Interesting facts about the color black

Black is the darkest color.

Like white, but unlike the colors of the spectrum and most mixtures of them, black lacks hue, so it is considered an achromatic color.

In physics, black is perceived with the human eye when light is absent or when all wavelengths in the visible spectrum are absorbed.

Black doesn’t feature on a traditional color wheel. It is generally considered to be a non-color, as it absorbs all the other colors of the visible spectrum.

Diluted with white, black is transformed into gray, a paler achromatic color which carries some of the traits of both black and white.

Black and white have often been used to describe opposites such as good and evil, the Dark Ages versus Age of Enlightenment, and night versus day.

Black was one of the first colors used in art, with prehistoric cave drawings, such as those at Lascaux in France, featuring marks and images made using charcoal, and later achieved darker pigments by burning bones or grinding a powder of manganese oxide.

For the ancient Egyptians, black had positive associations – being the color of fertility and the rich black soil flooded by the Nile. It was the color of Anubis, the god of the underworld, who took the form of a black jackal, and offered protection against evil to the dead.

For the ancient Greeks black was a fundamental color. According to Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, Apelles and the other famous painters of ancient Greece used only four colors in their paintings – black, white, red, yellow. For painting, the Greeks used the highly toxic pigment lead
white, made by a long and laborious process – of all the pigments that have been banned over the centuries, the color most missed by painters is likely lead white.

To ancient Greeks black also represented the underworld, separated from the world of the living by the river Acheron, whose water was black.

In the social hierarchy of ancient Rome, purple was the color reserved for the Emperor. The black they wore was not deep and rich – the vegetable dyes used to make black were not solid or lasting, so the blacks often turned out faded gray or brown.

Black was also the Roman color of death and mourning.

In the early Middle Ages, black was commonly associated with darkness and evil.

In fashion, black did not have the prestige of red, the color of the nobility.

It was worn by Benedictine monks as a sign of humility and penitence.

In the 12th century a famous theological dispute broke out between the Cistercian monks, who wore white, and the Benedictines, who wore black. A Benedictine abbot, Pierre the Venerable, accused the Cistercians of excessive pride in wearing white instead of black. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the founder of the Cistercians responded that black was the color of the devil, hell, “of death and sin,” while white represented “purity, innocence and all the virtues”.

Black symbolized both power and secrecy in the medieval world. The emblem of the Holy Roman Empire of Germany was a black eagle. The black knight in the poetry of the Middle Ages was an enigmatic figure,
hiding his identity, usually wrapped in secrecy.

In the early Middle Ages, black was rarely part of the wardrobe of a noble family. The one exception was the fur of the sable. This glossy black fur, from an animal of the marten family, was the finest and most expensive fur in Europe.

In the 14th century, the status of black began to change. First, 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 and seriousness of their positions. A third reason was the passage of sumptuary laws in some parts of Europe which prohibited the wearing of costly clothes and certain colors by anyone except members of the nobility.

While black was the color worn by the Catholic rulers of Europe, it was also the emblematic color of the Protestant Reformation in Europe and the Puritans in England and America.

In the Protestant Netherlands, Rembrandt used this sober new palette of blacks and browns to create portraits whose faces emerged from the shadows expressing the deepest human emotions.

In the 18th century, during the European Age of Enlightenment, black receded as a fashion color. Paris became the fashion capital, and pastels, blues, greens, yellow and white became the colors of the nobility and upper classes. But after the French Revolution, black again became the dominant color.

Black was the color of the industrial revolution, largely fueled by coal, and later by oil.

In the 19th century the invention of new, inexpensive synthetic black dyes and the industrialization of the textile industry meant that high-quality black clothes were available for the first time to the general population. Black gradually became the most popular color of business dress of the upper and middle classes in England, the Continent, and America.

In the 1950s, black came to be a symbol of individuality and intellectual and social rebellion, the color of those who didn’t accept established norms and values.

By the end of the 20th century, black was the emblematic color of the punk subculture punk fashion, and the goth subculture. Goth fashion, which emerged in England in the 1980s, was inspired by Victorian era
mourning dress.

Black is the color most commonly associated with elegance in Europe and the United States, followed by silver, gold, and white.

In China, the color black is associated with water, one of the five fundamental elements believed to compose all things – and with winter, cold, and the direction north, usually symbolized by a black tortoise.

Black ink, invented in China, was traditionally used in the Middle Ages for writing, for the simple reason that black was the darkest color and therefore provided the greatest contrast with white paper or parchment, making it the easiest color to read. It became even more important in the 15th century, with the invention of printing. A new kind of ink, printer’s ink, was created out of soot, turpentine and walnut oil. The new ink made it possible to spread ideas to a mass audience through printed books, and to popularize art through black and white engravings and prints. Because of its contrast and clarity, black ink on white paper continued to be the standard for printing books, newspapers and documents – and for the same reason black text on a white background is the most common format used on computer screens.

Traditional black ink from China, often called India ink, is usually made from soot mixed with animal glue – it is highly prized for its durability and opacity.

“True black” is a phrase often employed by designers seeking an authentically dark and inky black color.

However, in print design, a deep inky black called Rich Black is considered the most desirable black color for printing. Designers can achieve this by mixing solid black ink with one or more other colors in the CMYK range.

A black hole is a region of spacetime where gravity prevents anything, including light, from escaping. It is called “black” because it absorbs all the light that hits the horizon, reflecting nothing, just like a perfect black body in thermodynamics.

The fact that outer space is black is sometimes called Olbers’ paradox. In theory, because the universe is full of stars, and is believed to be infinitely large, it would be expected that the light of an infinite number of stars would be enough to brilliantly light the whole universe all the time. However, the background color of outer space is black. This contradiction was first noted in 1823 by German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Matthias Olbers, who posed the question of why the night sky was black.

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