CFP "'The dyer's hand': Colours in Early Modern England" (deadline for submission of abstracts: April 15, 2014)

full name / name of organization: 
Sophie Chiari
contact email: 

Special Issue of E-rea (13.1, Autumn 2015).
Guest Editor: Sophie Chiari (LERMA, Aix-Marseille Université).

Scientific Committee:

Sophie Chiari, Aix-Marseille Université (France)
Line Cottegnies, Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle (France)
Tobias Döring, Ludwig Maximilians-Universität (Munich, Germany)
Roy Eriksen, University of Agder (Norway)
Stuart Sillars, University of Bergen (Norway)

As Michel Pastoureau has shown, the Middle Ages were a time when heraldry changed the names and the meanings of colours and when both stained glass and manuscript illuminations testified to the rich symbolism of the vivid medieval palette. In recent years, much attention has also been paid to the new approaches to colour which emerged in 18th-century England, in the wake of Isaac Newton's innovative ideas on the colour spectrum. Nowadays, a full range of highly saturated hues characterizes our daily environment, so much so that black and white convey both elegance and sophistication.
Yet, the function and the symbolism related to the use of colours in 15th-, 16th- and 17th-century England remain surprisingly unexplored, partly because the Aristotelian theories of vision and colours have long been regarded as relatively limited ones, and partly because, until the 17th century, most skills related to the art and uses of colour were protected by a number of trade secrets and only circulated by word of mouth. Moreover, as a new black and white print culture was gradually taking precedence over the lavish colours of medieval manuscripts, the advent of Protestantism was at the origin of several violent reactions against the use of bright colours. Nevertheless, for all the exhortations of a handful of "chromophobic" Puritans zealots like Philip Stubbes against what they regarded as "artifice", the iconoclastic fever which swept across early modern England never really stopped the use of polychromy.
Indeed, in spite of the corruptibility of early modern pigments and of the limited range of available hues, cloth manufactures flourished and English artists continued to use many different hues in their works. The court miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard relied for example on vibrant blue, yellow, crimson, black, white, pink, orange and green shades in his paintings. In the meantime, Shakespeare's "dyer's hand" (Sonnet CXI) exploited a whole range of colours in his plays and poems, from the Dark Lady of the sonnets and the black Moor of Venice to the white and red roses of the three parts of Henry VI, the yellow stockings of Malvolio in Twelfth Night or Autolycus's "ribbons of all the colours i' th' rainbow" in The Winter's Tale (4.4.206). Generally speaking, the circulation of clothes, cosmetics, gemstones, recipes, heraldic devices, botanical drawings, and university textbooks then partly depended on the colours which characterized them. Strikingly enough, an increasing number of dyes were marketed and, as a result, many early modern Englishmen wore red beards and dyed their hair. During the Civil War, the differentiated use of colours proved to be an important means of recognition of troops while, in the 1650s, philosophers eager to understand how their contemporaries perceived the world attempted to reconsider colour to question the reliability of senses and common sense. In his Leviathan (1651), Hobbes suggested that, like tastes and odours, colours were actually subjective (or "sensible") qualities that one could "discern" only "by Feeling".
Now, if early modern men and women enjoyed and promoted a variety of tinges, tones and tinctures, they were also disturbed by the uncanny power of colouring and dyeing. Theories about the significance of skin colour proliferated and contributed to the emerging construction of race which led to the creation of a series of binary oppositions between black and white. Researchers now acknowledge that colours may have served to crystallize the sexual, religious and political anxieties of an era when vivid tints were often seen as a transgression of sorts. More often than not, colours were indeed associated with poison, illness and pollution, and were therefore seen as potentially dangerous. Under Elizabeth I, the London Parliament tried in vain to colour-code the citizens in order to facilitate the identification of subversive individuals. In the early 17th century, the Puritan Thomas Tuke won a lasting fame with his Treatise against Painting and Tincturing of Men and Women (1616) in which he warned his readers against cosmetic literature and attacked the "superfluous" painted faces of his time.
These examples tend to show that, in the early modern period, colour still codified gender as well as religious, political and social distinctions. In other words, colour was a symbolical and literary construct worth exploring for scholars interested in the multiple facets of identity construction in early modern England.

This special issue of the electronic journal E-rea ( aims at tracing the changing meanings of colour(s) in England from the Tudor era until the Restoration period (1485-1660). It will welcome papers dealing with the material, literary, aesthetic and sociological dimensions of colour in early modern England. Colours should thus be seen as part and parcel of the cultural codes followed or questioned by the early modern society.

Contributions might relate to but are not limited to the following questions:

-How were colours made and used in England at the time?
-Did their names actually refer to the same colours as those of today?
-What did the use of warm or cold colours aim at symbolizing in the artistic and literary works of the period?
-Did the circulation of prints and popular black and white engravings of the period change the perception of colours?
-To what extent did the English see and use colours differently from continental countries?
-What role did the Puritans play in the perception of glowing colours in early modern England?
-Which tones happened to be culturally and socially unacceptable, and why?
-Could the restrictions imposed on colours actually have raised the interest of early modern contemporaries in the use of a wide variety of tints?
-What were the main scientific theories developed on colour at the time?
-Which writers were then interested in the topic and to which ends?
-What was the function of colour in early modern literature and how was it used on stage?
-Was colour gendered and, if so, what were there specific masculine and feminine hues?

Please send your paper proposal (of no more than 300 words) with a brief CV to Sophie Chiari ( / by April 15, 2014.
Contributors selected by the scientific committee will be notified by mid-May 2014.
Final papers will be due on November 30, 2014.