This section is from the book "Chromatography; Or, A Treatise On Colours And Pigments, And Of Their Powers In Painting", by George Field. Also available from Amazon: Chromatography, or A Treatise on Colours and Pigments, and of Their Powers in Painting.
" Over his lucid arms A military vest of purple flow'd Livelier than Melibteait, or the grain Of Sarra, worn by kings and heroes old."
Purple, the third and last of the secondary colours, is composed of red and blue, in the proportions of five of the former to eight of the latter, which constitute a perfect purple, or one of such a hue as will neutralize, and best contrast a perfect yellow in the proportions of thirteen to three, either of surface or intensity. It forms, when mixed with its co-secondary coluur, green, the tertiary colour, olive; and, when mixed with the remaining secondary orange, it constitutes in like manner the tertiary colour, russet. It is the coolest of the three secondary colours, and the nearest also in relation to black or shade; in which respect, and in never being a warm colour, it resembles blue. In other respects also purple partakes of the properties of blue, which is its archeus, or ruling colour; hence it is to the eye a retiring colour; which reflects light little, and declines rapidly in power in proportion to the distance at which it is viewed, and also in a declining light. It is owing to its being the mean between black and blue that it becomes the most retiring of all positive colours. Nature employs this hue beautifully in landscape, as a sub-dominant, in harmonizing the broad shadows of a bright sunshine ere the light declines into deep orange or red. Girtin, who saw Nature as she is, and painted what be saw, delighted in this effect of sunlight and shadow; but when purple is employed as a ruling colour in flesh, or otherwise, its effect is in general too cold, or verges on ghostli-ness, and is to be as much avoided as the opposite extreme of viciousness in colouring stigmatized as foxiness.
Yet, next to green, purple is the most generally pleasing of the consonant colours; and has been celebrated as a regal or imperial colour, as much perhaps from its rareness in a pure state, as from its individual beauty. It is probable that the famed Tyrian purple was nearer to the rose, or red, than the purple of the moderns, in which inclination of hue this colour takes the names of crimson, etc, as it does those of violet, lilac, etc. when it inclines toward its other constituent, blue; which latter colour it serves to mellow, or follows well into shade.
The contrast, or harmonizing colour of purple, is yellow on the side of light and the primaries; R and it is itself the harmonizing contrast of the tertiary citrine on the side of shade, and less perfectly so of the semi-neutral brown.
As purple, when inclining toward redness, is a regal, magisterial, and pompous colour, it has been used in mythological representations to distinguish the robe of Jupiter, the king of gods, and in general also as a mark of sacerdotal superiority; the Babylonians also clothed their idols in purple. In its effects on the mind it partakes principally, however, of the powers of its archeus, or ruling colour, blue, and is hence a highly poetical colour, stately, dignifying, sedate, and grave; soothing in its lights, and saddening in its shades: accordingly it contributes to these sentiments under the proper management of the painter and the poet, as it does also popularly in its use in court mournings, and other circumstances of state: hence the poets sing of "purple state."
According to De Blancourt, it is the symbol of heroic virtue; and the Lacedaemonians, who held themselves to be the most antient people on earth, wore clothing of a purple colour for distinction.
The rhapsodists of Greece often used to recite in a theatrical manner, not only with proper gestures, but in colours suitable to their subject; and when they thus acted the Odyssey of Homer, were dressed in a purple-coloured robe, to represent the sea-wanderings of Ulysses: but when they acted the Iliad, they wore one of a scarlet colour, to signify the bloody battles described in that poem. Upon their heads they wore a crown of gold, and held in their hands a wand made of the laurel-tree, which was supposed to have the virtue of exciting poetic raptures. - See Sydenham on the Io of Plato, note 8; Eustath. on the Iliad, B. i.; and the Scholiast on Hesiod. T/ieog. v. 50.
The Greeks feigned the antient purple to be the discovery of Hercules Tyrius, whose dog, eating by chance of the shell-fish from which it was produced, returned to him with his mouth tinged of a purple colour. Alexander the Great is said to have found in the royal treasury, at the taking of Susa, purple to the enormous value of 50,000 talents, which had lain there 192 years, and still preserved its freshness and beauty. At the decline of the Roman empire the Tyriau purple was an article of great commerce, and became common in the clothing of the people. Whole dissertations have been written on this colour, and a volume might be filled with its notices. - See Calmet's Diet., Art. " Purple;" Pliny, etc.
Of the various expression of purple and its hues we have the following examples from the poets: -
"The pale violet's dejected hus."
"Shall we build to the purple of pride 9 "
"Flowers of this purple dye. Hit with Cupid's archery."
In the following, the poet employs purple in accordance with white and light, etc.: -
"Not with more glories, in th' etherial plain. The sun first rises o'er the purpled main, Than, issuing forth, the rival of his beams Launch'd on the bosom of the silver Thames. Fair nymplis and well-drost youths around her shone. But every eye was fix'd on her alone. On her white breast a sparkling cross she wore. Which Jews might kiss, and Infidels adore."
Pope: Rape of the Lock, Cant ii.
"When next the sun his rising light displays. And gilds the world below with purple rays."
Here discordantly, -
" Oft came Edward to my side, With purple falchion, painted to the hilt In blood of those that had encounter'd him."
"He is come to ope The purjile testament of bleeding war."
Here contrasted, -
"The lake return'd in chasten'd gleam
The-purple eland, the golden beam."
Sir Walter Scott.
"Here Love his golden shafts employs; here lights His constant lamps, and waves his purple wings." Milton.
*' Aurora now, in radiant purple drest, Shone from the portals of the golden east."
Here by composition, -
"The gods, who all things see, this same beheld,
And, pitying this paire of lovers true,
Transformed them there lying on the field
Into one flower that is both red and blue; It first grows red, and then to blue doth fade, Like Astrophel, which thereunto was made."
Spenser: Col. Clo.
And here in accordance with shade, etc.
"In darkness, and with danger compass'd round, And solitude, yet not alone, while thou Visit'st my slumbers nightly, or when morn Purples the east; still govern thou my song, Urania "
" Aurora had but newly chased the night And purpled o'er the sky."
As the extreme primaries, blue and yellow, when either compounded or opposed, afford, though not the most perfect harmony, yet the most pleasing consonance of the primary colours; so the extremes, purple and orange, afford the most pleasing of the secondary consonances; and this analogy extends also to the extreme tertiary and semi-neutral colours, while the mean or middle colours afford the most agreeable contrasts or harmonies. This general feeling has evidently been that of the poet, with whom it is a license to purple and gild without reserve, and with whom "to purple" often means to paint or colour in the abstract. Neither nature nor the painter's art is, however, so profuse of this colour; and purple pigments are rare, of which the following are the few that merit attention. Purple pigments lie under a peculiar disadvantage as to apparent durability and beauty of colour, owing to the neutralizing power of yellowness in the grounds upon which they are laid, as well as to the general warm colour of light, and the yellow tendency of almost all vehicles and varnishes, by which this colour is subdued.