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Violet is the color of light at the short wavelength end of the visible spectrum, between blue and invisible ultraviolet. It is one of the seven colors that Isaac Newton labeled when dividing the spectrum of visible light in 1672. Violet light has a wavelength between approximately 380 and 450 nanometers. The color's name is derived from the violet flower.
In the RGB color model used in computer and television screens, violet is produced by mixing red and blue light, with more blue than red. In the RYB color model historically used by painters, violet is created with a combination of red and blue pigments and is located between blue and purple on the color wheel. In the CMYK color model used in printing, violet is created with a combination of magenta and cyan pigments, with more magenta than cyan.
Violet is closely associated with purple. In optics, violet is a spectral color (referring to the color of different single wavelengths of light) and purple is the color of various combinations of red and blue (or violet) light, some of which humans perceive as similar to violet. In common usage, both refer to colors that are between blue and red in hue, with violets closer to blue and purples closer to red. Similarly, in the traditional painters' color wheel, violet and purple are both placed between blue and red, with violet closer to blue.
Violet and purple have a long history of association with royalty, originally because Tyrian purple dye was extremely expensive in antiquity. The emperors of Rome wore purple togas, as did the Byzantine emperors. During the Middle Ages violet was worn by bishops and university professors and was often used in art as the color of the robes of the Virgin Mary. In Chinese painting, the color violet represents the "unity transcending the duality of Yin and yang" and "the ultimate harmony of the universe". In Hinduism and Buddhism violet is associated with the Crown Chakra. According to surveys in Europe and the United States, violet is the color people most often associate with extravagance and individualism, the unconventional, the artificial, and ambiguity.
Etymology and definitions
The word violet as a color name derives from the Middle English and Old French violete, in turn from the Latin viola, names of the violet flower. The first recorded use as a color name in English was in 1370.
Violet and purple
Violet is closely associated with purple. In optics, violet is a spectral color: It refers to the color of any different single wavelength of light on the short wavelength end of the visible spectrum (between approximately 380 and 450 nanometers), whereas purple is the color of various combinations of red, blue, and violet light, some of which humans perceive as similar to violet. In common usage, both refer to colors that are between blue and red in hue, with violets closer to blue and purples closer to red. In the traditional color wheel used by painters, violet and purple are both placed between red and blue, with purple is closer to red.
In humans, the L (red) cone in the eye is primarily sensitive to long wavelength light in the yellow-red region of the spectrum, but is also somewhat sensitive to the shorter wavelength violet light that primarily stimulates the S (blue) cone. As a result, when violet light strikes the eye, the S-cone is stimulated strongly and the L-cone is stimulated weakly. Accordingly, strong blue light mixed with weaker red light can mimic this pattern of stimulation, causing humans to perceive colors that the same hue as violet, but with lower saturation. Computer and television screens rely on this phenomenon. Because they use the RGB color model, they cannot produce violet light and instead substitute purple, combining blue light at high intensity with red light of approximately half the intensity.
Violet is at one end of the spectrum of visible light, between blue light, which has a longer wavelength, and ultraviolet light, which has a shorter wavelength and is not visible to humans. Violet encompasses light with a wavelength of approximately 380 to 450 nanometers. Violet objects often appear dark, because human vision is relatively insensitive to those wavelengths.
Chemistry – pigments and dyes
The earliest violet pigments used by humans, found in prehistoric cave paintings, were made from the minerals manganese and hematite. Manganese is still used today by the Aranda people, a group of indigenous Australians, as a traditional pigment for coloring the skin during rituals. It is also used by the Hopi Indians of Arizona to color ritual objects.
In western Polynesia, residents of the islands made a violet dye similar to Tyrian purple from the sea urchin. In Central America, the inhabitants made a dye from a different sea snail, the purpura, found on the coasts of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The Mayans used this color to dye fabric for religious ceremonies, and the Aztecs used it for paintings of ideograms, where it symbolized royalty.
During the Middle Ages, most artists made purple or violet on their paintings by combining red and blue pigments; usually blue azurite or lapis-lazuli with red ochre, cinnabar or minium. They also combined lake colors made by mixing dye with powder; using woad or indigo dye for the blue, and dye made from cochineal for the red.
