Colour Hermeneutics

What comes to my mind when reading professor Jeana Jarlso’s article about how memories impact our impression of colour is that there is a kind of hermeneutics involved. Similar to how we must take into account the social context and intentions of a writer (any writer, not only those involved in the text that happened to go into the collection called The Bible) when interpreting a text, we need to apply the same perspectives when looking at a picture.

In 2001, I visited the Sistine Chapel and saw the restored paintings for the first time. As Jarlso points out when quoting the historian Michel Pastoureau, it is difficult to really know what the painting looked like when new since so many are different from then. We now have electric light instead of candles. Colours change with age and we don’t know if Michelangelo, Botticelli and the others intended for us to have another experience of the frescos than when they were fresh.

How do we remember colour? Was my first home really that blue? When did my mother’s hair turn from blond to white? And what colour do we really refer to when we say we’re feeling green of envy? That is, what colour did Shakespeare refer to?