Thursday, January 17, 2008

Geographical, Denominational, Social... What Else?

I found the fabulous color examples below in a back number of House and Garden of July 1995. It never occured to me before to bring together religious and (secular) interior decoration aspects. Of course there are.

In her "Design Solutions" feature headed "Colour counsel", Celina Fox remarks:
There are no absolute rules for using particular colours of paint, since our taste and views on their appropriateness are wholly relative. Our attitude towards, and experience of, colour is shaped and developed by the society we live in. Our ancestors not only used different paints in different circumstances, but will have perceived them differently. Cultures around the world have enjoyed greater access to certain paints, with characteristics derived from locally- available pigments and materials, and they have evolved their own idioms and traditions for employing them.

The terms used to distinguish paint colours are notoriously vague, with references changing across and even within languages. Moreover, the degree and type of light and space alter our perception of colour. Colour also changes in appearance depending on the surface it is applied to, as well as whatever surrounds it or is placed on it, and these interactions are hard to predict.

Given so many variables and the bewildering variety of products on the market, this months Design Solutions offers a guide to paint today, based on historical reference and geographical spread. The pleasure of using paint is in experimentation, not in the certainty of the end result.
It is indeed.

The bits about "Exotic paints", "Mediterranean paints" and "Northern lights" were most helpful for my specific purposes. The first confirmed that I was right to choose those bright colours for my present place, but that they and their exotic ambience would be inappropriate for a Renaissance/Baroque house and even more for one that had been something as down-to-earth as a coaching inn.

(Besides, I hate bright blue as a wall colour. It never seems to go with ANY period, nor do I like the yellowish, slightly glossy green shown in the top picture on the right, but that is just me.)

What about the northern lights?
The colours of northern European countries reflect the simplicity and calm of Protestant culture. Compared with the sensuality and vibrancy of the south, they are restrained: subtle variations of blues, greys and greens balanced with white. They echo the panoramic skies and broad horizons the Atlantic, and the North and Baltic seas.
This puts wonderfully, how landscape, light, soil and all aspects of a culture add to the style of a house, and of course a Protestant house, however grand, would be somewhat less shamelessly sumptuous than a Catholic one. (How a Catholic house in the North would look, had a Catholic culture remained there, is a purely speculative question, but sometimes speculation can be quite interesting.)

However, translated to our house, it seems drab and boring, and, in a way, too modern.

So why do the Mediterranean paints do appeal most to me? Certainly, we are geographically closer to the Baltic- than to the Mediterranean Sea.
The countries around the Mediterranean have evolved a range of colours based on the land and the sea: ochres and terracottas, intense blues and jade greens, offset by dazzling white. Deprived of the brilliance of the southern light, some of the stronger shades travel as badly as Mediterranean wine, Better suited to our climate are the soft reds, lemons and apricots of Italy, and the sand-worn hues of ancient Egypt. Interest in the range of Mediterranean colours has recently been revived by the import of authentic earthy pigments from Morocco and sugared-almond shades from Turkey.
The only explanation that makes sense is that the original Renaissance style of the town and the house and their later developments were strongly influenced by Italian taste. There is much more congeniality between the Ore Mountain Renaissance and the Italian Renaissance than with its North German varieties, and if I see pictures of Mediterranean houses of the period I feel a definite affinity.

The fact that all this Catholic heresy will take place within a former Protestant stronghold (former because Communism has rendered most of Saxony secular) adds to the complexity of it all. But then, the town was built 16 years before the Reformation arrived there.

I think this picture gives an excellent impression of the overall southern ambience of the town center:

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