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Use of Hue in Prehistoric Period

The attributes of color are associated with various cultural and prehistoric meanings. However, color meaning and symbolic association differ across cultures as each culture associates a particular color to an occasion, season or weather (Albers 1963). The cultural variations and color meanings are explained by the individual human behavior towards color. Blumer (1969) explains that this diversity is proven by the symbolic interactionist theory which implies that people behave differently towards an environment or a subject. The behavior of a person towards an object or a setting determines the meaning they allocate this object or background. Therefore color is used to give meaning for arbitrary and cultural purposes (Blumer, 1969). Nonetheless, the meaning of a given color varies depending on the context and time or period.

The characteristics of color are identified based on their attributes (Gage, 1995). Hue as an attribute of color is used in determining the quality of an object based on its richness in the colors of blue, red or green. These three colors are the original formulas that define hue as an attribute of color. Blue, red and green as shades of colors is mixed with different colors so as to achieve the desired effect. In the prehistoric period, color mixing was used as a way to improve the color pigment of an object (Gage, 2000).

The Renaissance period is also known as the dark ages heavily involved the use of color to express the social, cultural and economic events at the time. This gave rise to the debate of which were the primary colors that further led to the mixing of hues to come up with a range of pigments that defined trade, religion, and architecture at the time (Zentner, 2001). The original tone, which is red, was mixed with darker colors such as black or brown so as to create shade. The shadows created tend to produce either complimentary or contrasting color. Additionally, red was mixed with lighter colors such as white or cream to create a tint. The ability of hue as an attribute of color to produces different shades and tones contribute to the visual aspect of color hence influencing a person’s perceptual experiences (Manay, 2007).

Theon of Smyrna (c70-135AD) identified Red, Green, and Blue as part of the four primary colors during the Renaissance period. These colors were associated with various elements, features and seasons. Red represented spring as was a symbol of fire, Blue represented summer and was a symbol of fresh air and octahedron whereas Green was a reflection of Autumn and was a symbol of water and icosahedrons (UNESCO, 1994).

Color theory and application in the Renaissance period was used in defining the era as well as part of religion. Prehistoric art mixed colors to achieve a particular design or convey a message. Chinese red is an example of vibrant colors that were used in gospel illumination and invokes the feelings of desire or emotional feelings in a person. In Islam, red was an important color that was associated with sacrifice, valor and martyrdom (UNESCO, 1987).

In the Western world color directly impacted power and hierarchy in places of worship. For instance, in the Roman empire, hues were mixed to form rich pigments that were costly and were reserved mainly for the purpose of representing religious pictures and figures. These dyes were used to symbolize the presence of important clerical figures such as Popes, the noble and wealthy people in the society. The prehistoric period embodied the particular use of colors as each color represented an individual or the role they played in society. In Catholicism, the color blue was mainly used on Virgin Mary’s mantle and Saint Mark’s robe (UNESCO, 1987).

Moreover, lack of a broad range of palette of pigments inspired artists to come up with techniques that would create depth, focus, and atmosphere (UNESCO, 1994). Contrasting hues and tones is a method that was used in paintings to intensify the richness of each piece. In particular, Da Vinci used this technique as an approach to creating perception among his audience. Hues and tones created depth, volume and form thus establishing an emotional connection with the viewer of a painting. The painter’s original technique involved building on transparent layers through the use of dots in a painting instead of lines. This technique is evident in the picture of the Mona Lisa and that of Virgin on the Rocks (UNESCO, 1987).


Albers, J. (1963). The interaction of color. New Haven, NY: Yale University Press.

Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Gage, J. (1995). Colour and culture. London: Thames & Hudson.

Gage, J. (2000). Colour and Meaning: Art, science, and symbolism. London: Thames & Hudson.

Green-Armytage, P. (2006). The value of knowledge for color design. Color Research and Application, 31 (4), 253-269.

Manav, B. (2007). Color-emotion associations and color preferences: A case study for residences. Color Research and Application, 32(2), 144-150.

UNESCO. (1987). Venice and its lagoon (Reference 394). Retrieved 27 April 2010, from

UNESCO. (1994). World Heritage Site 712: City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto. Retrieved, from

Zentner, M. R. (2001). Preferences for colours and colour-emotion combinations in earl childhood. Developmental Science, 4(4), 389-398.