Orcein, or purple moss, was another common violet dye. It was known to the ancient Greeks and Hebrews, was made from a Mediterranean lichen called archil or dyer's moss (Roccella tinctoria), combined with an ammoniac, usually urine. Orcein began to achieve popularity again in the 19th century, when violet and purple became the color of demi-mourning, worn after a widow or widower had worn black for a certain time, before he or she returned to wearing ordinary colors.
In the 18th century, chemists in England, France and Germany began to create the first synthetic dyes. Two synthetic purple dyes were invented at about the same time. Cudbear is a dye extracted from orchil lichens that can be used to dye wool and silk, without the use of mordant. Cudbear was developed by Dr. Cuthbert Gordon of Scotland: production began in 1758, The lichen is first boiled in a solution of ammonium carbonate. The mixture is then cooled and ammonia is added and the mixture is kept damp for 3–4 weeks. Then the lichen is dried and ground to powder. The manufacture details were carefully protected, with a ten-feet high wall being built around the manufacturing facility, and staff consisting of Highlanders sworn to secrecy.
French purple was developed in France at about the same time. The lichen is extracted by urine or ammonia. Then the extract is acidified, the dissolved dye precipitates and is washed. Then it is dissolved in ammonia again, the solution is heated in air until it becomes purple, then it is precipitated with calcium chloride; the resulting dye was more solid and stable than other purples.
Cobalt violet is a synthetic pigment that was invented in the second half of the 19th century, and is made by a similar process as cobalt blue, cerulean blue and cobalt green. It is the violet pigment most commonly used today by artists, along with manganese violet.
Mauveine, also known as aniline purple and Perkin's mauve, was the first synthetic organic chemical dye, discovered serendipitously in 1856. Its chemical name is 3-amino-2,±9-dimethyl-5-phenyl-7-(p-tolylamino) phenazinium acetate.
In the 1950s, a new family of violet synthetic organic pigments called quinacridone came onto the market. It had originally been discovered in 1896, but were not synthetized until 1936, and not manufactured until the 1950s. The colors in the group range from deep red to violet in color, and have the molecular formula C20H12N2O2. They have strong resistance to sunlight and washing, and are used in oil paints, water colors, and acrylics, as well as in automobile coatings and other industrial coatings.
In amethyst, the violet color arises from an impurity of iron in the quartz.
Chemical structure of pigment violet 29. Violet pigments typically have several rings.
The marine hatchetfish (here eating a small crustacean) lives in extreme depths.
The purple sea urchin.
The violet carpenter bee (Xylocopa violacea) is one of the largest bees in Europe.
The violet-backed starling is found in sub-Saharan Africa.
Sweet violet flowers.
Wisteria blooms are a light violet color.
In history and art
Prehistory and antiquity
Violet is one of the oldest colors used by humans. Traces of very dark violet, made by grinding the mineral manganese, mixed with water or animal fat and then brushed on the cave wall or applied with the fingers, are found in the prehistoric cave art in Pech Merle, in France, dating back about twenty-five thousand years. It has also been found in the cave of Altamira and Lascaux. It was sometimes used as an alternative to black charcoal. Sticks of manganese, used for drawing, have been found at sites occupied by Neanderthals in France and Israel. From the grinding tools at various sites, it appears it may also have been used to color the body and to decorate animal skins.
More recently, the earliest dates on cave paintings have been pushed back farther than 35,000 years. Hand paintings on rock walls in Australia may be even older, dating back as far as 50,000 years.
Berries of the genus rubus, such as blackberries, were a common source of dyes in antiquity. The ancient Egyptians made a kind of violet dye by combining the juice of the mulberry with crushed green grapes. The Roman historian Pliny the Elder reported that the Gauls used a violet dye made from bilberry to color the clothing of slaves. These dyes made a satisfactory purple, but it faded quickly in sunlight and when washed.
The Middle Ages and the Renaissance
Violet and purple retained their status as the color of emperors and princes of the church throughout the long rule of the Byzantine Empire.
While violet was worn less frequently by Medieval and Renaissance kings and princes, it was worn by the professors of many of Europe's new universities. Their robes were modeled after those of the clergy, and they often wore square violet caps and violet robes, or black robes with violet trim.
