This page presents a summary of information collated from the literature on traditional colour theory. It was inspired by Chronological Bibliography on Color Theory, a colour resource compiled by the former President of the International Colour Association (AIC) José Luis Caivano and Paulina Becerra. A limitation of traditional colour theory is the narrow lens through which theorists view colour. However, the literature relating to traditional colour theory is rich with information that relates to colour across applied design and design of the built environment.
Within this branch of colour theory, colour models and illustrations are visual tools. They are not intended to represent the complexity of colour in any way but as a starting point to explore colour nuances and colour relationships. Colour studies tend to represent both a visual journal and a systems-based exploration of colour. Some are more in-depth and scholarly, while others reference scholarly texts but provide more practical information in relation to art and applied design.
More information can be found in this peer-reviewed article published in the leading journal on colour: Color Research & Application: O’Connor, Z. (2021). Traditional colour theory: A review. Color Research and Application. 46 (4), pp838-847. https://doi.org/10.1002/col.22609
Colour Resources – Chronological Order
François D’Aguilon (1566-1617)
One of the first theorists to refer to a red, yellow, blue colour model in the West was Flemish mathematician and philosopher François D’Aguilon (Franciscus Aguilonius). However, D’Aguilon appears at times to refer to colour within the context of light: “Among primary colours the two having extreme positions are whiteness and blackness, they are maximally separated: of them whiteness is superior, it is similar to light; black is truly inferior, being near to darkness” (D’Aguilon, 1613, cited in Kuehni & Schwarz, 2008, p40).
D’Aguilon also refers to the mixture of colourants (as opposed to light), “Of the intermediate colours [between white and black] we number not more than three: yellow, red and blue. They complete with whiteness and blackness the five simple colours. Further all colours are generated from combination of the three median colours. To be sure, golden (aureus) is created from yellow and red, purple (purpureus) from red and blue, and lastly green (viridis) from yellow and cyan.” This description is followed by reference to a range if hue nuances arising from admixture of the primary colours: white, black, yellow, red and blue (D’Aguilon, 1613, cited in Kuehni & Schwarz, 2008, p40).
French painter of miniatures, Claude Boutet is assumed to be the author of “Traité de la migniature”, first published c1672. The book’s author is listed as C.B. and this could represent Claude Boutet or the editor, Christophe Ballard. There were multiple print editions of the book throughout Europe including 1678, 1679, 1681, 1708 and 1739.
The book featured two simple black and white printed colour wheels (one seven colours and the other, twelve colours) based on the RYB colour model. These illustrations were hand-coloured after printing (1708 edition). Image credit: Werner Spillman collection, Basel, Switzerland, via Sarah Lowengard, ‘The Creation of Color in Eighteenth-Century Europe’. New York: Columbia University Press; 2006. Accessible at http://www.gutenberg-e.org/lowengard/A_Chap03.html
More to come…