On the visible spectrum of light, violet light is at the end, with the lowest wavelength of 380-450 nanometers (in experiments under special conditions, people have so far seen to 310 nm). Light with a shorter wavelength than violet but longer than X-rays and gamma rays is called ultraviolet. In the color wheel historically used by painters, it is located between blue and purple. On the screens of computer monitors and television sets, a color which looks similar to violet is made, with the RGB color model, by mixing red and blue light, with the blue twice as bright as the red. This is not true violet, since it is composed of multiple longer wavelengths rather than a single wavelength shorter than that of blue light.
Violet and purple look very similar; but violet is a true color, with its own wavelength on the spectrum of visible light, while purple is a composite color, made by combining blue and red.
In history, violet and purple have long been associated with royalty and majesty. The emperors of Rome wore purple togas, as did the Byzantine emperors. During the Middle Ages violet was worn by bishops and university professors and was often used in art as the color of the robes of the Virgin Mary.
According to surveys in Europe and the United States, violet is the color people most often associate with extravagance and individualism, the unconventional, the artificial, and ambiguity.
In Chinese painting, the color violet represents the harmony of the universe because it is a combination of red and blue (Yin and yang respectively). In Hinduism and Buddhism violet is associated with the Crown Chakra.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Gallery
- 3 Violet and purple
- 4 In history and art
- 5 In science
- 6 In culture – symbolism and associations
- 6.1 Cultural associations
- 6.2 New Age
- 6.3 Religion
- 6.4 Parapsychology
- 6.5 Politics
- 6.6 Flags
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Notes
- 10 External links
From the Middle English and old French violette, and from the Latin viola, the names of the violet flower. The first recorded use of violet as a color name in English was in 1370. Violet can also refer to the first violas which were originally painted a similar color. In Arabic language violet color is called Nile and the dye Nilege made from viola flower (of the violet color) which was dominant on the shores of the Nile River, giving the Nile color as the name of the Nile river. The violet shade of blue is called nili in contemporary Arabic.
Violet and purple
In the traditional color wheel used by painters, violet and purple are both placed between red and blue. Purple occupies the space closer to red, between crimson and violet. Violet is closer to blue, and usually less intense and bright than purple.
From the point of view of optics, violet is a real color: it occupies its own place at the end of the visible spectrum, and was one of the seven spectral colors of the spectrum first described by Isaac Newton in 1672.
In the additive color system, used to create colors on a computer screen or on a color television, violet is simulated by purple, by combining blue light at high intensity with a less intense red light on a black screen. The range of purples is created by combining blue and red light of any intensities; the chromaticities formed this way line along the "line of purples".
While the scientific definition is clear, the cultural definitions are more varied. The color called purple by the French, pourpre, contains more red and half the amount of blue of the color called purple in the United States and the U.K. In German, a more reddish color is sometimes called Purpurrot ("purple-red") to avoid confusion.
In history and art
Prehistory and antiquity
Violet is one of the oldest colors used by man. Traces of very dark violet, made by grinding the mineral manganese, mixed with water or animal fat and then brushed on the cave wall or applied with the fingers, are found in the prehistoric cave art in Pech Merle, in France, dating back about twenty-five thousand years. It has also been found in the cave of Altamira and Lascaux. It was sometimes used an alternative to black charcoal. Sticks of manganese, used for drawing, have been found at sites occupied by Neanderthal man in France and Israel. From the grinding tools at various sites, it appears it may also have been used to color the body and to decorate animal skins. The mineral hematite, a red iron oxide, was also ground to produce a dark red-violet pigment by the artists of the paleolithic and neolithic periods.
More recently, the earliest dates on cave paintings have been pushed back farther than 35,000 years. Hand paintings on rock walls in Australia may be even older, dating back as far as 50,000 years.
Berries of the genus rubus, such as blackberries, were a common source of dyes in antiquity. The ancient Egyptians made a kind of violet dye by combining the juice of the mulberry with crushed green grapes. The Roman historian Pliny the Elder reported that the Gauls used a violet dye made from bilberry to color the clothing of slaves. These dyes made a satisfactory purple, but it faded quickly in sunlight and when washed.
