The History of violet purple
In antiquity, true or Tyrian purple was an extremely valuable dyestuff that was difficult and complicated to produce. It was only used to dye cloth intended for special occasions. It is reasonably certain that the art of dyeing cloth purple was discovered by the Phoenicians and, from there, spread to Egypt, Greece and Rome.
Many legends swirl around the discovery of the dye, not least in Greek mythology. According to legend, the dog of the Phoenician god Melqart, known as Tyrian Hercules in Roman mythology, ate a snail on the beach which stained his muzzle purple. The mysterious colour could not be washed off. The legend then tells how Melqart presented his lover, the nymph Tyros, with a dress dyed the same colour. What we do know for certain is that ancient Greek fleets dyed the sails of their admirals’ ships purple to emphasise their importance.
The ancient Romans were also aware of the value of the dye. Only the highest-ranking officials and members of the emperor’s family were permitted to wear purple.
The labour-intensive process of producing the natural dye meant that, over the centuries, the historical uses of purple were gradually replaced by what today is known as cardinal violet, a colour closer to deep red. It was only when it became possible to produce a synthetic purple dye that its use again became more widespread.
Violet purple and colour research
The colour researcher Heinrich Frieling stated that the combination of pale mauve and dark violet reaches its climax in an association of lilac and violet. He further discussed the synesthetic processes (perception of colour through smell, sound, taste and touch) as he believed that the process of fragrance is particularly important in this colour. He describes how the sight of violet purple arouses memories and emotional connections to cosmetic products; something more generally expected of the female half of the population.
Goethe and Schiller have their say
In early 1799, Goethe and Schiller developed a “rose of temperaments”. It presents a psychological overview of six basic colours and six intermediate shades. It is easy to find oneself agreeing with their not entirely objective conclusions. They attribute a preference for the colours purple and blue-red to overlords and philosophers, saying that these are the colours of those with a melancholic temperament. By contrast, those with a choleric temperament, often the preserve of tyrants, heroes and adventurers, have a love of yellowy red, a touch of purple with yellow.
In this context, we can consider Goethe and Schiller’s temperament rose from 1799. Amongst other works, both illustrations appeared in Goethe’s Theory of Colour by Ruprecht Matthei (publisher).
Notes of the typification of violet purple
The historical and geo-cultural variations relating to violet purple are in part both considerable and unusual. For example, the English purple is closer to ultramarine blue than its German equivalent, which 40 years ago was still closer to carmine red. Today, it has shifted even further away from pure red and closer to magenta instead.
With regard to its linguistic components, the close relationship between violet and violence has much to do with its heraldic claim to power. “Viola” is the Italian word for violet, “violentia” is the Italian word for “violence” in English.
The rich and powerful clothe themselves in violet purple and bright red
Across history and cultures, clothing was one of the most valuable possessions. Great military deeds were rewarded with noble titles or a new set of richly embroidered clothes. Gold brocade, purple sash, red doublet, blue trousers and high-heeled buckle shoes were the outfit of a gentleman. The powdered and beribboned wigs of the late Baroque and early Rococo periods were supported by an architectural “scaffolding” up to 80 cm in height. The value and respect accorded to purple silk can be seen in textile samples from the Middle Ages, which cost more than 1500 euros per m2 in today’s money.
These were “colours that looked their best on velvet cloth,” opined the aforementioned Heinrich Frieling. In silk, they lacked depth; it was right to ensure that violet shimmered with blue highlights. This lends it a mysterious luminosity that comes from within. The bluer the shade of violet, the better it complements blonde colouring and the redder the violet, the better it suits people with black hair.
Violet purple in hotels – A model for its use
Some privately-owned hotels in prime locations in large and not-so-large cities are frequently used by their owners as vehicles for demonstrating their exclusive right to self-determination.
Inside, the eyes are assailed by floor-to-ceiling expanses of violet purple – the standard lamps and ceiling pendants illuminate the space in feudal shades of mid-blue and grass green. The reception hall is decorated with fine silk coverings in the house livery, the service uniform is ultramarine blue with gold buttons. Armchairs, chairs and tables stand resplendent in an intense carmine red. The lift interiors are often styled to match staircases and hallways in deep violet purple! Only the walls of the rooms and suites in champagne rose diverge from the dominant colour scheme.
Solemn tranquility when violet purple sets the tone
The almost clerical colour schemes of these hotels is accompanied by mahogany wood, finely inlaid with playfully spiralling patterns. It strengthens the sense of fullness and depth in the restaurant and bar where the sound-muffling carpeting ensures that no snippet of unwanted conversation nor the clinking of glasses and dishes, nor clatter of cutlery presses too loudly on the ears of the diners.
Bearable in small doses – Tricky across larger spaces
Purple and violet very rarely meet in large format applications, whereby a connection can be made between intense colour and an acceptable dosing thereof that is best measured in square centimetres. A phenomenon that is universally familiar from practical daily experience: Small patches of intense colours appear paler and more easily “digested” than large swathes. A colour that is normally presented in discreet and subtle amounts can switch from pleasant to unbearable when applied more liberally. For that reason, full-bodied, deep colours like violet purple are used in colour design in the form of small, modestly-sized colour samples. It is therefore advisable when decorating larger areas to test samples very carefully and assess their objective and aesthetic qualities under a variety of different light sources.