As A New Blue Is Discovered, ASU Professor Details History Of The Color Blue

Historians in the News
tags: history of science, Pigmentation

MARK BRODIE: Every one of us experiences the color blue on a regular basis; living here in the desert, we can often just look at the sky to see it. But some shade of blue is also found in our homes, workplaces and cars, along with natural settings. And recently, a new pigment of blue was discovered. It’s being called YInMN, and it's already moved into the mainstream with representation in crayons and paint. My co-host Steve Goldstein spoke with ASU Associate Professor Theresa Devine, who has a background in color theory, about the new blue and the history of other blues. He began by asking her to describe YlnMN.

THERESA DEVINE: It looks like an electric blue and it kind of glows — it's almost as if it has lead in it, although I don't think it does. And so it was, it was discovered by accident by these professors and at Oregon State University. And so that kind of caused a bit of a reaction in the community that, "Oh, my gosh, we've got a brand new color and it made it into the crayon box." And that gave it a little bit more of cachet, if you will.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: We can start off with how blue was first discovered, and even, were there certain associations people made with blue?

DEVINE: So it was first mined in Afghanistan. And that's the, the blue that was is known as the true blue. It came from a mineral called lapis lazuli. And it was very, very expensive and the Egyptians coveted it, and it was so — it's been used by royalty. And so Egyptian blue came out of this because they couldn't quite figure out how to create a blue pigment from lapis lazuli. So they need a new kind of blue out of limestone. And so that's what they used to, to make their glass blue — the artifacts that we find. Funerary mask of King Tut has this Egyptian blue as well. The color blue still has signified wealth and abundance and fertility.

GOLDSTEIN: If I may jump ahead, even just in terms of the, the evolution in Renaissance period or even medieval period, did the meaning of blue, did, did it — was it still associated with those same things or did there, did it evolve to some extent?

DEVINE: Around the year 400 or so, the Catholic Church decided to color code all the Saints, and so Mary was given blue. And so that's how blue kind of became — it stood for innocence and trustworthiness. And actually, that's why Navy blue was picked up, because the original Mary blue was actually what we now call Navy blue. And so the military picked it up for that same kind of essence of trust. It's also been used like, in the Jewish tradition, that same blue, to symbolize divinity. The same kind of meaning is also found in Africa, where it says you're closer to the divine. And so that's why throughout Africa, you'll see if you travel through Ghana and other places, you'll see people wearing a navy blue sort of garments. And this is why, or this is one of the reasons why. This also kind of refers to an equilibrium, you know, because it's kind of a hue between white and black and day and evening — it's, it's considered to be, to have that kind of quality.

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