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Markus Fischer




Location: Germany
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PostPosted: Wed 11 Aug, 2021 11:05 pm    Post subject: Colours in medival europe         Reply with quote

Hi

One often hears that brightly coloured clothing was not as uncommon in the lower class of medival europe as a lot of movies show it.

But how was it actually?

How expensive were certain colours and how common was it for lower class people like peasants or craftsman to dress themselves in coloured clothing?


Thanks,

Markus
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Bjorn Hagstrom




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PostPosted: Thu 12 Aug, 2021 3:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is a complex question with no one clear answer, if not only because "lower class medieval europe" is a rather useless definition because it spans an entire continent over a thosuand years, with varying economic and political systems, climate and traditions..

But that being said:

Archeological records can show if plants used for dyeing have been grown in a specific community at a specific time

Records of trade can show if dye-stuffs have been exported/imoported

Images from the time can indicate colors used (caution however that images might be symbolic, the colors used for painting are not the same as for dyeing fabrics and have it's own limitaitons also)

Some finds can indicate if they have been dyed or not. (burial finds with intact textiles are likely skewed away from "lower class" )
What we do know, is that dye-stuff was attractive to trade, so there was demand for it. The very name of "Brasil" and one of the most important exports to the old world was brazil-wood, used for dyeing.

I'm most familiar wtih south Scandinavian contexts. At least here, it is not uncommon for farm complexes to have been growing madder or vau, plants that as far as we know are dedicated plants for dye-stuffs. This does not answer the question of Who gets to have dyed fabrics or not. With local plants and mordants reds and yellows are quite easy to do well. Blue is slightly more complicated but possible.

Clothes was also recycled, pathced, sold and handed down. Someone of lower status might well be wearing a worn and mended garment that started its life as a higher status item.

I think it might help to compare with other decorations on everyday items. The labour and cost involved in making items, expecially fabrics where very high. Adding one extra step to make it look good might have been a natural thing to do when possible. After all, the fabric where supposed to last a very long time in some form or other.

Even without dyeing, wool come in different colors because sheep vary in color, so sorting wool and/or mixing yarns would make it possible to create color variations and patterns also.

There is nothing quite as sad as a one man conga-line...
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Raman A




Location: United States
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PostPosted: Thu 12 Aug, 2021 4:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here's a pretty good summary: http://postej-stew.dk/2019/05/medieval-fabrics-part-2/

A more specific answer really depends on the region and period, because there were variations in what natural resources for dyeing were available, what technology and infrastructure was available for dyeing which effected the cost and availability of certain colors, and whether there were any sumptuary laws or local customs which prevented or discouraged the use of certain colors by certain social groups.

There was also a difference in the quality of colors since there were different methods for dyeing a certain color, and deeper colors could be achieved from multiple dyeings. For instance, all social classes might wear blue clothing but the actual shade might have differed significantly. A peasant might wear a light-blue wool tunic his wife dyed for him using local plants, whereas a wealthier aristocrat might be wearing a much deeper and richer shade of blue dyed by professional dyers using imported ingredients.

From what I've read, the natural colors of fabrics (i.e. undyed wool, linen, etc.) like cream, light grey, dark grey, off-white, etc. were the cheapest since they required no dyeing at all. Next was light-blue and ruddy light-reds, and in the mid-range but still accessible for most people were green, yellow, darker blues / indigo, and light-red or pink. At the high-end were bright-white, crimson, emerald green, purple, dark brown, and black. In general I think the lower classes wore mostly the same colors as the upper classes, just in lighter or more muted shades. Very deep or extreme colors like pure white, pure black, deep red, blue, green, purple, etc. were much more expensive to produce than off-white, sky-blue, pink, etc and limited to certain social classes.