Tyrian purple – the color of the emperors
The most famous color of the ancient world was Tyrian purple, produced in Phoenicia, on the coast of modern day Lebanon, in the cities of Tyre and Sidon. It was made from two sea snails, the murex and the purpura. The process of making the dye was very delicate; the shells were first cracked, and the snails were soaked in a basin to allow them to decompose, which made a horrible smell; then a tiny gland was removed and the juice extracted from the gland. The juice was placed in the sunlight, where it went through an extraordinary transformation; in the light it turned from milk white to yellow green, then to green, then to violet, then to a deep red violet-purple. The process had to be stopped at exactly the right moment, and then it was used to dye either wool or silk a magnificent and lasting color. Traces of the dye industry, including mountains of snail shells, dating back to 1500 BC, have been found at Ougarit and other sites in Lebanon.
The process was extremely labor-intensive and expensive. When the German chemist Paul Friedander tried to recreate Tyrian purple in 2008, he needed twelve thousand mollusks to create 1.4 ounces of dye, enough to color a handkerchief. In the year 2000 a gram of Tyrian purple made from ten thousand mollusks according to the original formula, cost two thousand euro.
The actual color of Tyrian purple seems to have varied from a reddish to a bluish purple. According to the Roman writer Vitruvius, (1st century BC), the murex coming from northern waters, probably murex brandaris, produced a more bluish color than those of the south, probably murex trunculus. The most valued shades were said to be those closer to the color of dried blood, as seen in the mosaics of the robes of the Emperor Justinian in Ravenna. The chemical composition of the dye from the murex is close to that of the dye from indigo, a slightly reddish blue, and indigo was sometimes used to make a counterfeit Tyrian purple, a crime which was severely punished. What seems to have mattered about Tyrian purple was not its color, but its lustre, richness, its resistance to weather and light, and most of all its high price.
Tyrian purple became the color of kings, nobles, priests and magistrates all around the Mediterranean. In the Iliad of Homer, the belt of Ajax is purple, and the tails of the horses of Trojan warriors are dipped in purple. In the Odyssey, the blankets on the wedding bed of Odysseus are purple. In the poems of Sappho (6th century BC) she celebrates the skill of the dyers of the Greek kingdom of Lydia who made purple footwear, and in the play of Aeschylus (525–456 BC), Queen Clytemnestra welcomes back her husband Agamemnon by decorating the palace with purple carpets. In the Bible, it was described the color worn by the priests of Yahweh. In 950 BC, King Solomon was reported to have brought artisans from Tyre to provide purple fabrics to decorate the Temple of Jerusalem.
In the Roman Republic, the togas of all citizens were bordered with a purple stripe. During a triumph, the general being honored wore an entirely purple toga bordered in gold. The commander of the army wore a purple cloak, called a paludamentum. During the Roman Empire, purple was reserved for the emperors. The Emperor Caligula had a the King of Mauritania assassinated for wearing a purple mantle better than his own. Nero made it punishable by death for anyone else to wear the color. Later, the rulers of the Byzantine Empire continued the use of purple as the imperial color, for diplomatic gifts, and for imperial documents and the pages of the Bible. But with the gradual Arab conquest of the empire, the sources of the dye were cut off, and by the 9th century the technique of making the dye was largely forgotten.
Tyrian purple was made from a sea snail called murex
The Middle Ages and the Renaissance
Violet and purple retained their status as the color of emperors and princes of the church throughout the long rule of the Byzantine Empire. The Emperor Charlemagne was crowned wearing a mantle of Tyrian purple from Byzantium. Bishops of the Byzantine church wore white robes with stripes of purple, while government officials wore squares of purple fabric to show their rank. However, after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the color began to lose its imperial status. The great dye works of Constantinople were destroyed, and gradually scarlet, made with dye from the cochineal insect, began to be adopted as the royal color in Europe. In 1464, Pope Paul II decreed that cardinals should wear scarlet rather than purple, since scarlet was considered a finer color. Bishops and archbishops, of a lower status than cardinals, were assigned the color purple, but not the rich Tyrian purple. They wore clothes of a mix of the less expensive indigo blue overlaid with scarlet from cochineal.
While violet was worn less frequently by Medieval and Renaissance kings and princes, it was worn by the professors of many of Europe's new universities. Their robes were modeled after those of the clergy, and they often square violet caps and violet robes, or black robes with violet trim.
Violet also played an important part in the religious paintings of the Renaissance. Angels and the Virgin Mary were often portrayed wearing violet robes. The 15th-century Florentine painter Cennino Cennini advised artists: "If you want to make a lovely violet colour, take fine lacca, ultramarine blue (the same amount of the one as of the other)..." For fresco painters, he advised a less-expensive version, made of a mixture of blue indigo and red hematite.
