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Blue: The History of a Color
By Michel Pastoureau*

From azure to indigo, from blue jeans to "the blues," the color blue tints our lives with meaning. Now the favorite color of the Western world, blue has endured a topsy-turvy history. In Blue: The History of a Color (Princeton University Press, 2001), medievalist historian Michel Pastoureau traces the changing meanings of blue from its rare appearances in prehistoric art to its international prominence in popular culture. What unfolds is a passionate investigation of how the ever-changing role of blue in society has been reflected in manuscripts, stained glass, heraldry, clothing, painting and many other aspects of culture.

Beginning with the almost total absence of blue from ancient Western art and language, Pastoureau’s tale 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, despite the resistance of chromophobic prelates. Blue gained new favor as a royal color in the twelfth century and became a formidable political and military force through the French Revolution. As blue triumphed in the modern era, new shades were created and blue became the color of romance and the Romantics. Finally, Pastoureau follows blue into contemporary times as it is viewed from a new perspective—outer space—and has become the universal, unifying color of Earth.

Blue is what true scholarship is all about. It is engaging, easy to read and elegantly illustrated with nearly one hundred color plates. And Pastoureau presents a convincing case that blue has been, and maybe always will be, a primary color.


*Michel Pastoureau is a historian and Director of Studies at the Ecole practique des hautes études, Paris, and at the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris. He is the author of several books in French, as well as The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric. Blue, at 216 pages (with color plates) is published in cloth and sells for $35.00.