The Color Red

15 11 2011

The Color Red

by The Revelation Painting on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 at 2:17pm
Red is any of a number of similar colors evoked by light consisting predominantly of the longest wavelengths of light discernible by the human eye, in the wavelength range of roughly 630–740 nm. Longer wavelengths than this are called infrared (below red), and cannot be seen by the naked eye. Red is used as one of the additive primary colors of light, complementary to cyan, in RGB color systems. Red is also one of the subtractive primary colors of RYB color space but not CMYK color space. Sometimes certain shades of red are even used to symbolize anger, or aggression.


The word red comes from the Old English rēad.  Further back, the word can be traced to the Proto-Germanic rauthaz and the Proto-Indo European root reudh-. In Sanskrit, the word rudhira means red or blood. In the English language, the word red  is associated with the color of blood, certain flowers (e.g. roses), and ripe fruits (e.g. apples, cherries). Fire is also strongly connected, as is the sun and the sky at sunset. Healthy light-skinned people are sometimes said to have a “ruddy” complexion (as opposed to appearing pale). After the rise of socialism in the mid-19th century, red was used to describe revolutionary movements.


Red is used as a symbol of guilt, sin, passion and anger, often as connected with blood or sex.  A Biblical example is found in Isaiah: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”   Also, The Scarlet Letter, an 1850 American novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, features a woman in a Puritan New England community who is punished for adultery with ostracism, her sin represented by a red letter ‘A’ sewn into her clothes.  This all comes from a general Hebrew view inherited by Christianity which associates red with the blood of murder, as well as with guilt in general. Often, things will be in red to scare.  Another popular example of this is in the phrase “caught red-handed“, meaning either caught in an act of crime or caught with the blood of murder still on one’s hands.


At one point, red was associated with prostitutes, or now, with brothels (red-light districts).  In Roman Catholicism, red represents wrath, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. In Christianity, Satan is usually depicted as colored red and/or wearing a red costume in both iconography and popular culture.  Statistics have shown that red cars are more likely to be involved in accidents.  The color red is associated with lust, passion, love, and beauty and danger as well. The association with love and beauty is possibly related to the use of red roses as a love symbol.  Both the Greeks and the Hebrews considered red a symbol of love, as well as sacrifice.  Psychological research has shown that men find women who are wearing red more attractive.


Red is used as a symbol of courage and sacrifice, as in blood spilt in sacrifice or courage in the face of lethal danger. Examples of this are found in the flags of many nations including the United States, as well as in the novel The Red Badge of Courage, in which a soldier in the American Civil War discovers the meaning of courage.  In Christianity, red is the liturgical color for the feast of martyrs, representing the blood of those who suffered death for their faith. It is sometimes used as the liturgical color for Holy Week including Palm Sunday and Good Friday, although this is a modern (20th century) development.


It is also the liturgical color used to commemorate the Holy Spirit (for this reason it is worn at Pentecost and during Confirmation Masses). Because of its association with martyrdom and the Spirit, it is also the color used to commemorate the Apostles (except for the Apostle St. John, who was not marty red, where white is used), and as such, it is used to commemorate Bishops, who are the successors of the Apostles (for this reason, when Funeral Masses are held for Bishops, Cardinals, or Popes, instead of the white that would ordinarily be used, red is used). In Roman mythology red is associated with the god of war, Mars. A Roman general receiving a triumph had his entire body painted red in honor of his achievement.  Red was also the traditional color of the uniforms worn by the British Army, and such British soldiers were often known as Redcoats. The phrase “red-blooded” describes someone who is audacious, robust, or virile. In Edward de Bono’s book Six Thinking Hats a red hat represents feelings and emotions.


In China, red (simplified Chinese: 红; traditional Chinese: 紅; pinyin: hóng) is the symbol of fire and the south (both south in general and Southern China specifically). It carries a largely positive connotation, being associated with courage, loyalty, honor, success, fortune, fertility, happiness, passion, and summer.  In Chinese cultural traditions, red is associated with weddings (where brides traditionally wear red dresses) and red paper is also frequently used to wrap gifts of money or other things. Special red packets (simplified Chinese: 红包; traditional Chinese: 紅包; pinyin: hóng bāo in Mandarin or lai see in Cantonese) are specifically used during the Chinese New Year to give monetary gifts. On the more negative side, obituaries are traditionally written in red ink, and to write someone’s name in red signals either cutting them out of your life, or that they have died. Red is also associated with both the feminine and the masculine (yin and yang respectively), depending on the source.


In Japan, red is a traditional color for a heroic figure.  In the Indian Sub-continent, red is the traditional color of bridal dresses, and is frequently represented in the media as a symbolic color for married women. The color is associated with purity, sexuality in marriage relationships through its connection to heat and fertility.  It is also the color of wealth, beauty, and the goddess Lakshmi.


In Central Africa, Ndembu warriors rub themselves with red during celebrations. Since their culture sees the color as a symbol of life and health, sick people are also painted with it. Like most Central African cultures, the Ndembu see red as ambivalent, better than black, but not as good as white.  In other parts of Africa, however, red is a color of mourning, representing death.[60] Because of the connection red bears with death in many parts of Africa, the Red Cross has changed its colors to green and white in parts of the continent.

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