• Amara Jenkins

Why Blue Wasn't A Past Hue

Considered to be the world's most favoured colour, however, a true blue is hard to come by in nature. Naturally occurring blue pigment is extremely rare, only one animal is known to have it; the obrina olivewing butterfly. Other animals that seem blue, such as peacocks and blue tang fish appear this way due to the structure of their feathers and scales that cause light scattering and reflection.



Blue In Language

It is believed that humans have not always been able to perceive the colour blue. From ancient pieces of text, such as Homer's Odyssey, where the sea is described as a 'dark wine', to the development of language showing that blue was one of the last colour words to be introduced to the English language. However, does this suggest that the colour blue didn't exist, or language hadn't allowed for it to be classified as its own colour? Some philologists may argue that the description of a 'dark wine sea' is used as a similie to describe the richness of the sea that the audience would be able to relate to. However, Lazarus Geiger studied other texts such as Arabic, ancient Icelandic, Chinese, Hindu and Hebrew to see if there were mentions of blue, however, there were none.


An experiment was conducted by Jules Davidoff, with the Himba tribe from Namibia. The tribe has many words to express shades of green but it does not have a word that strongly distinguishes between blue and green. The experiment presented members of the tribe with eleven green squares and one blue square. The tribe struggled to identify the blue square, even when answering correctly it took a long time to decide.


The experiment was reversed and they were asked to identify the square that was a different shade of green in comparison to the eleven surrounding it. The Himba tribe were able to identify it straight away. Whereas it is difficult for us to distinguish between the green shades as our language hasn't developed to assess green in such detail.




Historic Production of Blue

It wasn't until 6,000 years ago that the first synthetic blue pigment was created in Ancient Egypt and only in recent decades was the latest pigment discovered. This pigment was called Egyptian Blue, it was made through the melting of copper, lime, silica and an alkaline, heated to high temperatures.


During Medieval Europe, ultramarine blue was sought after. Derived from the powdering of Lapis Lazuli. Originating from the mines of Afghanistan, this semi-precious stone rivalled the prices of gold once imported to Europe. Its rarity meant it was used scarcely in painting; only important figures such as the Virgin Mary were painted in blue. It is thought Michelangelo's painting The Entombment, was left incomplete as he could not afford to finish Virgin Mary's cloak. Artists such as Johannes Vermerr, who painted Girl With a Pearl Earring, put his family in debt from purchasing too much ultramarine blue. In 1824 a synthetic version of ultramarine blue was created so that it could be mass-produced, now called 'French Marine'.



Modern History of Blue

The history of blue plays a significant role in the way it is perceived today. As mentioned previously, it was only important figures, most prominently the Virgin Mary who wore blue. These figures are portrayed in a positive light as they convey trustworthiness and innocence. This is one of the key factors as to why government forces such as the military and police often wear blue to depict a similar image.


Indigo is one of the most used dyes in the fashion industry today. The dye originates from Indigofera Trincotria plant and is endemic to India, China and Africa. In 1880 a synthetic pigment was created, replacing the cultivation of plants to produce Indigo. The production of Indigo is hugely unsustainable. Over 45,000 tonnes of indigo dye are produced annually, with the waste entering rivers, having negative impacts on ecosystems. Each year over 4 billion denim garments are produced. In the last decade, scientists have created 'Bio-Indigo'. This pigment comes from Escherichia Coli Bacteria, it replicates the same chemical reaction occurring in Indigofera Trincotria plants and is being developed as an environmentally friendly alternative for the production of indigo.


English Prussian Blue (Berliner Blau) is made from a chemical reaction that occured by mixing red pigments along with animal blood that created Iron Ferrocyanide. This pigment is sensitive to light and is used for the production of blueprints.


The latest pigment of blue was discovered in 2008. It's named after the chemical compound it is formed from YInMn (yttrium, indium and manganese). It is known to have cooling properties and is a sustainable alternative for a layer in roofing.



The Future of The Blue Hue

After discovering that blue pigment was scarce during the 15th century, through to the discovery of the latest blue pigment in the 21st Century; It makes me question if there are still more blues to be discovered in years to come. Considering the development of language and the experiment with the Himba tribe, it has led me to speculate if there are more colours to distinguish between as language evolves.















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© 2020 by Amara Jenkins