The Colour Red

Red is the primordial colour. First seen, first named, a power in the foreground that jumps the eye.

Vitality, anger and aggression, fire, heat and danger. The color red is powerful, active and spirited. Red stands for energy, velocity and resolution, but it is the color of love as well, of seduction, lust and passion.

Red ginger flowers

Red lips

The first color

According to modern science, red was the first color, we were able to experience. In some way this sounds reasonable, because red is the most important signal color to us.

All important things are red, so for our hairy ancestors, color vision was a significant step. For example the increasing efficiency in the search for food: We may recognize ripe fruit from a greater distance, instead of sniffing out whether it´s already edible or not. Probably even more important was the reddening of the genitals of sexually active/receptive potential mates. So our ancestors did not have to sniff... well, forget about that.

Red lantern

Red as foreground color

Because of the greater importance of red things, they appear to be closer to the eye than green or blue surroundings. This effect is reasonable again, because in nature most blue and green things are backgrounds. The sea, sky, mountains far away, and plants.

For composition in visual arts this is an important tool to create certain effects.

Lady in red

Naming the color

Apparently also the name of the color red was developed quite early in history. Right after light and dark. The Indo-Germanics used the name for reddish metals like copper or rose-gold.

Red fractal

The color of all colors

As everybody knows, alchemists permanently were in pursuit for a recipe to create the "Philosopher´s Stone". Touch a lump of worthless lead with this stone, and it turns into bright, shiny gold. At least we like to believe, that alchemists had nothing better to do. I mean gold, what an inspiration, gold, GOLD, Yarr!

Erm, whatever.

More rational alchemists discovered porcelain and phosphor. But in the search for the magnum opus there was one stage as the whole toxic stuff they mixed together turned red. This state was called rubedo and indicated an important step in their search.

Another lady in red

Overview: Red

  • Red was the first color we were able to experience
  • It light has got the longest wavelength (of visible light)
  • Red was the first named color
  • It symbolizes intensity and animal life
  • Red is a primary color in the additive color system RGB
  • It is the color of sexuality and love
  • It is said, that red protects us from evil spirits
  • Red is the traditional color of the gods of war, like Ares and Phoebus (Greek), Mars (Roman), as well as the Egyptian god of the desert, Seth; also the Germanic god of thunder, Thor, wears a fiery red beard
  • Until the end of the 19th century, many soldiers were dressed in red
  • Red was, and partially is, the color of justice
  • Human activity often goes along with reddening of the skin - joy, anger, excitement or shame
  • Red often symbolizes prohibition - red traffic lights or signs, the red card
  • Red is the most eye-catching color, because it appears as foreground color

Red sunrise in Saigon

The colour of luck

In most Asian countries (that is Vietnam & China as far as I know first hand), red is the colour of luck and protection against harmful spirits. My Chinese teacher 燕燕 said the colour is so strong, powerful and full of life that most monsters can't stand it.
That is why red is omnipresent in Asia. In fact, when I returned home to Austria last summer, I was looking around and everything was so depressing. At first I did not know what it was, until I discovered the lack of bright colours. (Probably also a reverse culture shock, I wrote an article about that once)

However, red is also the traditional colour for wedding dresses, that should protect the bride from malevolent spirits and bring loads of luck for the marriage.

Japanese bridge

These days I was walking around with my friends in the city centre of Saigon in Vietnam to take some images, so I also shot some of the omnipresent wedding-photo-shooting-couples. The dress I saw was actually cut like a western wedding dress, but in the traditional colour.

A fully traditional wedding dress in Vietnam would be the áo dài, which is (in my opinion) the most elegant of traditional Asian dresses.

Many people nowadays, especially in China, want to marry in a western style, which means in a white or broken white wedding dress.

Red envelope for lucky money

Since white in Asia is, among others, the colour of death (especially a black/white combination), the more traditional family members are not happy about this trend. So often the bride has to change her dress several times during the day.
Because the wish to follow some trend is no match for grandma's willpower.

Oh, and by the way: Red used to be a traditional colour for protecting the bride in Europe as well. It was the church which badmouthed the colour until it became the mark for the easy girls or the femme fatale.
Actually, most old wedding dresses during the past centuries in Europe were black, because they used the same dress on every occasion, even funerals - save money where ever you can.

Red scarf

Colours and their meaning - overview

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