Grip & Scabbard colors in cultural context?
It appears as though black and brown are, by far and away, the most popular colors for sword grips and scabbards in the modern reproduction market. It also appears that red, oxblood, and green make an occasional appearance on modern reproductions as well.

My question is this-- in the High Medieval and Renaissance eras, were there colors that were considered "taboo" or a social faux pas? Particularly more "offbeat" colors like yellow, orange, blue, and purple?

I've heard it mentioned more than once that black was a double-edged sword in terms of its social connotations-- it either signified piety or effeminacy, depending on who wore it. Any truth to that?

Thanks in advance!
Re: Grip & Scabbard colors in cultural context?
You have opened a can of worms. This is a complicated subject.

FIRST, there is the medieval color spectrum. There were six (6) colors: On one side of the spectrum was white and gold. The opposite colors were red, blue, green, and black. There were defined written rules on how these colors could be matched and juxtaposed. There were also unwritten social rules.

SECOND, there is the meaning of colors. To the medieval person, color was symbolic. The ancient words for colors were not sterile nouns, but were emotional concepts. For instance, in some languages the word "beautiful" was used for the color "red." We have remnants of this today. Red with anger. Feeling blue. The entire medieval concept of color is quite different from the modern paradigm.

Often the meanings of colors were promulgated by the king in the form of sumptuary laws (e.g., red = prostitution), or by the church for religious significance (e.g., red = blood of Christ). These definitions changed over the years. In the medieval period, the color that you wore was an outward statement to society. It wasn't just a color. The color of your clothing was like wearing a sign around your neck that proclaimed, "I am wealthy," or "I am a humble pious person," or "I am a whore," etc.

Red was the most desired color from the Stone Age until the late middle ages. I find it interesting that in the medieval period, red was the color of whores and the Pope. (:

Off-beat colors like yellow and orange were not valued. Yellow symbolized ideas such as avarice and envy. Orange and russet were considered to be the ugliest colors of all.

Faded colors (like pink and light green) resulted from using very little dye, or cheap dyes, or from not re-dying fabrics. Thus, these colors were associated with poverty and the lower classes of people.

Blue and purple were not off-beat colors. Purple was regulated by sumptuary laws, and reserved for the wealthy, especially if the color was produced with kermes. Here we see that the social meaning of a color is inseparable from the manner in which the color is produced. This is unlike any modern concept of color.

The word for the color blue seemed to missing from human vocabulary for thousands of years, as if the ancient eye couldn't even perceive blue. However, it wasn't until blue pigments could be reliably produced from lapis that the word for "blue" became prevalent. During the early middle ages, the color blue was associated with barbarians and Celts who painted their faces blue with woad. However, towards the later medieval period, blue superseded red as the most valued color, and blue came to signify valor and holiness. Blue remains the most favored color around the world.

The meaning for black changed throughout the medieval period. Black was always a valued color, like red. But the meaning of black, like other colors, varied depending on its context. After the reformation, black was considered a humble and pious color amongst the protestants. You can't really go wrong with either black or red.

Juxtaposition of colors - like particolor clothing - was considered a rebellious act. Some color combinations were considered to be so ridiculous that they were reserved for clowns.

There were other "colors" in the medieval period, but there is a bit of contradiction too. Many colors were not defined and therefore had no meaning. Some colors - like grey and brown - were not really colors at all. Grey and brown were the "colors" of things that were not colored.

THIRD, there is the color spectrum of leather dyes that were available for dyeing scabbards:

If you are interested in detailed information about colors, there is a good book series by Michel Pastoureau on the history of color. The history of color is a social history. He has written books on red, black, blue, and green. Yellow is forthcoming.{creative}&hvpos={adposition}&hvnetw=o&hvrand={random}&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=e&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl={devicemodel}&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=&hvtargid=pla-4583657821615987&psc=1

That was a very informative reply! Shame to hear about the medieval perception of Yellow-- that "Tumeric" dye you showed in your other thread really "popped"!

On the bright side, the shades of reds, purples, and blues you showed seem to have worked out very well, so there is plenty of more interesting options than the standard black, brown, and red.

Good stuff!

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