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.
" Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of Arts And Eloquence, native to famous wits, Or hospitable; in her sweet recess. City or suburban, studious walks and shades. See there the olive grove of Academe, Plato's retirement, where the Attic bird Trills her thick-warbled notes the summer long."
Milton: Paradise Regained, B. iv. 1.243.
Olive is the third and last of the tertiary colours, and nearest in relation to shade. It is constituted, like its co-tertiaries, citrine and russet, of the three primaries, blue, red, and yellow, so subordinated, that blue prevails therein; but it is formed more immediately of the secondaries, purple and green: and, since blue enters as a component principle into each of these secondaries, it occurs twice in the latter mode of forming olive, while red and yellow occur therein singly and subordinately. Blue is, therefore, in every instance, the archeus, or predominating colour of olive; its perfect or middle hue comprehending sixteen of blue to five of red, and three of yellow; and it participates in a proportionate measure of the powers, properties, and relations of its archeus: accordingly, the antagonist, or harmonizing contrast of olive, is a deep orange; and, like blue also, it is a retiring colour, the most so of all the colours, being the penultimate of the scale, or nearest of all in relation to black, and last, theoretically, of the regular distinctions of colours. Hence its importance in nature and painting is almost as great as that of black: it divides the office of clothing and decorating the general face of nature with green and blue; with both which, as with black and grey, it enters into innumerable compounds and accordances, changing its name, as either hue predominates, into green, gray, ashen, slate, etc.: thus the olive hues of foliage are called green, and the purple hues of clouds are called gray, etc, for language is general only, and inadequate to the infinite particularity of nature.
This infinity, or endless variation of tint, hue, and relation, of which the tertiaries are susceptible, and which actually occur in nature, give a boundless license to the revelry of taste, in which the genius of the pencil may display the most captivating harmonies of colouring, and the most chaste and delicate expressions; too subtle to be denned, too intricate to be easily understood, and often too exquisite to be felt by the untutored eye; resembling, in this respect, what is recorded of the enharmonic ofantient music: and although these effects abound in nature, they lie for the most part beyond the simpler distinctions of the poet; which suffice him, nevertheless, for natural and moral allusions of exquisite beauty: -
"Of every sort which in that meadow grew They gather'd some; the violet pallid hue, The little dazie that at evening closes, The virgin lilie, and the primrose trew, With store of vermeil roses To deck their bridegroom's posies."
"For lo, my love doth in herself contain
All this world's riches that may far be found;
If saphyres, lo! her eyes be saphyres plain; If rubies, lo! her lips be rubies sound; If pearls, her teeth be pearls both pure and round;
If ivory, her forehead ivory weane;
If gold, her locks are finest gold on ground;
If silver, her fair hands are silver sheen*: But that which fairest is, but few behold. Her mind adorn'd with virtues manifold 1"
The course of Nature, in the display of ruling colours expressive of the seasons in the vegetal creation, ere she ventures on the tertiaries, is worthy of remark: her first blossoms are white and colourless, as instanced by the poet: -
"Already now the snow-drop dares appear, The first pule blossom of tli unripen'd year. Fair Flora's breath, by some trausforming power, Hath changed an icicle into a (lower;
Its name and hue the scentless plant retains, And winter lingers in its icy veins."
To which succeed flowers of pale yellow and orange hues: -
"Daffodils, That come before the swallow dares, and take The winds of March with beauty; violets, dim, But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes, Or Cytherea's breath; pale primroses. That die unmarried, ere they can behold Bright Phtebus in his strength."
Then follows, in fullest glow, the season of reds and of roses: -
" When Nature, prodigal of flowers, Holds her own court 'mid rosy bowers; Where the soft radiant summer's sky Spreads its ethereal canopy, Deepening while mallowing its hue In its intensity of blue."
Mary Ann Bkown.
Which latter colour is latest in the general train of flowers, with those of strongest dye, rich purple and deep blue. Thus the scale of colours corresponds in a general way with the natural course of the seasons, for it is not indeed pretended that the order of the former is thus absolutely distinguished in the latter; such is not the method of Nature, who always melodizes by imperceptible gradations, while she harmonizes by distinct contrasts, so that flowers of all colours, variously subordinated, bloom at various seasons: and when the seasons of flowers may be considered as past, Nature, as if she had no farther use for her fine colours, or willing to display her ultimate skill and refinement, lavishes the contents of her palette, not disorderly, but in multiplied relations over all vegetal creation, in those rich and beautiful accordances of broken and finishing colours with which autumn is decorated ere the year decays and declines into olive darkness.
To distinguish these latter combinations of colours, we have remarked that language gives no aid: they are therefore beyond the poet's pen, and it is the privilege of the pencil alone to represent or imitate them with just effect; and this affords us a true explanation of the paucity of the tertiary in poetry: yet olive is sometimes employed dubiously, with regard to colour, as symbolical of peace, solitude, and shade. Thus Collins, in his Ode to Liberty, -
"And lo, an humbler relic laid In jealous Pisa's olive shade!"
"Where Peace, with ever-blooming olive, crowns The gate where Honour's liberal hands effuse Unenvy'd treasures."
Akenside: Pleasures of Imagination, B. i- 1. 518.
So also Milton, -
"But he her feats to cease
Sent down the meek-eyed Peace; She, crown'd with olive green, came softly sliding
Down through the burning sphere,
His ready harbinger, With turtle wings the amorous clouds dividing." Ode on the Nativity.
As olive is usually a compound colour both with the artist and mechanic, and as there is no natural pigment in use under this name, or of this colour, in commerce there are few olive pigments. Terre-vert, already mentioned, is sometimes of this class, and several of the copper greens acquire this hue by burning. The following need only to be noticed: -