The Duc de Berry's "Rich" Book of Hours has scenes with both the elite and the lower-classes in them, and while all classes are wearing colorful clothing you can see the brightness, depth, and variety of color differ significantly between them.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8a/Les_Tr%C3%A8s_Riches_Heures_du_duc_de_Berry_Janvier.jpg

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/02/Les_Tr%C3%A8s_Riches_Heures_du_duc_de_Berry_f%C3%A9vrier.jpg

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/72/Les_Tr%C3%A8s_Riches_Heures_du_duc_de_Berry_septembre.jpg/800px-Les_Tr%C3%A8s_Riches_Heures_du_duc_de_Berry_septembre.jpg

But like Bjorn said, you have to be careful using art since the paints and metal foils used for color in paintings were different than the materials used for dyeing so the colors won't necessarily match exactly, and the artist may not even be attempting for a realistic color match at all. I personally tend to give a lot more credence to art as a source than others, and I think the images in the book of hours are probably fairly accurate since it's specifically depicting stereotypical scenes around the Duke's estate throughout the year, rather than legendary or mythical events.

Also you lumped craftsmen in with peasants as "lower class" but some craftsmen could be VERY wealthy, especially those catering towards the elite such as goldsmiths, jewelers, high-end armourers, painters, architects, etc. The wealthiest merchants and craftsmen would only have been limited by sumptuary laws.

https://collectionapi.metmuseum.org/api/collection/v1/iiif/459052/914074/main-image
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Markus Fischer




Location: Germany
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PostPosted: Thu 12 Aug, 2021 6:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you both for your detailed answers.

Of course the middle ages and the lower class are quite broad terms, but I just wanted to get a generall overview of the presence of coloured clothing throughout the lower class.

And yes, I know that the wealth and social status of craftsman very much varied from craft to craft.
Its clear that Armourers, Merchants, Jewlers were often quite rich.
I probably wasnt specific enough with my choice of words...by craftsman that can be associated to the lower-class or middle-class I meant people like blacksmiths, carpenters, butchers etc.

But with all the input you gave me I think one can say that people of the lower class did wear colours.
So its not the case that peasants are always wearing dull brown or grey shirts, as it is almost always shown in films.

And also thank you for this nicely detailed article. I will definitely have a look at it.
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Harry Marinakis




PostPosted: Thu 12 Aug, 2021 8:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The church had a big say in clothing colors. The church regularly dictated what colors were appropriate and inappropriate for "good Christians." For instance, during the Protestant Reformation the church mandated that Christians should wear only grey, brown, and black.

Various sumptuary laws were also enacted to visually stratify people by their socio-economic status. (At the upper end, the sumptuary laws also tried to limit lavish expenditures for clothing by the rich.) The color and saturation of your clothing was like a sign around your neck that announced to everyone your place in society.
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Anthony Clipsom




Location: YORKSHIRE, UK
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PostPosted: Fri 13 Aug, 2021 1:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As an example of how sumptary laws worked, this paper summarises the English 1363 example

https://clothingthepast.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/14th-century-english-sumptuary-law.pdf

Note that a lot of it limits the value of cloth , the type and the trimmings, rather than colours. That said, as already mentioned, coloured cloth, especially that requiring expensive dyes or multiple dyings, was more expensive.

However, if you look at rural poor, the two types of cloth allowed, blanket and russet, are associated with dull colours . Blanket was white-ish (from French blanc) possibly undyed wool. Russet was a greyish brown, but could be towards a dull light brown more like the modern colour.

Other more middling folk - urban artisans, retainers etc. do not seem to be restricted so much, except for the value of what they wore, so could have used a range of colours. As also mentioned above, they will have had greater access to the second hand clothing trade, which could be quite a business in towns.

Incidentally, a good source of actual available cloth colours in the middle ages are well preserved tapestries. While many are badly faded to a blue-green tone, there are well preserved pieces which show considerable depth and brightness of colour.

Anthony Clipsom
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Bartek Strojek




Location: Poland
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PostPosted: Fri 13 Aug, 2021 12:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The very name for color red in all Slavic languages comes from Proto Slavic čьrvь, meaning "worm", "larva", "grub".

The form čьrvenъ which leads to polish "czerwony", Russian "červónnyj", etc., is quite clearly a passive participle, not adjective, so literal meaning was "something treated with worms".

The "worm" in question is most surely polish cochineal, porphyrophora polonica, which was widescale export item from Polish and Ruthenian lands, before dyes from Americas had pushed it into obscurity.

