The Color Red

The color red may dominate during Valentine’s Day, but this vibrant color has ruled for thousands of years. Red can signify love, anger, or warnings, but ultimately it represents passion.

Consider the red ochre used in pre-historic cave paintings to the bright red used in the frescoes found in palaces of the Roman nobles, red also connotes fortune and prosperity across multiple cultures and time periods.

During the Roman period, the brilliant reds were in part derived from the mineral cinnabar that contained highly toxic mercury. The artists using this color ultimately lost their lives due to its poisonous effects.

During the Middle Ages red symbolized power, since red pigments were expensive: consider the red robes depicted in religious paintings, the Pope’s red slippers and the robes of kings and bishops.

Religious statue wearing red robes against red drapery.
Religious statue wearing red robe in Oaxaca church.

The color red became more available in the 1500’s after the Spaniards arrived in Mexico and learned about the Aztec’s use of cochineal, a small insect that is harvested from cactus and crushed for their brilliant red color. Today cochineal is used not only in dying wool and textiles, but also used in a variety of manufacturing including cosmetics and beverages.

Today red continues to make a statement and is readily available to artists for mural paintings and manufacturers. Valentines Day only comes once a year, but red is forever.

All photos in this article copyright © 2022 Linda Marston-Reid.

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