dynamism and activity.

Red is used in modern fashion much as it was used in Medieval painting; to attract the eyes of the viewer to the person who is supposed to be the center of attention. People wearing red seem to be closer than those dressed in other colors, even if they are actually the same distance away. Monarchs, wives of Presidential candidates and other celebrities often wear red to be visible from a distance in a crowd. It is also commonly worn by lifeguards and others whose job requires them to be easily found.

Because red attracts attention, it is frequently used in advertising, though studies show that people are less likely to read something printed in red because they know it is advertising, and because it is more difficult visually to read than black and white text.

Seduction, Sexuality and Sin

Red by a large margin is the color most commonly associated with seduction, sexuality, eroticism and immorality, possibly because of its close connection with passion and with danger.

Red was long seen as having a dark side, particularly in Christian theology. It was associated with sexual passion, anger, sin, and the devil.

In 17th century New England, red was associated with adultery. Red is still commonly associated with prostitution. Prostitutes in many cities were required to wear red to announce their profession, and houses of prostitution displayed a red light. Beginning in the early 20th century, houses of prostitution were allowed only in certain specified neighborhoods, which became known as red-light districts.

In both Christian and Hebrew tradition, red is also sometimes associated with murder or guilt. with “having blood on one’s hands,” or “being caught red-handed.”

Whererer and whenever, Red is the foremost of all colors.

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