Thursday, February 14, 2013

Purple and black

"When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple." So starts the well-known poem by Jenny Joseph. The poem caused me to take a second look at purple, an unfavored color for me up until a decade or so ago. I have now embraced it as a favored, but not my favorite, color, and I do wear it.

Lent, third from the left.

Purple is traditionally the color of royalty, bishops, and Lent. Checking out the Web, it also signifies wisdom, passion, good judgement, and generosity. And more.

The color is associated with royalty because the ancient dye was very dear, originating from the secretions of a small, predatory Mediterranean sea snail and obtained with difficulty and in low yield. The chemical structure of the dye is related to that of indigo, and one source of  royal blue dye came from a related snail, although indigo is more abundantly found in plants. Tyrian purple is the same compound as indigo except that it contains 2 bromine atoms in a shared chemical structure.

I recently read that black was the color associated with mourning because it was originally the most valuable dye. More valuable than purple?

Every kindergartener knows that blue and red crayons combine to make purple; cool blue and hot red mix to give the colors of royal purple. There is a chemical experiment that I have done hundreds of times with kids of all ages, where you take black felt tip markers and perform a simple separation experiment using filter paper, water, and, of course, a variety of black felt-tip pens. While most people know that when we are looking at a black material or object, that item swallows up the rainbow colors of the light that fell upon it so that none of the light reflects back to your eyes. Less well known is the fact that black inks are made up of various colorful dyes. The photo below shows different pens and the inks that, when combined, make black ink. Each company uses different signature combinations.
Taking black ink and seeing it separate into various colors is magical, and it never fails to draw a "Wow!" response from first timers and old hands. (Click photo for larger view.)

So here is Dover, then, decked out in purple. Is he showing the colors of royalty? Is he preparing for a stint in the house of bishops? Must be, because dogs don't do Lent.