Violet also played an important part in the religious paintings of the Renaissance. Angels and the Virgin Mary were often portrayed wearing violet robes. The 15th-century Florentine painter Cennino Cennini advised artists: "If you want to make a lovely violet colour, take fine lacca, ultramarine blue (the same amount of the one as of the other)..." For fresco painters, he advised a less-expensive version, made of a mixture of blue indigo and red hematite.
A violet-clad angel from the Resurrection of Christ by Raphael (1483–1520).
18th and 19th centuries
In the 18th century, violet was a color worn by royalty, aristocrats and the wealthy, and by both men and women. Good-quality violet fabric was expensive, and beyond the reach of ordinary people.
The first cobalt violet, the intensely red-violet cobalt arsenate, was highly toxic. Although it persisted in some paint lines into the twentieth-century, it was displaced by less toxic cobalt compounds such as cobalt phosphate. Cobalt violet appeared in the second half of the 19th century, broadening the palette of artists. Cobalt violet was used by Paul Signac (1863–1935), Claude Monet (1840–1926), and Georges Seurat (1859–1891). Today, cobalt ammonium phosphate, cobalt lithium phosphate, and cobalt phosphate are available for use by artists. Cobalt ammonium phosphate is the most reddish of the three. Cobalt phosphate is available in two varieties — a deep less saturated blueish type and a lighter and brighter somewhat more reddish type. Cobalt lithium phosphate is a saturated lighter-valued bluish violet. A color similar to cobalt ammonium phosphate, cobalt magnesium borate, was introduced in the later twentieth-century but was not deemed sufficiently lightfast for artistic use. Cobalt violet is the only truly lightfast violet pigment with relatively strong color saturation. All other light-stable violet pigments are dull by comparison. However, the high price of the pigment and the toxicity of cobalt has limited its use.
Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) was an avid student of color theory. He used violet in many of his paintings of the 1880s, including his paintings of irises and the swirling and mysterious skies of his starry night paintings, and often combined it with its complementary color, yellow. In his painting of his bedroom in Arles (1888), he used several sets of complementary colors; violet and yellow, red and green, and orange and blue. In a letter about the painting to his brother Theo, he wrote, "The color here...should be suggestive of sleep and repose in general....The walls are a pale violet. The floor is of red tiles. The wood of the bed and the chairs are fresh butter yellow, the sheet and the pillows light lemon green. The bedspread bright scarlet. The window green. The bed table orange. The bowl blue. The doors lilac....The painting should rest the head or the imagination."
In 1856, a young British chemist named William Henry Perkin was trying to make a synthetic quinine. His experiments produced instead an unexpected residue, which turned out to be the first synthetic aniline dye, a deep violet color called mauveine, or abbreviated simply to mauve (the dye being named after the lighter color of the mallow [mauve] flower). Used to dye clothes, it became extremely fashionable among the nobility and upper classes in Europe, particularly after Queen Victoria wore a silk gown dyed with mauveine to the Royal Exhibition of 1862. Prior to Perkin's discovery, mauve was a color which only the aristocracy and rich could afford to wear. Perkin developed an industrial process, built a factory, and produced the dye by the ton, so almost anyone could wear mauve. It was the first of a series of modern industrial dyes which completely transformed both the chemical industry and fashion.
Charles de Bourbon, the future King Carlos III of Spain (1725).
Nocturne: Trafalgar Square Chelsea Snow (1876) by James McNeil Whistler, used violet to create a wintery mood.
Portrait of Caroline Remy de Guebhard, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919). Mauve became a popular fashion color after the invention of the synthetic dye in 1856.
20th and 21st centuries
Violet or purple neckties became popular at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, particularly among political and business leaders.
In Western culture
Popularity of the color
- In Europe and America, violet is not a popular color; in a European survey, only three percent of men and women rated it as their favorite color, ranking it behind blue, green, red, black and yellow (in that order), and tied with orange. Ten percent of respondents rated it their least favorite color; only brown, pink and gray were more unpopular.
The color of royalty and luxury
- Because of their status as the color of Roman emperors, and as colors worn by monarchs and princes, the colors violet and purple are often associated with luxury. Certain luxury goods, such as watches and jewelry, are often placed in boxes lined with violet velvet, since violet is the complementary color of yellow, and shows gold to best advantage.
Vanity, extravagance, and individualism
- While violet is the color of humility in the symbolism of the Catholic Church, it has exactly the opposite meaning in general society. A European poll in 2000 showed it was the color most commonly associated with vanity. As a color that rarely exists in nature, and a color which by its nature attracts attention, it is seen as a color of individualism and extravagance.
