In considering both color vision and color values, this essay brings together natural history and human history. After describing the character and evolution of color vision, it examines positive and negative attitudes toward color in leading cultures of Eurasia. It goes on to discuss color perspectives in those cultures, an examination that discloses a Eurasian pattern: while rejecting color in significant respects, Japan also developed a sophisticated perception of it; China periodically followed the West Asian lead on color; and West Asia represented the radiant center of the Eurasian spectrum. Rejecting West Asia's high valuation of color, classical Greece and Rome thereby established a European tradition that eventually was overwhelmed during the early modern period as a consequence of pigments and colorful commodities being imported from around the world. This foreshadowed the modern experience of rich color, a consequence of science and technology making universally available an extraordinary array of saturated hues. Such access to color distinguishes the contemporary world from all past societies.


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pp. 383-431
Launched on MUSE
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