A medieval depiction of the coronation of the Emperor Charlemagne. The bishops wear purple robes, the cardinals wear scarlet, and the Pope wears white.
Madonna and child by Giotto (1266–1320)
18th and 19th centuries
In the 18th century, violet was a color worn by royalty, aristocrats and the wealthy, and by both men and women. Good-quality violet fabric was expensive, and beyond the reach of ordinary people.
Many painters of the 19th century experimented with the uses of the color violet to capture the subtle effects of light. Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) made use of violet in the sky and shadows of many of his works, such as his painting of a tiger.
A new synthetic pigment, cobalt violet (cobalt phosphate), appeared in the second half of the 19th century, broadening the palette of artists. Cobalt violet was used by Paul Signac (1863–1935), Claude Monet (1840–1926), and Georges Seurat (1859–1891).
Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) was an avid student of color theory. He used violet in many of his paintings of the 1880s, including his paintings of irises and the swirling and mysterious skies of his starry night paintings, and often combined it with it complementary color, yellow. In his painting of his bedroom in Arles (1888), he used several sets of complementary colors; violet and yellow, red and green, and orange and blue. In a letter about the painting to his brother Theo, he wrote, "The color here...should be suggestive of sleep and repose in general....The walls are a pale violet. The floor is of red tiles. The wood of the bed and the chairs are fresh butter yellow, the sheet and the pillows light lemon green. The bedspread bright scarlet. The window green. The bed table orange. The bowl blue. The doors lilac....The painting should rest the head or the imagination."
In 1856, a young British chemist named William Henry Perkin was trying to make a synthetic quinine. His experiments produced instead an unexpected residue, which turned out to be the first synthetic aniline dye, a deep violet color called mauveine, or abbreviated simply to mauve (the dye being named after the lighter color of the mallow [mauve] flower). Used to dye clothes, it became extremely fashionable among the nobility and upper classes in Europe, particularly after Queen Victoria wore a silk gown dyed with mauveine to the Royal Exhibition of 1862. Prior to Perkin's discovery, mauve was a color which only the aristocracy and rich could afford to wear. Perkin developed an industrial process, built a factory, and produced the dye by the ton, so almost anyone could wear mauve. It was the first of a series of modern industrial dyes which completely transformed both the chemical industry and fashion.
Charles de Bourbon, the future King Carlos III of Spain (1725).
Portrait of Félix Pissarro (1881), by Camille Pissarro
Portrait of Caroline Remy de Guebhard, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919). Mauve became a popular fashion color after the invention of the synthetic dye in 1856.
Vincent's bedroom in Arles, (1888) by Vincent van Gogh.
Irises (1889) by Vincent van Gogh, (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Starry Night, by Vincent van Gogh (Houston Museum of Art).
20th and 21st centuries
In the early 20th century, purple, green and white were the colors of the Women's Suffrage movement, which sought to win the right to vote for women. Later, in the 1970s, in a tribute to the Suffragettes, it became the color of the women's liberation movement.
In the 1960s, it was also associated with hallucinogenic drugs, and with the music of Jimi Hendrix, particularly the 1967 song "Purple Haze". Later, in the 1980s, it was featured in the song and album Purple Rain (1984) by the American musician Prince.
The violet or purple necktie became very popular at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, particularly among political and business leaders. It combined the assertiveness and confidence of a red necktie with the sense of peace and cooperation of a blue necktie, and it went well with the blue business suit worn by most national and corporate leaders.
Violet is at one end of the spectrum of visible light, between blue and the invisible ultraviolet. It has the shortest wavelength of all the visible colors. It is the color the eye sees looking at light with a wavelength of between 380 and 450 nanometers.
In the traditional color wheel used by painters, violet and purple lie between red and blue. Violet is inclined toward blue, while purple is inclined toward red.
Violet colors composed by mixing blue and red light are within the purple colors (the word "purple" is used in the common sense for any color between blue and red). In color theory, a purple is a color along the line of purples on the CIE chromaticity diagram and excludes violet. Violet light from the rainbow, which can be referred as spectral violet, has only short wavelengths.
Violet objects are objects that reflect violet light. Objects reflecting spectral violet often appear dark, because human vision is relatively insensitive to those wavelengths. Monochromatic lamps emitting spectral-violet wavelengths can be roughly approximated by the color shown below as electric violet.
