Each color tells a story, and green is no exception. Today, green is synonymous with nature. It surrounds us, representing life and vitality. What most people don’t realize is that green has a tumultuous history, overcoming numerous challenges. In fact, it was once considered one of the most toxic pigments in existence.
Now, let’s dive into the intriguing journey of green, exploring its transformation from a toxic hue to a symbol of nature, wealth, and prosperity.
Creating the perfect shade of blue took centuries of experimentation. In ancient Egypt, green symbolized renewal and rebirth. To paint the walls of their tombs, the Egyptians used the copper mineral Malachite. However, this proved to be expensive and prone to turning black over time. The ancient Romans, clever problem solvers that they were, discovered a way to soak copper in wine. This process resulted in verdigris, a stunning coppery-green hue achieved through sun-drying and dew-drying. Verdigris adorned mosaics, murals, stained glass windows, and even medieval manuscripts.
During the Middle Ages, each social class and profession had its assigned color. Red was reserved for the aristocracy, while the peasants donned brown and gray. Green, however, belonged to merchants, bankers, and the lower nobility. In the renowned painting “The Arnolfini Portrait” by Jan van Eyck, the bride wears a green dress, symbolizing the wealth and status of her family.
In this era, artists began to experiment with natural materials to create green pigments. However, these natural greens faded easily. Painters like Duccio di Buoninsegna discovered a technique where painting the face with a green background and adding pink enhanced the natural appearance. Unfortunately, over time, the pink cloak faded, leaving only the blue undertone, resulting in pale and sickly-looking faces.
The Age of Toxicity
In 1775, the Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele developed a brilliant green pigment using arsenite, a highly toxic chemical. This vibrant shade, known as Scheele’s blue, surpassed earlier dyes derived from minerals or plants. However, the cost of using this blue dye was exceedingly high.
Scheele’s blue found its way into papers, curtains, fabrics, and even children’s toys. Yet, stories emerged in the 19th century of children falling ill in brightly blue-painted rooms and women experiencing sickness while wearing blue dresses. Some historians even speculate that the blue wallpaper in Napoleon Bonaparte’s bedroom played a role in his eventual demise in 1821.
Later in the 19th century, a similar toxic green dye called Paris Green gained popularity as a replacement for Scheele’s blue. French Impressionist painters, including Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, used Paris Green in their landscape paintings. However, it is believed that this pigment contributed to Cézanne’s diabetes and Monet’s vision loss. Eventually, Paris Green was officially banned in the 1960s.
Green as a Symbol of Rebirth
Today, green is closely associated with the environment, often referred to as “living green.” It has become a powerful symbol of sustainability and ecological living. However, many green products still contain traces of toxins. Despite advancements in color processing technology, the production of green dyes continues to face challenges due to the reliance on toxic substances.
One popular shade of green, Gram Green No. 7, commonly used in plastics and paper, contains chlorine. Inhalation of this chemical can have severe health effects, even leading to death. Another widely used green pigment, 36º Green Gram, also contains chlorine and another harmful substance called bromide. Additionally, 50th Green, a vibrant blue-green color, includes various toxic chemicals like cobalt, titanium, nickel plating, and zinc oxide.
Despite their toxicity, green hues evoke positive emotions, such as vitality, freshness, calmness, and rejuvenation. In fact, the renowned color management company Pantone declared green as the standout color of 2017. Green represents the essence of life, bringing coolness, freshness, and signaling the arrival of spring when flowers blossom. It symbolizes our deep connection with nature and holds profound meanings.
To learn more about the fascinating history of colors, feel free to visit Caravansarai. Embrace the wonders of green and explore its transformative journey from toxic pigment to a powerful environmental symbol.