A Perfect Red (Magill's Literary Annual 2006)
Since the Middle Ages, Western societies have been fascinated by brightly colored, especially red, clothing. In A Perfect Red, historian Amy Butler Greenfield, the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of dyers, traces the lengthy European quest for the source of a perfect red, with success finally being found in sixteenth century Mexico.
“An affinity for red seems almost hard-wired into us,” writes Greenfield. As proof, she explains that most languages had a word for red before any other colors except black and white. Various cultures from the time of the Neanderthals have had strong psychological, religious, and political associations with the color. Primitive societies equated red with magical powers, from curing illnesses to exorcising demons, and most cultures have associated it with courage, danger, violence, war, divinity, martyrdom, sin, or passion. Greenfield is most interested in red as a symbol of wealth, power, and status.
Since the Cro-Magnons used ochre in their cave paintings, a perfect red has been sought for use in art and commerce. Cinnabar was used in ancient Chinese scrolls and on the frescoed walls of Pompeii, but this source of a brilliant red was expensive and poisonous. It often turned black when exposed to light. By the thirteenth century, the center of the red world was Lucca, near Florence, where elaborately designed taffeta, damask, and brocade fabrics were created. The heavily controlled Lucchese silk...
(The entire section is 1873 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2006)
Booklist 101, no. 15 (April 1, 2005): 1332.
Kirkus Reviews 73, no. 4 (February 15, 2005): 211.
Library Journal 130, no. 6 (April 1, 2005): 108.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 8, 2005, p. 7.
Natural History 114, no. 7 (September, 2005): 48-50.
The New York Times Book Review 154 (June 5, 2005): 26.
Publishers Weekly 252, no. 11 (March 14, 2005): 55.
The Times Literary Supplement, July 22, 2005, p. 28.
The Washington Post Book World, July 24, 2005, p. 8.
(The entire section is 47 words.)