Chemistry – pigments and dyes
The earliest violet pigments used by humans, found in prehistoric cave paintings, were made from the minerals manganese and hematite. Manganese is still used today by the Aranda people, a group of indigenous Australians, as a traditional pigment for coloring the skin during rituals. It is also used by the Hopi Indians of Arizona to color ritual objects.
In western Polynesia, residents of the islands made a violet dye similar to Tyrian purple from the sea urchin. In Central America, the inhabitants made a dye from a different sea snail, the purpura, found on the coasts of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The Mayans used this color to dye fabric for religious ceremonies, and the Aztecs used it for paintings of ideograms, where it symbolized royalty.
During the Middle Ages, most artists made purple or violet on their paintings by combining red and blue pigments; usually blue azurite or lapis-lazuili with red ochre, cinnabar or minium. They also combined lake colors made by mixing dye with powder; using woad or indigo dye for the blue, and dye made from cochineal for the red.
Mixing of two different colors to dye clothing was considered unnatural and diabolic in Medieval times. Those who dyed blue fabric and red fabric were members of different guilds, and were forbidden to dye any other colors than those of their own guild. Most violet fabric was made by the dyers who worked with red, and who used dye from madder or cochineal, so Medieval violet colors were inclined toward red.
Orcein, or purple moss, was another common violet dye. It was known to the ancient Greeks and Hebrews, was made from a Mediterranean lichen called archil or dyer's moss (Roccella tinctoria), combined with an ammoniac, usually urine. Orcein began to achieve popularity again in the 19th century, when violet and purple became the color of demi-mourning, worn after a widow or widower had worn black for a certain time, before he or she returned to wearing ordinary colors.
Violet dyes for the clothing of common people from the Middle Ages onward were also made from the blackberry or other red fruit of the genus rubus, or from the mulberry. All of these dyes were more reddish than bluish, and faded easily with washing and exposure to sunlight.
A popular new dye which arrived in Europe from the New World during the Renaissance was made from the wood of the logwood tree (Haematoxylum campechianum), which grew in Spanish Mexico. Depending on the different minerals added to the dye, it produced a blue, red, black or, with the addition of alum, a violet dye. It made a fine color, but, like earlier dyes, it did not resist sunlight or washing.
In the 18th century, chemists in England, France and Germany began to create the first synthetic dyes. Two synthetic purple dyes were invented at about the same time. Cudbear is a dye extracted from orchil lichens that can be used to dye wool and silk, without the use of mordant. Cudbear was developed by Dr. Cuthbert Gordon of Scotland: production began in 1758, The lichen is first boiled in a solution of ammonium carbonate. The mixture is then cooled and ammonia is added and the mixture is kept damp for 3–4 weeks. Then the lichen is dried and ground to powder. The manufacture details were carefully protected, with a ten-feet high wall being built around the manufacturing facility, and staff consisting of Highlanders sworn to secrecy.
French purple was developed in France at about the same time. The lichen is extracted by urine or ammonia. Then the extract is acidified, the dissolved dye precipitates and is washed. Then it is dissolved in ammonia again, the solution is heated in air until it becomes purple, then it is precipitated with calcium chloride; the resulting dye was more solid and stable than other purples.
Cobalt violet is a synthetic pigment that was invented in the second half of the 19th century, and is made by a similar process as cobalt blue, cerulean blue and cobalt green. It is the violet pigment most commonly used today by artists, along with manganese violet.
Mauveine, also known as aniline purple and Perkin's mauve, was the first synthetic organic chemical dye, discovered serendipitously in 1856. Its chemical name is 3-amino-2,±9-dimethyl-5-phenyl-7-(p-tolylamino) phenazinium acetate.
In the 1950s, a new family of violet synthetic organic pigments called quinacridone came onto the market. It had originally been discovered in 1896, but were not synthetized until 1936, and not manufactured until the 1950s. The colors in the group range from deep red to violet in color, and have the molecular formula C20H12N2O2. They have strong resistance to sunlight and washing, and are used in oil paints, water colors, and acrylics, as well as in automobile coatings and other industrial coatings.
The marine hatchetfish (here eating a small crustacean) lives in extreme depths. It is luminous, and can adjust its light level to match the light coming from the surface, so as not to be visible to predators below.
The violet coral (Clavaria zollingeri) is a widely distributed species of fungus, or mushroom.
The violet carpenter bee (Xylocopa violacea) is one of the largest bees in Europe.
