What did colours mean in the medieval period….?

Even today, we associate certain colours with certain things, e.g. white for chastity, black for mourning and red protects against evil. Back in the medieval period many more colours had meanngs at different times of the year – well, the Church does now as then, of course, but I mean for people in general.

With that in mind, when I look at the famous tapestry above, I wonder if these ladies and gentlemen have chosen their clothes with particular regard to the colour? Might they be conveying subtle messages to one another?

If you go to this article you can find an interesting list of what various colours signified during the Medieval and Renaissance period.

Red thread protects against evil


  1. I know red was supposed to protect or cure scarlet fever ( hence the name perhaps) I think Elizabeth 1st was wrapped up in cloths of bright red when she was ill from it.

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  2. Thanks for this interesting link.
    I’m no expert on this fascinating subject – it is rather complicated. First, you have the meanings that colours derived by association. That’s the obvious, I suppose.
    But association of clothing colour with status was more prosaically mainly a result of the cost of the dye used. So some reds, blues, etc, would be more classy than others.
    Similarly with paintings. Blue – or a certain shade of it – is the colour of the sky so naturally associated with heaven, but it was the cost and rarity, as well as the beauty, of lapis lazuli that caused this particular sky-blue pigment to be reserved for sacred subjects.
    Plus colour names mean different things to people of different periods. Red in 1400s would encompass pink, which was still only the name of a flower. The earliest use of orange as a colour name that I’ve seen is in EoY’s Privy Purse expenses, 1501. Grey often describes what we would think of as a dull brown (like the Franciscan habit). Another shade of brown is described as russet. So brown was around, but often under other names.
    Purple could mean any deep blue or red and derived from the name of the most expensive dye.
    The ubiquitous sanguine or bloody, according to the latest thinking, was actually a shade of blue – vein coloured.
    It’s a colourful subject ( groan) and I wish I knew more about it.

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