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History of Hues: Olive Green

Updated: May 31, 2022

When we think of nature, the color that most commonly comes to mind is green. The plant and mineral world provides plenty of options to create green dyes. We are going to explore this and more in this History of Hues: Olive.

Green earth, also known as Verona green, is a natural pigment that is easily found. The minerals and pigments were available all over Europe. The most famous deposit of green earth was found near Verona, Italy, and this mine was active until World War II. It still sourced today in much of Europe, specifically Cyprus, France, England, Poland.

It was an easy color to find and use, yet it is rarely seen in ancient art. The Lascaux cave paintings in France that date back to 15,000 BC and Altimira in Spain from 10,000 BC don’t contain any green. These paintings are dominated primarily by reds, ochres, and browns.

One trace of green is a mural discovered near Pompei that was preserved by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD that has a natural-looking green tree.

When the painters of the Middle Ages discovered that a green underlayer could make skin and flesh look more natural, the use of the pigment by artists blossomed. As you can see in the below painting of the Annunciation by Duccio, 1311 the faces are green where the other pigments have faded away.

We all know that green can also be made by mixing blue and yellow, but this was considered taboo. Alchemists were mistrusted and feared. Mixing elements together was not understood. There were also guild restrictions and highly specialized dyers. For example, a craftsman who dyed blue/black fabrics was forbidden to work with reds or yellows. In some countries, large fines, exile, and other serious reprimands would be levied if someone was caught mixing yellow and blue dye together.

The color name Olive was popularized in England between the years 1300 and 1500. The term was used to describe things that are the color of the green olives found in the gardens of the Mediterranean.

In the late 18th century, synthetic dyes were developed. Bright green was one of the most popular dyes of this innovative technology. From there, other shades of green could be created, making the color Olive more widely available.

Olive is considered a conservative color. Greens are generally soothing. Having a link to nature, green is a color of hope and renewal.

The linen in olive makes a wonderful curtain panel in a living room. The best thing about olive green is that it is a neutral color. As a neutral color, olive will coordinate with almost everything, there is no wrong way to use it in your home. You can pair it with a neutral sofa and accent pillows in blues or pinks. Olive also looks great with blues and golds. It is a versatile color partner.

Having green as your window curtain is like inviting nature in. You can also fill your home with green fabrics and green plants. To create a bedroom that welcomes light and nature during the day and provides darkness at night, line the linen with the blackout lining. If you add grommets, you can easily open and close your curtains.


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