Saturday, April 21, 2007

Which Bible clothing colors should I use?

When you come to adding color to your Bible characters, do you ever wonder which colors you should be using on clothing for authenticity?

I've just read a very interesting 40 page booklet titled 'Drawing Bible Pictures'. It was written by W H Whanslaw, and was first published in 1943. (twelve further editions followed).
It's basically a 'How to draw' book for Sunday school teachers, encouraging them to produce their own Bible posters. This booklet has all the usual contents found in a 'How to draw' book such as 'How to draw Heads, Hands, Feet, Animals, Birds, Landscapes, Perspectives', etc, etc. But it also includes some quite in-depth articles on 'Hand/eye coordination', 'How clothing folds', 'Light and shade' and 'Pictorial Composition' which goes into great detail on how the Dutch Masters composed their paintings!

The section that I would like to share with you is about the suggested choice of colors for Bible clothing.

Bible Costume
The upper classes should be shown dressed in long, roomy clothing with borders and fringes to emphasise the social strata. If color is being used purple must be avoided, since only one person - the Roman Emperor - was entitled to wear this color. Bright reds for cloaks should be used sparingly, for red was generally a woman's color; deep red and rich brown-reds may be used, as well as greens, especially emerald green for decorations. Almost any kind and variety of blue may be used to good advantage, either in solid masses or in the form of stripes of various widths.

The lower classes favored browns and blues, pale greens, and all shades of yellow. Women would wear either blue or white dresses, with red and yellow decorative stripes and ornamentation.

A Centurion would wear bronze armour, a red skirt, red at the shoulders, and a scarlet cloak; this cloak was worn only by the officers. The three feathers in the helmet were red with black tips, and showed that he was in the colonial army; the sword was bronze, the breeches dark blue or black, the boots of black or brown leather.

The common soldier wore steel armour with a bronze helmet, chestnut-brown vest and skirt, dark blue breeches and black leather sandals, and carried a shield in bright colors.

I'm not sure how accurate the above notes are, or where W H Whanslaw got his research, but it is interesting reading. If anyone has anything they would like to add on the above subject, please add a comment.


Paul Green said...

There was a "Royal Blue" worn by the elite classes. It was secondary only to "Royal Purple." This according to an interesting documentary show, "The Naked Archaeologist" (History Channel) on colour used by Orthodox Jews. Purple was a dye produced by snails and introduced by the Phoenecians (The Purple People).

Bible artist said...

Anne Puntin talks about the use of this purple dye in the jewish 'Prayer Shawl' in her book 'The World Jesus Knew' Here's an extract;

The history of this garment, if such it can be called, goes back to Moses. Because of one man's disobedience, God commanded the people to put fringes with a thread of blue on their clothes to remind them that they must obey His law [Numbers 15:32-41]. From this injunction and through various stages of development comes the modern prayer shawl or tallit worn by Jewish people in the synagogue today.

Traditionally, the dye for the blue thread came from a rare sea mollusc which made it expensive. Lydia, one of Paul's converts in Philippi, was in the purple dye trade which may have been the same business [Acts 16:14]. No blue is used in the tassel nowadays as the exact shade is not known.

Indigo dye was cheaper and it was hard to tell the difference but the authorities condemned its use. Quite recently some Israeli archaeologists found prayer shawls belonging to the soldiers of Bar Cochba who led a rebellion against Rome in 131-135 CE. They were surprised to discover, on analysis, that the dye was indigo.

Extract taken from 'The World Jesus Knew' by Anne Punton.

Paul Green said...

Tekhelet is the colour associated with the thread of blue mentioned in Numbers. It is a dye produced from a sea-creature referred to as a "hillazon." The History Channel show mentioned the fact the dye came from the blood of the unidentified sea creature while it was still living.

Yellow dye, according to the show, was produced from the urine of cows!

Bible artist said...

Don't tell me where the brown dye came from!!

Anonymous said...

I am wondering what colour robes would a widow wear in biblical times... Does anyone know?

Ana Cássia said...

Please, would you answer what colour a widow wear? I need to know what the women that went to Jesus tomb were wearing.

Bible artist said...

Hi Ana
Sorry about the delay in answering this - I was sure that I had done some research on this in the past but I can't find it!

If the project that you're working on is to be viewed by a western audience I would go for the colours that we might expect to see worn in the west in a mourning situation e.g. black, dark grey etc. This is not based on research by the way.

If I come across more accurate information I'll post it here.

Bible artist said...

Hi again Ana
This post might help to answer your question - or rather the comments should.