Ambiguity and ambivalence
- Surveys show that violet and purple are the colors most associated with ambiguity and ambivalence.
In Asian culture
- In Japan, violet was a popular color introduced into Japanese dress during the Heian Period (794–1185). The dye was made from the root of the alkanet plant (Anchusa officinalis), known as murasaki in Japanese. At about the same time, Japanese painters began to use a pigment made from the same plant.
- The "New Age Prophetess", Alice Bailey, in her system called the Seven Rays which classifies humans into seven different metaphysical psychological types, the "seventh ray" of "Ceremonial Order" is represented by the color violet. People who have this metaphysical psychological type are said to be "on the Violet Ray".
- In the Ascended Master Teachings, the color violet is used to represent the Ascended Master St. Germain.
- In the Roman Catholic church, violet is worn by bishops and archbishops, red by cardinals, and white by the Pope. Ordinary priests wear black.
- In the Roman Catholic and many other Western churches, violet is the liturgical color of Advent and Lent, which respectively celebrate the expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Crucifixion of Jesus and the time for penance and/or mourning.
- There is a stained glass window created in the early 1920s in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles depicting God the Father wearing a violet robe.
- After the Vatican II Council, which modified many of the rules of the Catholic church, priests began to wear violet robes when celebrating masses for the dead. Black was no longer used, since it was the color of mourning outside the church, and was felt to be inappropriate in a religious ceremony.
- In Hinduism, violet is used to symbolically represent the seventh, crown chakra (Sahasrara).
- At the beginning of the 20th century, violet, green and white were the colors of the women's suffrage movement in the United States and Britain, seeking the right to vote for women. The colors were said to represent liberty and dignity. For this reason, the postage stamp issued in 1936 to honor Susan B. Anthony, a prominent leader of the suffrage movement in the United States, was colored the reddish tone of violet known as red-violet.
- There is a small New Age political party in Germany with about 1,150 members called The Violet Party. The party believes in direct democracy, a guaranteed minimum income, and that politics should be based on spiritual values. "The Violet Party" was founded in Dortmund, Germany in 2001.
Violet flowers and their color became symbolically associated with lesbian love. It was used as a special code by lesbians and bisexual women for self-identification and also to communicate support for the sexual preference. This connection originates from the poet Sappho and fragments of her poems. In one poem, she describes a lost love wearing a garland of "violet tiaras, braided rosebuds, dill and crocus twined around" her neck. In another fragment, she recalls her lover as having "put around yourself [many wreaths] of violets and roses."
Flag of Nicaragua, although at this size the individual bands of the rainbow are nearly indistinguishable.
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- Eva Heller, Psychologie de la couleur: effets et symboliques. p. 4. "La plus individualist et extravagant des coulours." (associated by 26 percent of respondents to survey with "extravagance", by 22 percent with "individualism" , 24 percent with "vanity", 21 percent with "ambiguity".
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- Anne Carichon (2000), Couleurs: pigments et teintures dans les mains des peuples. p. 133.
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- John Gage (2006), La Couleur dans l'art, p. 50–51. Citing Letter 554 from Van Gogh to Theo. (translation of excerpt by D.R. Siefkin)
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- Eva Heller, Psychologie de la couleur: effets et symboliques, p. 167.
- Anne Varichon, Couleurs: pigments et teintures dans les mains des peuples, p. 139
- Bailey, Alice A. (1995). The Seven Rays of Life. New York: Lucis Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-85330-142-4.
- "St. Germain" (dictated through Elizabeth Clare Prophet) Studies in Alchemy: the Science of Self-Transformation 1974:Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA Summit Lighthouse Pages 80–90 [Occult] Biographical sketch of St. Germain
- Stained glass window in the Cathedral of the Angels in Los Angeles, California depicting God the Father wearing a violet robe:
- Eva Heller, Psychologie de la couleur: effets et symboliques. p. 166,
- Stevens, Samantha. The Seven Rays: a Universal Guide to the Archangels. City: Insomniac Press, 2004. ISBN 1-894663-49-7 p. 24
- Eva Heller, Psychologie de la couleur: effets et symboliques. illustration 75.
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- Media related to Violet at Wikimedia Commons