White: The History of a Color

Princeton Univ. Jan. 2023. 240p. tr. from French by Jody Gladding. ISBN 9780691243498. $39.95. FINE ARTS
Associated with innocence, purity, and hygiene, it’s no surprise that white has been the color of infant dress and wedding gowns, doctor and chef coats, and bathing and hospital facilities. As he did in his other volumes on the history of color (Black, 2008; Green, 2014; Red, 2017; Blue, 2018; Yellow, 2019), the author examines white through social and cultural lenses, referencing archeology, religious and secular texts, language, fashion, and the arts and sciences. He traces the use and significance of the color from the walls of the Lascaux caves and liturgical robes to medieval chess boards and heraldry, to engraving and photography, and the work of the Impressionist painters and contemporary designers. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that white, along with other colors, gained symbolic or abstract value, but it lost its status as a color when Newton’s chromatic order came to light. Later artists embraced white in their work, restoring it as a color. Throughout the volume, instructive, full- and half-page labeled illustrations offer additional information. Extensive footnotes and multiple subject bibliographies are included.
VERDICT Thorough research and abundant illustrations characterize this sixth and final volume in Pastoureau’s scholarly series primarily of interest to art and academic libraries.
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