Timeless red ... all of its shades involuntarily can visualize the verbal metaphors of ancient times. 'Lady in Red', Satine in 'Moulin Rouge', 'The Great Harlot' and 'Babylon Red' and so on and so on.. There are quite a lot of examples and all of them make you think about 'space-time-clothing-era' contexts and relationship between many aspects of visual culture.
And after all, when all this is cleared up, you start to get a better sense of the fragile boundary that separates the challenge from vulgarity.
Therefore, I invite you to look at some of the brightest moments of red in the history of fashion, art and visual culture!
Since the antiquity, color red has been the symbol of life and also the symbol of power, wealth and passion. In the context of fashion history, red cloth always has been a very expensive to dye. That is why red fabrics were historically a sign of wealth and status.
Relatively recent fashion history has shown a lot of designers who have been using this color and turned some of its shades into icons of time. Timeless "Valentino Red" or, for example Christian Loubutin's shoes with the red soles, that have turned the color into a distinctive sign. Year by year and season by season it is common to hear that red never goes out of style as it always appears on the catwalks, red carpet, festive events and even in the street style.
Mural painting from fullonica VI 8, 20.21.2 at Pompeii, now in the National museum of Naples. (A fullo was a Roman fuller or laundry worker (plural: fullones), known from many inscriptions from Italy and the western half of the Roman Empire and references in Latin literature, e.g. by Plautus, Martialis and Pliny the Elder. A fullo worked in a fullery or fullonica.) Source: Wikimedia Commons
In ancient Egypt, red was the color of life, health, and victory. During festive events Egyptians used red ochre to color themselves. As a substance for cosmetics, - red ochre was used to color lips and to redden cheeks. Egyptian women also used red henna to color their hair and paint their nails.
Greeks and Romans also valued red as a dye for clothing, hair, makeup and painting. The rich cinnabar frescoes from many Pompeiian houses communicated luxury to visitors. [10.]
In Ancient Rome some types of the togas were adorned with red stripes. These stripes were status symbols. Meanwhile roman brides at a weddings wore a red or orange veil, called a flammeum. Red was the color of blood – but blood was a symbol not just of death, but of life – of fertility and love.
Red pigments were used to color statues and also the skin of gladiators.
Red was also the color associated with Roman army. Red tunics of Roman soldiers helped to hide red stains of blood. In Roman mythology red is also assocaited with the god of war, Mars. Roman officers wore a cloak called a paludamentum which, depending of the quality of the dye, could be crimson, scarlet red or purple.
During the Middle Ages, red color was utterly dominant. The emperor Charlemagne wore red shoes according to Byzantine tradition. In Christian art, red represented the blood of Christ and of Christian martyrs. Since then red became the color worn by Catholic cardinals.
Red dye was very expensive and therefore red clothing was a sign of high status and wealth. It was worn not only by cardinals and princes, but also by merchants, artisans and townspeople, particularly on festive events or special occasions.
There were many different shades of red and, of course - variety of pigments. Ordinary people used the roots of the rubia tinctorum, the madder plants. This color resembled brick-red hue, and it faded easily in the sun or during washing the clothes.
Only the wealthy people and aristocracy wore bright scarlet clothing dyed with kermes, or carmine that was made from carminic acid. This color was obtained from tiny female scale insects, which lived on the leaves of oak trees in Eastern Europe and around the Mediterranean. The insects were gathered, dried, crushed, and boiled with different ingredients in a long and complicated process, which produced a brilliant scarlet.
As we can see in many medieval miniatures, the bright red Gothic dresses worn by wealthy ladies were fashion statement of the Gothic era. But then came the Renaissance era of fashion and brought with it new discoveries.
Renaissance Red & Secret Of The Cochineal Beetles
It turns out that the early inhabitants of America had their own bright crimson dye! It was made from the cochineal, an insect which feeds on the Opuntia, or prickly pear cactus plant. Red-dyed textiles has been featured in the Paracas culture (800 - 100 BC) and found in tombs in Peru and in other sites of South America.
And then, from the 16th century, a brilliant new red appeared in Europe. Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and his soldiers discovered that Aztecs had another treasure beside silver and gold... They had the tiny cochineal beetle which lived on cactus plants, which, when dried and crushed, made a magnificent color of red. Cochineal could be harvested several times a year and it was considerably brighter and more durable than other colorants previously known in Europe. It worked particularly well on silk, satin and other luxury textiles. In 1523 Cortes sent the first shipment to Spain. Soon cochineal began to arrive in European ports aboard convoys of Spanish galleons.
Thus Spanish merchants started import the cochineal dyes from the new world and it made red really very fashionable. So, by the beginning of the 17th century it was the preferred luxury red for the clothing of cardinals, bankers, courtesans and European aristocracy.
Splendour of the Baroque Red.
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My name is Edīte Parute and I am a fashion historian and researcher from Latvia, association member at "The Association of Dress Historians" (UK) and author of the book "Stila un modes enciklopēdija"/"Encyclopedia of Style and Fashion" (2010) as well as author of many publications.