One of my readers asked me about the colors of the medieval era (from the 5th through 15th centuries). And this got me to thinking. For my own medieval stories, including my most recent book, Rogue Knight, my research told me the people preferred bright colors and scarlet was often the color of nobility, including the English, French, Scots and Danes in my story. But I had not looked beyond this until now to the source of those colors.
Mineral pigments, such as red ochre, yellow ochre, umber and lime white, were used, dug out of the earth. Painters made chalks ready for drawing. Natural red chalks were popular from about 1500 to 1900. Artists such as Michelangelo and Rembrandt used this medium to produce some of the most treasured art.
Medieval Italian painters used green earth for painting under flesh tones. Its commonly used synonym is Verona green, from Verona, a city in the northern part of Italy. Malachite and verdigris were also used as greens.
In the early Medieval Era, black was not generally a favored color. The one exception was the fur of the sable, an animal of the marten family, used to trim the robes and gowns of royalty. However, in the 14th century the status of black began to change. High-quality black dyes began to arrive on the market, allowing garments of a deep, rich black. Magistrates and government officials began to wear black robes as a sign of the importance of their positions. Laws in some parts of Europe prohibited the wearing of certain colors by anyone except members of the nobility. The famous bright scarlet cloaks from Venice and the peacock blue fabrics from Florence were restricted to the nobility. The wealthy bankers and merchants of northern Italy responded by changing to black robes and gowns but, as you might suspect, they were made with the most expensive fabrics
Through their trading and voyages to various parts of Europe, Vikings also had access to silk and ribbons with silver and golden threads, though only the elite would have worn them.
|King Harald from the 14th century Icelandic manuscript Flateyjarbók|
When you read my new medieval romance, Rogue Knight, remember the colors and you'll not be surprised when you see William the Conqueror in a "purple" cloak, or the Danish and Scottish kings wearing red and my heroine donning a sapphire or bright green gown.
Order Rogue Knight on Amazon.