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James Whistler's painting Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl (1862) caused controversy when exhibited in London and, later, at the Salon des Refusés in Paris. The painting epitomizes his theory that art should essentially be concerned with the beautiful arrangement of colors in harmony, not with the accurate portrayal of the natural world.
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James Whistler's painting Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl (1862) caused controversy when exhibited in London and, later, at the Salon des Refusés in Paris. The painting epitomizes his theory that art should essentially be concerned with the beautiful arrangement of colors in harmony, not with the accurate portrayal of the natural world.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

White is the color of fresh milk and snow. It is the color the human eye sees when it looks at light which contains all the wavelengths of the visible spectrum, at full brightness and without absorption. It does not have any hue.

As a symbol, white is the opposite of black, and often represents light in contrast with darkness. According to surveys in Europe and the United States, white is the color most often associated with innocence, perfection, the good, honesty, cleanliness, the beginning, the new, neutrality, lightness, and exactitude.

Other common connotations include purity, nobility, softness, emptiness, ghosts, snow, ice, heaven, Caucasian, peace, clean, light, life, surrender, clouds, frost, milk, good, cotton, angels, weakness, protagonist, winter, innocence, sterility and coldness.

Contents

White in history and art

The Ancient World

White was one of the first colors used by paleolithic artists; they used lime white, made from ground calcite or chalk, sometimes as a background, sometimes as a highlight, along with charcoal and red and yellow ochre in their vivid cave paintings.

In ancient Egypt, white was connnected with the goddess Isis. The priests and priestesses of Isis dressed only in white linen, and it was used to wrap mummies.

In Greece and other ancient civilizations, white was often associated with mother's milk. In Greek mythology, the god Zeus was nourished at the breast of the nymph Amalthee. In the Talmud, milk was one of four sacred substances, along with wine, honey, and the rose.

The ancient Greeks saw the world in terms of darkness and light, so white was a fundamental color. According to Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, Apelles (4th century BC) and the other famous painters of ancient Greece used only four colors in their paintings; white, red, yellow and black; For painting, the Greeks used lead white, made by a long and laborious process.

A plain white toga, known as a toga virilis, was worn for ceremonial occasions by all Roman citizens over the age of 14-18. Magistrates and certain priests wore a toga praetexta, with a broad purple stripe. In the time of the Emperor Augustus, No Roman man was allowed to appear in the Roman forum without a toga.

The ancient Romans had two words for white; albus, a plain white, (the source of the word albino); and candidus, a brighter white. A man who wanted public office in Rome wore a white toga brightened with chalk, called a toga candida, the origin of the word candidate. The Latin word candere meant to shine, to be bright. It was the origin of the words candle and candid.

In ancient Rome, the priestesses of the goddess Vesta dressed in white linen robes, a white palla or shawl, and a white veil. They protected the sacred fire and the penates of Rome. White symbolized their purity, loyalty, and chastity.

The Middle Ages and the Renaissance

The early Christian church adopted the Roman symbolism of white as the color of purity, sacrifice and virtue. It became the color worn by priests during mass, the color worn by monks of the Cistercian order, and, under Pope Pius V, a former monk of the Dominican order, it became the official color worn by the Pope himself. Monks of the order of Saint Benedict dressed in the white or gray of natural undyed wool, but later changed to black, the color of humility and penitence.

In Medieval art, the white lamb became the symbol of the sacrifice of Christ on behalf of mankind. John the Baptist described Christ as the lamb of God, who took the sins of the world upon himself. The white lamb was the center of one of the most famous paintings of the Medieval period, the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan Van Eyck.

White was also the symbolic color of the transfiguration. The Gospel of Saint Mark describes Jesus' clothing in this event as "shining, exceeding white as snow." Artists such as Fra Angelico used their greatest skill to capture the whiteness of his garments. In his painting of the transfiguration at the Convent of Saint Mark in Florence, Fra Angelico emphasized the white garment by using a light gold background, placed in an almond-shaped halo.

The white unicorn was a common subject of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, paintings and tapestries. It was a symbol of purity, chastity and grace, which could only be captured by a virgin. It was often portrayed in the lap of the Virgin Mary.

During the Middle Ages, painters rarely ever mixed colors; but in the Renaissance, the influential humanist and scholar Leon Battista Alberti encouraged artists to add white to their colors to make them lighter, brighter, and to add hilaritas, or gaiety. Many painters followed his advice, and the palette of the Renaissance was considerably brighter.

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, white was commonly worn by widows as a color of mourning. The widows of the Kings of France wore white until Anne of Brittany in the 16th century. A white tunic was also worn by many knights, along with a red cloak, which showed the knights were willing to give their blood for the King or Church.

Eighteenth and nineteenth Centuries

White was the dominant color of architectural interiors in the Baroque period and especially the Rococo style that followed it in the 18th century. Church interiors were designed to show the power, glory and wealth of the church. They seemed to be alive, filled with curves, asymmetry, mirrors, gilding, statuary and reliefs, unified by white.

White was also a fashionable color for both men and women in the 18th century. Men in the aristocracy and upper classes wore powdered white wigs and white stockings, and women wore elaborate embroidered white and pastel gowns.

After the French Revolution, under Napoleon Bonaparte, a more austere white became the most fashionable color in women's costumes. The Empire style was modeled after the dress of Ancient Rome. The dresses were high in fashion but low in warmth; some women, including the Empress Josephine de Beauharnais, died from illnesses caught wearing the thin garments in cold weather.

White was the universal color of both men and women's underwear and of sheets in the 18th and 19th century. It was unthinkable to have sheets or underwear of any other color. The reason was simple; the manner of washing linen in boiling water caused colors to fade. When linen was worn out, it was collected and turned into high-quality paper.

The 19th century American painter James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), working at the same time as the French impressionists, created a series of paintings with musical titles where he used color to create moods, the way composers used music. His painting "Symphony in White No. 1 - The White Girl", which used his mistress Joanna Hiffernan as a model, used delicate colors to portray innocence and fragility, and a moment of uncertainty.

Twentieth and twenty-first centuries

The White Movement was the opposition that formed against the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War, which followed the Russian Revolution in 1917. It was finally defeated by the Bolsheviks in 1921-22, and many of its members emigrated to Europe.

At the end of the nineteenth century, lead white was still the most popular pigment; but between 1916 and 1918, chemical companies in Norway and the United States began to produce titanium white, made from titanium oxide. It had first been identified in 18th century by the German chemist Martin Klaproth, who also discovered uranium. It had twice the covering power of lead white, and was the brightest white pigment known. By 1945, 80 percent of the white pigments sold were titanium white.

The absoluteness of white appealed to modernist painters. It was used in its simplest form by the Russian suprematist painter Kazimir Malevich in his 1917 painting White Square, the companion to his earlier Black Square. It was also used by the Dutch modernist painter Piet Mondrian. His most famous paintings consisted of a pure white canvas with grid of vertical and horizontal black lines and rectangles of primary colors.

Black and white also appealed to modernist architects, such as Le Corbusier (1887-1965). He said a house was "a machine for living in" and called for a "calm and powerful architecture" built of reinforced concrete and steel, without any ornament or frills. Almost all the buildings of contemporary architect Richard Meier, such as his museum in Rome to house the ancient Roman Ara Pacis, or Altar of Peace, are stark white, in the tradition of Le Corbusier.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "White" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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