Since it almost completely displaced other, "proper" Indo European names for "red" it probably must have been quite popular even among common people.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4830872/

https://craftatlas.co/natural-dyes/polish-cochineal

https://bladmineerders.nl/parasites/animalia/arthropoda/insecta/hemiptera/sternorrhyncha/coccoidea/margarodidae/porphyrophora/porphyrophora-polonica/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_cochineal
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Mart Shearer




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PostPosted: Sat 14 Aug, 2021 12:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Let's not forget that sometimes, it's not the clothes which are dyed, but the yarn. Any number of plaids, checks, striped fabrics, or patterned twills were also produced.
ferrum ferro acuitur et homo exacuit faciem amici sui
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Olov Tidemalm





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PostPosted: Sun 15 Aug, 2021 11:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Perhaps NESAT could be of interest to you. It has a focus on northern europe. Next symposium will be held 23–28 August.
Here https://www.nesatxiv.org/abstracts you can find the abstracs for the event and here http://www.nesat.org/main/history_en.html the previous symposa.
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Harry Marinakis




PostPosted: Mon 16 Aug, 2021 5:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Anthony Clipsom wrote:
... and russet...

Russet was considered one of the ugliest colors of them all.

Mart Shearer wrote:
...plaids, checks, striped ...

All of which were forbidden by the church at one time or another. "Good Christians" don't wear plaid.
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Aug, 2021 9:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Harry Marinakis wrote:
For instance, during the Protestant Reformation the church mandated that Christians should wear only grey, brown, and black.

I suppose this reply may be both off-topic and pedantic, but the sentence "during the Protestant Reformation the church mandated" cannot be correct.

One of the main tenets of the Reformation was that there was no longer "a church", or a leader who would tell you what to do and what not.

Instead, people went back to the scriptures (Sola Scriptura) and decided more or less for themselves that colourful clothing was prideful and therefore sinful, as opposed to plain grey, brown, and black clothing which was deemed plain, humble and therefore pleasing to God.

That didn't stop wealthy people in the 16th-17th C. Netherlands to wear very well made and very expensive black clothing, which was apparently still considered "plain enough".
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Bjorn Hagstrom




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Aug, 2021 12:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul Hansen wrote:

Instead, people went back to the scriptures (Sola Scriptura) and decided more or less for themselves that colourful clothing was prideful and therefore sinful, as opposed to plain grey, brown, and black clothing which was deemed plain, humble and therefore pleasing to God.

That didn't stop wealthy people in the 16th- C. Netherlands to wear very well made and very expensive black clothing, which was apparently still considered "plain enough".


Without proper sources, but freely from memory of discussing this with people of varying degrees of insight: The colors of habits and clothing in various monastic texts, are black, grey, white and brown in some combination. We assume this to be the natural not dyed qualities of wool from black, grey, brown or white sheep. Since undyed fabric would be more humble and cheaper than dyed fabrics.

Black wool is for us modern people really not black, but rather a dark grey. To dye fabrics black with medieval methods is also quite hard.

There are dyes that make good black, but they are often quite acidic and will make the fiber brittle. So dark black has been hard to accomplish, and so been expensive and exclusive. If looking at period images, we do not really see much black cloth until the rennaissance. So the specific Spanish and Dutch black cloths where as you mention expensive and possibly a loophole to still appear humble to God, but I assume that 16th century people did not consider natural colored dark wool and dyed black to be even in the same ballpark, they would know :-)

There is nothing quite as sad as a one man conga-line...
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Harry Marinakis




PostPosted: Thu 02 Sep, 2021 2:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul Hansen wrote:
I suppose this reply may be both off-topic and pedantic, but the sentence "during the Protestant Reformation the church mandated" cannot be correct.


I did some research on this matter last year. Unfortunately, my books are packed away and I cannot get to them. But here is what I wrote in my paper:

The Protestant Reformation of the 1500s changed the medieval color scheme yet again. Bright color was deemed un-Christian(14), and became associated with the seven deadly sins of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Thus, a new dignified color axis of black, grey, and white replaced the more colorful axis (15), at least amongst the devout.

14 Pastoureau, 2017, p. 110
15 Pastoureau, 2017, p. 108

Pastoureau, Michel. Translated to English by Jody Gladding. Red: The History of a Color. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2017
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