Red: The Color of Romance?
Red is one of my favorite colors. I read The Virgin Blue (by Tracey Chevalier), a haunting, sad story that centers around the bad rap a red-headed woman had to live with in the 16th century—and it hooked my interest. I wanted to learn a little more about the color red.
Throughout antiquity, red has been used to represent danger, courage, passion, violence, and beauty. It is the first color the infant brain perceives. Neolithic hunters considered red to be endowed with life-giving powers and thus placed pounds of red ochre into graves of their deceased. Objects, animals, and trees were covered in red paint. Early Germanic warriors painted their axes and spear-catapults red to endow the weapons with magic powers. Roman gladiators drank blood of their dying adversaries to take over their strength. Sacred Egyptian mummies and the Dead Sea Scrolls were tinted with the color. Wearing a red ruby was supposed to bring about invincibility. Red bed-clothes were customary in Germany up to the Middle Ages and used as protection against the "red illnesses", such as fever, rashes or even miscarriages (note the red bed coverings in the painting Arnolfini Wedding by Jan Van Eyck, dated 1434).
The red rose is the symbol of love and fidelity, and fertility. Red wedding gowns, carpets, litters, scarves, and veils were (and still are) part of wedding customs in many cultures. Red is a symbol of romance and beauty. And when it comes to love and romance, who could forget the red rose? According to Greek legend, red roses sprouted from the blood of the beautiful Adonis when he was killed by a wild boar.
But somewhere along the way, red got a bad rap. The Virgin Mary's hair and the robes of angels were once depicted as red in medieval paintings. But by the 1500’s, Mary’s hair turned blonde and the angles wore white robes. At this point in history, the powerful European Christian church frowned upon any reference to the ancient religions—and their associated colors. The Germanic gods, especially the red-headed, red-bearded Thor, and his sacred creatures (the red fox, the red squirrel, even the skittish red robin) were depicted as evil and devilish.
Because sexuality was also associated with red, the color was demonized in Christianity. Red haired women were reputed to be witches and whores. The poppy became the devil's flower. The red rose--no longer assoicated with pure romance--became a symbol of Christ’s blood and sacrifice.
Yet with the exception of red hair-dye, the color remained an absolute favorite with powerful, the noble, the wealthy, and yes, the clergy. When the Spanish conquistadors discovered a new, more vibrant source of the color (a red pigment found in the guts of a tiny cochineal insect that lives on cacti in South America and Mexico), Spain ruled red. Red made the Spanish rich and they even killed unfortunate factory workers to keep the source a secret. Eventually, a French naturalist smuggled out live cacti from Mexico and started a cochineal ranch. Cochineal red dominated the dye industry until the 1800’s when synthetic dyes were produced.
I love red. I think red sells romance better than just about any color. Red-headed heroines rock, even though they may be viewed as clichéd. I read once that red-haired heros DON't sell. Do you think that's true? Anyone with red hair care to share your red-haired romance experiences? Do you think a red cover on a romance sells better than another?