The violet-backed starling is found in sub-Saharan Africa.
In culture – symbolism and associations
In Western culture
Popularity of the color
- In Europe and America, violet is not a popular color; in a European survey, only three percent of men and women rated it as their favorite color, ranking it behind blue, green, red, black and yellow (in that order), and tied with orange. Ten percent of respondents rated it their least favorite color; only brown, pink and gray were more unpopular.
The color of royalty and luxury
- Because of their status as the color of Roman emperors, and as colors worn by monarchs and princes, the colors violet and purple are often associated with luxury. Certain luxury goods, such as watches and jewelry, are often placed in boxes lined with violet velvet, since violet is the complementary color of yellow, and shows gold to best advantage. Chocolates are often wrapped in purple.
The Empress Theodora in a purple mantle
Vanity, extravagance, and individualism
- While violet is the color of humility in the symbolism of the Catholic Church, it has exactly the opposite meaning in general society. A European poll in 2000 showed it was the color most commonly associated with vanity. As a color that rarely exists in nature, and a color which by its nature attracts attention, it is seen as a color of individualism and extravagance.
Ambiguity and ambivalence
- Surveys show that violet and purple are the colors most associated with ambiguity and ambivalence. Violet, positioned between red and blue, can easily be shifted one way or the other, and has no clear identity. Like other intermediate colors, it is seen as equivocal and uncertain.
In Asian culture
- In Chinese painting, the color violet represents the harmony of the universe because it is a combination of blue and red (Yin and yang respectively).
- In Japan, violet was a popular color introduced into Japanese dress during the Heian Period (794–1185). The dye was made from the root of the alkanet plant (Anchusa officinalis), known as murazaki in Japanese. At about the same time, Japanese painters began to use a pigment made from the same plant.
A Japanese woman in the kimono stye popular in the Heian Period (794–1185)
- The "New Age Prophetess", Alice Bailey, in her system called the Seven Rays which classifies humans into seven different metaphysical psychological types, the "seventh ray" of "Ceremonial Order" is represented by the color violet. People who have this metaphysical psychological type are said to be "on the Violet Ray".
- In the Ascended Master Teachings, the color violet is used to represent the Ascended Master St. Germain.
- In the Roman Catholic church, violet is worn by bishops and archbishops, red by cardinals, and white by the Pope. Ordinary priests wear black.
- In the Roman Catholic and many other Western churches, violet is the liturgical color of Advent and Lent, which respectively celebrate the expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus and the time for penance and/or mourning.
- There is a stained glass window created in the early 1920s in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles depicting God the Father wearing a violet robe.
- After the Vatican II Council, which modified many of the rules of the Catholic church, priests began to wear violet robes when celebrating masses for the dead. Black was no longer used, since it was the color of mourning outside the church, and was felt to be inappropriate in a religious ceremony.
- Psychics who claim to be able to observe the aura with their third eye report that those who are practicing occultists (magical thaumaturgists) often have a violet aura. It is said that people with violet auras are forward looking visionaries who may be in occupations such as performance artist, photographer, venture capitalist, astronaut, futurist, or quantum physicist.
- At the beginning of the 20th century, violet, green and white were the colors of the Women's Suffrage movement in the United States and Britain, seeking the right to vote for women. The colors were said to represent liberty and dignity. For this reason, the postage stamp issued in 1936 to honor Susan B. Anthony, a prominent leader of the suffrage movement in the United States, was colored the reddish tone of violet known as red-violet.
- There is a small New Age political party in Germany with about 1,150 members called The Violet Party. The party believes in direct democracy, a guaranteed minimum income, and that politics should be based on spiritual values. "The Violet Party" was founded in Dortmund, Germany in 2001.
- Flag of the Second Spanish Republic
- High-energy visible light
- List of colors
- Shades of violet
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- Eva Heller, Psychologie de la couleur: effets et symboliques. p. 166,
- Stevens, Samantha. The Seven Rays: a Universal Guide to the Archangels. City: Insomniac Press, 2004. ISBN 1-894663-49-7 p. 24
- Bonewits, P.E.I. Real Magic New York:1971 Berkley Medallion Page 141
- Oslie, Pamalie Life Colors: What the Colors in Your Aura Reveal Novato, California:2000—New World Library Violet Auras: Pages 130–144
- Eva Heller, Psychologie de la couleur: effets et symboliques. illustration 75.
- Violet Party website:
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