Monday, March 27, 2006

The History of Colour Systems

"The law of proportion according to which the several colours are formed,
even if a man knew he would be foolish in telling, for he could not give any
necessary reason, nor indeed any tolerable or probable explanation of them."
Plato Timaeus
Pythagoras ~550BC

Aristotle ~350BC

Aron Sigfrid Forsius 1611

Athanasius Kircher 1646

Sir Isaac Newton 1704

Ignaz Schiffermüller 1772

Tobias Mayer 1775

Philipp Otto Runge 1810

Michel Eugène Chevreul 1839

Albert Henry Munsell 1915

Michel Albert-Vanel 1983

When doing a physics course once, we were allowed to basically dismiss one of the subject components in relation to assessment. Reading around about colour systems reaffirms my original belief that optical physics is not really my strong suit. So on this occasion I think I'll refrain from crafting any sort of summary - it's very interesting stuff for sure but, well...I'm not so sure I've comprehended it all well.

The above illustrations come from The Colour Museum (in english, french and german) which gives a reasonably detailed overview of the history of the human conceptualization of colour. Many of their images are originals but it's a little hard to be sure at times. I suspect the contents of the site doesn't rise to the level of 'scholarship' but it is actually pretty fascinating nonetheless.
The University of Mannheim have a modest selection of original book illustrations on this subject.
Wikipedia on color.
Addit: more from the (excellent) Blanketfort.


M said...

These are truly wonderful, thanks for posting them!

misteraitch said...

It’ts fascinating to see all of these together. I saw an original of Runge’s colour system at an exhibition in London in ’94 or ’95. I recall that it was mentioned in connection with Goethe’s colour theory, but whether either one influenced the other, or were just contemporary, I don’t recall.

peacay said...

Re: Runge/Goethe - there was a mutual influence t'would seem.

cortex said...

Awesome, awesome, awesome. Simultaneous blogspot/meta props.

kareno said...

These are gorgeous. Thank you for giving us a slice of the evolution of thought about of one of the things we take for granted.

Jeannetto said...

I once took a color theory class and every week we learned a new theory about how color worked. munsell's system is one we studied. but it is interesting to see how far back theyve been trying to solve color, and how they did it. that little beetle in the kircher one makes the most sense to me.

peacay said...

Eugene said...
"It’ts fascinating to see all of these together. I recall that it was mentioned in connection with Goethe’s colour theory, but whether either one influenced the other, or were just teen contemporary, I don’t recall"

(comment with an embedded (what looked like on search) porn link removed...could it have been an accident? Mebbe.)

Studio Fludd said...

wonderfully interesting post! thanks.

Bodhisvaha said...

I love these diagrams, but it seems your link for The Colour Museum doesn't work. Could you provide another link? I've had some difficulty finding it myself.

peacay said...

Thanks Bodhisvaha. The parent site is still there but they've changed the specific resource address. Try here: (I've updated the link in the body of the blog post above too. Cheers.

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