A palette in the original sense of the word, is a rigid, flat surface on which a painter arranges and mixes paints.
A palette is usually made of wood, plastic, ceramic, or other hard, inert, nonporous material, and can vary greatly in size and shape. The most commonly known type of painter’s palette is made of a thin wood board designed to be held in the artist’s hand and rest on the artist’s arm. Watercolor palettes are generally made of plastic or porcelain with rectangular or wheel format with built in wells and mixing areas for colors.
Thousands of years before the ancient Roman Empire, the north African civilization of ancient Egypt was leading the way in the fields of art, architecture, and engineering. Many of their preserved creations can still be seen today in museums across the globe. In addition to sculptures, jewelry, and headdresses, some everyday objects can be viewed as well. The Metropolitan Museum of Art holds a beautiful painter’s palette that dates back to 1390-1352 BC [Photo below].
Made out of a single piece of ivory, this artist’s tool includes six oval paint wells that still contain cakes of blue, green, brown, yellow, red, and black pigments. At one end of the palette is also an inscription of the pharaoh Amenhotep III (ca. 1401-1353 BC) in hieroglyphics as well as the epithet “beloved of Re.” Amenhotep III’s reign was one of the most prosperous periods of ancient Egypt and filled with achievements in art and culture. Despite its age, the design of this painter’s palette closely resembles many of the artistic tools we use today.
Palettes are also a universal symbol of painting and art in general, alongside paintbrushes, for example in the symbol of Microsoft Paint.
Throughout history, certain colors have maintained symbolic associations that are often reflected in art. In Ancient Egypt, red symbolized destruction and was commonly used when painting dangerous deities. Purple was worn by Roman magistrates and eventually came to signify royalty; European monarchs and leaders of the Catholic Church were often painted wearing purple. During the Renaissance, the Virgin Mary was typically painted wearing a blue cloak over a red dress to represent purity and love.
In computer graphics, a palette, also called color lookup table (CLUT), is a correspondence table in which selected colors from a certain color space’s color reproduction range are assigned an index, by which they can be referenced. By referencing the colors via an index, which takes less information than the one needed to describe the actual colors in said color space, this technique aims to reduce data usage, be it as processing payload, transfer bandwidth, RAM usage or persistent storage. Images in which colors are indicated by references to a CLUT are called indexed color images.