Cover image for Blue : the history of a color
Blue : the history of a color
Pastoureau, Michel, 1947-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Bleu. English
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
216 pages : color illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BF789.C7 P369 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



A beautifully illustrated visual and cultural history of the color blue throughout the ages

Blue has had a long and topsy-turvy history in the Western world. The ancient Greeks scorned it as ugly and barbaric, but most Americans and Europeans now cite it as their favorite color. In this fascinating history, the renowned medievalist Michel Pastoureau traces the changing meanings of blue from its rare appearance in prehistoric art to its international ubiquity today.

Any history of color is, above all, a social history. Pastoureau investigates how the ever-changing role of blue in society has been reflected in manuscripts, stained glass, heraldry, clothing, paintings, and popular culture. Beginning with the almost total absence of blue from ancient Western art and language, the story moves to medieval Europe. As people began to associate blue with the Virgin Mary, the color became a powerful element in church decoration and symbolism. Blue gained new favor as a royal color in the twelfth century and became a formidable political and military force during the French Revolution. As blue triumphed in the modern era, new shades were created and blue became the color of romance and the blues. Finally, Pastoureau follows blue into contemporary times, when military clothing gave way to the everyday uniform of blue jeans and blue became the universal and unifying color of the Earth as seen from space.

Beautifully illustrated, Blue tells the intriguing story of our favorite color and the cultures that have hated it, loved it, and made it essential to some of our greatest works of art.

Author Notes

Michel Pastoureau is a historian and director of studies at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, and at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

This work, by medievalist Pastoureau (Ecole practique des hautes etudes, Paris), is an engaging history of the color blue in Western society, including its symbolic and expressive function in fine art; its social, political, and religious dimensions; and its use in everyday items and clothing. The development of blue pigments and dyes is traced from the early use of sapphire, lapis lazuli, and woad, to indigo and eventually to Prussian blue and the organic compounds of the 19th century. Included is an account of the artists, writers, dyers, weavers, politicians, and industrialists who played a role in this process. Blue was employed relatively rarely in early times, and its status as the color of royalty and the Holy Virgin only emerged in the late Middle Ages. Although its use eventually became quite common, its prestige never waned and by the age of Romanticism it had become emblematic of transcendence and romance. The author documents its continued popularity today through its ubiquitous presence in everything, from blue jeans and police uniforms to singin' the blues. This beautifully illustrated book is well written and informative, and makes an important contribution to the social history of art. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through professionals. R. M. Davis Albion College

Table of Contents

Introduction: Color Is Not Black and Whitep. 7
1 An Uncommon Color: Prehistory to the Twelfth Centuryp. 13
2 A New Color: The Eleventh to the Fourteenth Centuryp. 49
3 A Moral Color: The Fifteenth to the Seventeenth Centuryp. 85
4 The Favorite Color: The Eighteenth to the Twentieth Centuryp. 123
5 Blue Todayp. 179
Notesp. 182
Bibliographyp. 206
Indexp. 213
Photography Creditsp. 216