A Study in Colour: The History of Red


After black and white, red is the first colour the human eye perceives.

Much like bulls, humans have had a strong relationship with the colour, but ours dates back thousands of years (bovine history isn’t as well documented, unfortunately). Today, we recognize it as the symbol of power, vigor, passion, and love.

So in honour of Valentine’s Day, we’re taking a historical tour to learn of the importance of the world’s most powerful colour.

Body and Cave Paintings

Red’s significance to human culture dates back over 40,000 years ago, when Stone Age hunters and gatherers used red clay for body paint, as well as protection in the afterlife. Palaeolithic period humans used red powder in burials to fend off evil spirits, and possibly evil odors.

During that same time period, pre-historic art decorated caves from Africa to Asia, most comprised of red ochre. Drawings of animals, people, and vessels in red were abundant in this red paint.

Love and Marriage

Since it shares the same colour as our hearts, red has always symbolized love and fidelity in cultures around the world.

It’s been the prominent hue found at weddings from red shawls worn by Roman brides, to red ornaments and attire that adorn Chinese weddings even to this day; Chinese brides wear red wedding dresses, walk a red carpet down the aisle, and have their nuptials kiss under red veils. Even the gifts they receive for the birth of their first child – red eggs – follow the motif.

Holy Moly

Religion was dominant in the past, and red, symbolic to the blood of Christ, is a central ornamentation in Christianity and Christian iconography. Kings wore red to show their God-given rights to the throne, and cardinals included the colour in their public-worship clothing. Both Charlemange and Louis XIV wore red shoes at their respective coronations and official portraits to emphasis their Godly authority.

Fortune doesn’t Favour Fools

Chinese philosophy associates red with one of five’s earth elements, fire, which associates it with dynamism, confidence, and leadership. When Chinese emperors asked their personal fortune tellers what colour would bring them prosperity and good fortune, red was the answer.

Zho, Jin, Han, Song, and Ming Dynasties used red heavily in royal ceremonies; Tang-era paintings of Chinese emperors would regularly be featured in red robes, reflecting their royal supremacy.

As we can see from red’s history, it’s the colour that elicits human emotion like none other. So you may want to incorporate the hue in your brand’s colours or marketing, as it’ll appeal to the human eye (and bulls).

Print Three provides digital printing services across in Canada in a full spectrum of colour, not just red. Contact us for more information about our digital printing and online marketing services.

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