What do we think about if, by closing our eyes, we were asked to visualize hope? Probably many would see in their minds not a defined image but something abstract, to which no form corresponds. Most of us would think perhaps of a color and more specifically of green. But are we really sure that this dye has always had the current meaning? In this delicate moment in which “hope” is a must, let’s retrace the history of this particular shade together.
Incredible twists and turns
When it comes to colors, the name of Michel Pastoureau immediately springs to mind. Historian and anthropologist and expert in the history of color. Through his words we can really walk an itinerary full of curiosities and even twists and turns! Charged words with that strong passion that only drives a transversal and all-inclusive researches. His multidisciplinary investigations spill over into such a multiplicity of topics to get lost literally in it! So what does Pastoureau tell us about green? It starts immediately with a disconcerting fact, or at least astonishing contemporary man. “Green is a character… that has always hidden its game … a dangerous color whose true nature is instability.” And who would have guessed? Today this color relaxes us, associated with meadows and vegetation. Synonymous with hope and freedom. Calms our mind, purifies us, is the color of the environment.
How come to accuse it of madness? Describe it as an astute double agent ready to deceive us? It is evident that green has “built” a certain identity over time. A character attributed to it by men of the past who had so many difficulties in stabilizing their tint on fabrics and paintings. Faded greens, ready to turn brown or yellowish, corrosive and even toxic greens! A vulnerable, changing color, we could almost say “moody”. And it is no coincidence that it was accused of bringing bad luck and therefore even expelled from theaters! Towards the end of the 17th century this bad reputation was consolidated. In fact, many actors died after playing characters in green costumes. A fault to be attributed to the use of acetates extn. capable of producing greens as bright as toxic to health. But this color was also a shrewd one, ready to dispense good news as suddenly to deliver unfortunate blows!
Between good and bad luck
Trivially, we just need to think about the gaming tables that still are this color. Just to remind us that things are never random but respond to meanings that are lost in the maze of the past. Luck and bad luck “go hand in hand”. Youthful love is green because immature, the waiting time, some spirits and demons are greenish. Even potions and mysterious poisons! Gambling, especially gambling, and by extension financial affairs wear this color. The same dollars are an example, green banknotes not by chance! But how does this color get its redemption and its current meanings?
Then, at some point in history, it happens that green is cleared of the murky past. Not without difficulty: appreciated and discredited… admired and scorned. Through thick and this it could timidly gain positions from the mid-1800s. It spreads a new interest, the one that leads many people to see in the countryside and its colors a place to regenerate. And from here there are a series of collateral associations. If the green of nature purifies then it means that it is good for the body and thus it also becomes the color of hygiene. The same pharmacies, once in Italy were identified by a red cross, today are associated with green. But this dye also binds to the spirit, it is energy therefore freedom and even civic sense. An ethical, reassuring, saving color. In a word, it is hope, that we need so much today.
Green is a pass, it is what authorizes. It gives us the green light but it does so with knowledge. How? Through traffic lights for example. And why it and not another shade? The explanation lies in the so-called pure colors. Red is one of these and has to complement green. An opposite not only in color but also in concept. So if red expresses a ban, green authorizes. Today we give this color numerous objects but also proverbs. Green hope, gasoline green, bins have this color. And also escape routes, ping pong tables, the free of charge of certain telephone numbers. Between past remnants and more current revaluations, green is no longer “just a color” but a vehicle of stories and meanings.