Where Do Colors Come From?

Dead Bugs, Manure, Acid, and the Unlikely Origins of Brilliant Hues in Art

When I was 8 and on holiday in France with my parents, we went to Chartres Cathedral, just south of Paris. My father took me by the hand as we both stared at the blue glass casting reflections all over the limestone in the great medieval church.

“That blue was made 800 years ago,” he said. “And we can’t make it like that any more.”

From that moment on I was fascinated—obsessed you could say—by colors. Not just by what effect they have on the eye (though for me any encounter with …

You Say Blue, I Say Cerulean

Color Dictionaries Gave the World a Common Language—and Names Like ‘Dragons-Blood Red’ and ‘Light Paris Green’

Attached to an actuator on the shoulder of NASA’s Curiosity Rover exploring Mars right now is a set of panels that looks like an eye shadow compact. It has six …