978-0-8109-2872-5 / 9780810928725

Colors: The Story of Dyes and Pigments


Publisher:Harry N. Abrams



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About the book:

In our overstimulated, color-saturated society it is easy to forget the impact of color in the dull world before cheap dyes and plastics. Colors is a delightful little book, highly illustrated and packed with intriguing information. It traces the history of dyes and pigments from cave paintings to modern textiles. The book's four sections cover the uses of color in ancient times; its development and refinement in the Middle Ages; the explosion of supply and demand after the Renaissance; and the triumph of industrial chemistry in synthesizing and inventing colors. Production processes often paralleled those of alchemy, giving an almost magical quality to colors. Dyes were expensive in medieval Europe and could increase the price of a cloth tenfold; thus color was used to indicate social status, with aristocrats in bright robes standing out against the drab mob. Since antiquity, writers have compiled technical manuals on dyeing and pigment manufacture, often using more ancient texts, so that a great many antique recipes and techniques have been preserved. We learn, for example, how Indian yellow was made from a concentrated extract of the urine of cows fed exclusively on mango leaves (which was not healthy for the cows). Every page of the book has interesting tidbits of information, such as the derivation of blue jeans (from bleu de Genes, Genoa blue, a form of indigo). Clearly written and well-designed, Colors reminds us of the powerful ways color permeates our lives. --John Stevenson

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