Humors, Hues, and Healing: Color Symbolism of Yesteryear

Humors, Hues, and Healing: Color Symbolism of Yesteryear

Sunday July 15, 2012, on our Color Muze  for Artistically Speaking Talk Show, the Blog Talk Radio brainchild of artist and entrepreneur Rebecca E. Parsons, we delved into the mists of antiquity to explore what my teacher, Frank H. Mahnke, of the IACC-NA (International Association of Colour Consultants/Designers Seminars) has called, “Mystical Color Symbolism.

Rebecca interviewed my old friend and colleague, Joy Conway, decorative painter extraordinaire, owner and lead artist of  Funwalls Studio in Albuquerque, NM, a division of her evolving, green  artistic enterprise, nmVerde. Joy is also part of Vintage and More,  selling vintage items and antiques as part of a collective effort.  Although “vintage’ is not necessarily “antiquity”, we found plenty of tie-ins!

We “muzed” about the four-fold system devised by the ancient Greek physician  Hippocrates,  (b. ca. 460 B.C, often termed the “Father of Western Medicine”,  which connects the four major “humors” (human bodily fluids) with the four “temperaments”  (one might term these, personality types) and their color counterparts.

Bear in mind that the hue of each  humor, IE, black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm (this is not for the faint of heart!) does not necessarily correspond to the color related to it.  No, blood/sanguis, even though physically  a shade of red, is related to the cheerful color of yellow, and element of air.

The  term for a cheerful, optimistic, hopeful personality…or, temperament is sanguine!  Perhaps this humor, blood, runs healthily through the veins of one of this temperament, helping them to be positive, and upbeat!

Let’s take a look at the this fascinating  four-fold system.

The humor yellow bile, or “cholos” is associated with  the element of fire, and the  choleric temperament: passionate, touchy, quick, violent tempered, and active. The choleric temperament is strong, faster changing, a tensed mental state directed towards the outer world.  It’s color is red, in modern systems symbolizing  aggressiveness, activity and strength.

The humor black bile, or “melas cholos” is  associated with  the element of earth (not water, as one might intuitively expect given our natural association with blue) , and the  melancholic temperament: sad, with a tendency towards melancholy and depression.  The melancholic temperament is strong, but slower changing, a tensed mental state directed towards the inner world. It’s color  range is  blue, blue-violet, and black. It’s counterpart in contemporary color symbolism would be “feeling blue”- IE, sadness, melancholy, and depressiveness.

The humor blood,, or sanguis” is associated with  the element of air, and the  sanguine temperament: warm-hearted, lively, cheerful, impulsive, with a positive approach to life.. The sanguine temperament is weaker, faster changing, a relaxed mental state directed towards the outer world.It’s color is yellow, which in our modern system symbolizes cheerfulness, vitality, and high-spiritedness. Yellow, in the Hippocratic system relates to the element of air, and the humor of blood,  is the color of the sun, and sunlight…perhaps the “life blood” of our planet earth?

The humor  phlegm  (we all know that one, yes?!) is associated with  the element of water (which makes sense when you think about the relationship of phlegm to dampness) and the  phlegmatic temperament:stolid, calm, reserved, and hard to rouse to activity. The phlegmatic  temperament is weak and slow changing, a relaxed mental state directed towards the inner world.  (Think about when you have a cold, and just want to curl up in bed and let the world go by). It’s color range is green, green-blue, and white. Green, in more modern color symbolism, can express withdrawal, quietness and reservation.

Just for fun…here is an excerpt (found on http://www.fisheaters.com/fourtemperaments.html)  from the 11th c. Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum, attributed to John of Milano, giving the basic run-down as to the effects of too much of one humor or another: 

If Sanguin humour do too much abound,
These signes will be thereof appearing cheefe,
The face will swell, the cheeks grow red and round,
With staring eies, the pulse beate soft and breefe,
The veynes exceed, the belly will be bound,
The temples, and the forehead full of griefe,
Unquiet sleeps, that so strange dreames will make
To cause one blush to tell when he doth wake:
Besides the moysture of the mouth and spittle,
Will taste too sweet, and seeme the throat to tickle.
If Choller do exceed, as may sometime,
Your eares will ring, and make you to be wakefull,
Your tongue will seeme all rough, and oftentimes
Cause vomits, unaccustomed and hatefull,
Great thirst, your excrements are full of slime,
The stomacke squeamish, sustenance ungratefull,
Your appetite will seeme in nought delighting,
Your heart still greeued with continuall byting,
The pulse beate hard and swift, all hot, extreame,
Your spittle soure, of fire-worke oft you dreame.
If Flegme abundance haue due limits past,
These signes are here set downe will plainly shew,
The mouth will seeme to you quite out of taste,
And apt with moisture still to overflow,
Your sides will seeme all sore downe to the waist,
Your meat wax loathsome, your digestion slow,
Your head and stomacke both in so ill taking,
One seeming euer griping tother aking:
With empty veynes, the pulse beat slow and soft,
In sleepe, of seas and ryuers dreaming oft.

But if that dangerous humour ouer-raigne,
Of Melancholy, sometime making mad,
These tokens then will be appearing plaine,
The pulse beat hard, the colour darke and bad:
The water thin, a weake fantasticke braine,
False-grounded ioy, or else perpetuall sad,
Affrighted oftentimes with dreames like visions,
Presenting to the thought ill apparitions,
Of bitter belches from the stomacke comming,
His eare (the left especiall) euer humming.

So, what does all this say about our use of color, and the use of color in the architectural space?

I can’t give a definitive response to this query, but take a look at these interiors, and let me know what you think!

Red for the bed…a couple’s romantic red bedroom.

Blue for you…this is where you will stay as a guest in this house…in the blue guest room.

Mellow yellow? The blue guest room’s yellow and deco bath.

Green for clean?  This green room is the complementary master bath for the red bedroom above.

What does it all mean? Have we changed that much since 460 B.C?  Certainly not our “humors”, nor their hues. If we truly peruse and analyze the ancient Greek scholars, we can probably discover methodologies and means timelessly revealing of the human body, spirit and psyche.  At any rate…it is a fascinating  area of study and contemplation, and one befitting our Color Muze,on  Artistically Speaking Talk Show and  Cre8tive Compass Magazine.

if anyone is interested in further humor-ous (or other) exploration, please consider checking out these sites for further fascination, fun and fancy…and maybe a few insights along the way!.

May YOU live long, and healthy.

http://www.greekmedicine.net/b_p/Four_Humors.html

http://www.thecolourworks.com/pdfs/Hippocrates%20the%20Four%20Humours%202.pdf

http://thecolourworks.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/hippocrates-galen-the-four-humours/

Advertisements

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://artissima.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/humors-hues-and-healing-color-symbolism-of-yesteryear/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Mye pulse beates harde and swift as the bloode runs throughe mye veynes. The appetyte seeme in delighting as I reade this poste!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: