Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Episode 102: Blue

Azure, indigo, sapphire, cobalt, beryl, cerulean, cyan, ultramarine. Incase you didn't get our little hint, on this week Julia and Carolyne will be talking about the color blue and its influence in art history. Our topic was inspired by the Blue episode of the BBC documentary The History of Art in Three Colours. If you would like to watch the episode, click the link below:


Lapis Lazuli
In the Western world blue was a latecomer to be used in art, design and even dying fabric. Making good blue dye was difficult. For centuries plants were most commonly used to create blue dyes, plants like woad and indigo were popular in Europe and Asia. The arrival of lapis lazuli in Venice changed everything.

Ancient Egyptian figurine in Egyptian Blue

Ancient Egyptians created the very first synthetic blue known as Egyptian Blue by grinding lime, silica, copper and alkali together.

For the Ancient Egyptians blue would protect the dead from evil in the afterlife. It was used for funerary urns, statuary and figurines. They also dyed the fabric a mummy was wrapped in blue.

Saint Denis Basilica, Paris
Blue wasn't typically used in stained glass windows until the middle ages, when the Saint Denis Basilica was rebuilt in Paris. They used cobalt in the windows which when mixed with the red glass created a bluish violet light that filled the cathedral. That particular color came to be known as bleu de Saint Denis.

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy
While blue had been used extensively by the Byzantines, particularly in mosaics it had not been used in clothing.
Bellini, Lochis Madonna, abt 1470-75
Pretty soon blue was the color of royalty, wealth and religion. Of course this kind of made sense since they were the only ones who could afford to buy it. When ultramarine began to be used in depicting the Virgin Mary, the color blue became a symbol of virtue, holiness and humility. The church even tried to make blue it’s own, saying it could only be used for religious symbolism.

Giotto, Arena Chapel, 1305
Giotto was one of the first Italian Renaissance painters to use ultramarine. The barrel vaulted ceiling is painted blue, not to represent the sky, but heaven. The portraits on the ceiling, encased in circles are God and Saints looking down from heaven. The Arena Chapel is considered one of the masterpieces of western art.

Titian, Pesaro Altarpiece, 1519-1526
The church tried to control ultramarine by inflating prices, at one point is was more expensive than gold. Since blue was the color of the divine, it was only used for the Virgin Mary. Titian, bad ass that he was, broke the churches control and rules associates with it in the Pesaro Altarpiece.

Some examples from Picasso's Blue Period
In Picasso’s case, his Blue Period had to do with sadness and mourning. Picasso sank into a depression in late 1901 and began painting in blue tones because of the death of his friend Carlos Casagemas. His blue's were not ultramarine, but darker more melancholy tones.

Other artists, like Gauguin and Van Gogh, used blue to represent “deepest emotion”.

Kandinsky, Der Blaue Reiter,1903 & Marc, Tower of Blue Horses, 1913

The Movement is also the title of a Kandinsky painting from 1903. The name Blaue Reiter (“blue rider”) refers to a key motif in Kandinsky’s work: the horse and rider, which was for him a symbol for moving beyond realistic representation. The horse was also a prominent subject in Marc’s work, which centered on animals as symbols of rebirth.

For Kandinsky, the properties of Blue were deep, inner, supernatural, peaceful “Sinking towards black, it has the overtone of a mourning that is not human.”

Klein, Various art pieces, Pompidou Center, Paris
Yves Klein believed that blue could change the world. He approached the chemist, Edouard Adam to help him develop the perfect shade of blue and in 1957 he trademarked the color as International Klein Blue. Everything he painted was blue! Klein made his first monochrome painting in 1949 and began his so-called 'blue period' in 1957; he then continued to make blue monochrome paintings called mono paintings which he called OPEN WINDOWS TO FREEDOM.

The Leap Into the Void, 1960

In conclusion, is it any wonder that we as human beings are so entranced by the color blue, it is after all, the color of our planet.

Bill Anders, Earthrise,1968

On December 24, 1968 as the astronauts of Apollo 8 were taking pictures of the moon, Bill Anders happened to look at the window and see the Earth and is rose over the moon's horizon. He took the picture above, forever changing humankind's view of Earth and our place in the Universe.

RECENTLY—Ken Murphy, a computer programmer  built a rig to photograph the sky once every 10 seconds for a year. The resulting time-lapse video collage is a kaleidoscope of shifting weather patterns. Murphy’s project is one of more than 150 featured in The Art of Tinkering. (link and video)

We hope you enjoyed this episode on the color Blue. Next week Alisha and Jo will be talking about Scottish Ruins!

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