History of Colors

The mesmerizing effect that colors have on humans goes back hundreds of thousands of years; however, this miracle of nature was put into use by humans not so long ago. The first paint pigment was discovered by pioneering artists approximately 40,000 years ago. Paints produced by using natural raw materials such as soil, animal fat, coal and lime create a color palette consisting of 5 colors: red, yellow, brown, black and white. The variety of colors available in nature since the start of time increased swiftly as we started using them in our daily lives, and new color pigments have been put to use in numerous fields in our lives. The variety of colors and shades of paint that have become a part of our lives from cave paintings, i.e. parietal art, to Renaissance, and are available in our day and time, defy belief. The color palette of five at the start has now mushroomed into innumerable shades and hues.

The mud red that was once obtained from iron rich soil and used in cave paintings is still one of the shades that is most preferred. The shade of red that was obtained by Aztecs by the end of the 1400s, by crushing and drying cochineal bugs living on cactus plants, was used frequently by many civilizations, to the extent that the red coats of the British army were dyed by using cochineal bugs until the 20th century.


The green colored paint that was obtained from plant extracts is one of the oldest colors used by humans after red. Swedish chemist Scheele discovered a new bright green from a base of resin and arsenic in 1775. Scheele green, which started to be widely used and became popular in the Victorian era, gave rise to some problems. Many artists experienced health problems due to the use of highly poisonous arsenic as a chemical in the paint. Thanks to the advanced technology and production techniques, green paints no longer pose any problems. We no longer need to worry about our health as we dabble in paints.


The use in paints of the color blue, which is rarely encountered in nature except in seas, has been quite recent in comparison to other colors. This is to the extent that it is rarely seen in prehistoric cave paintings, antique Greek writings or illustrated Chinese folk tales. Antique Egyptian civilization, which started mining 6000 years ago and extracted lapis lazuli stone, was the first civilization to use the color blue by applying it on the caskets of their mummies. The use of blue became widespread especially when Virgin Mary was depicted in blue clothing in many pieces of art in the middle ages.