Finding blue in Greece

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When is 13  Celsius degrees, grey sky and  the rain hits my window in Glasgow,  I want to back to my Easter holidays on Kos Island in Greece.

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 Kos Island is a popular destination and the island has an international airport, so it can get pretty busy. I have enjoyed 7 days in Kefalos.

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Paradise Beach, Kefalos

Kefalos is 40 kilometers south-west of Kos town and it’s a beautiful village built on a hill at the west side of the island.

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Kefalos area

By antiquity it was the first capital city of the island and today it counts some 2.500 permanent residents. The houses here are built so close one to another that the narrow streets created emphasis the traditional architectural features of most Greek islands, which invite you to make a tour in the history and life of the place. This is typical Greek place and the one of the last bastions of authentic Greece, where you can to enjoy to sit down and chat with the locals and, simply, watch the world go round.

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My blue and white Greek colours

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The Death of Procris, by Piero di Cosimo (c. 1486–1510)

Kephalos – Cephalus Ancient Greek: Κέφαλος is a name, used both for the hero-figure in Greek mythology and historical name. Cephalus is also son of Lysanias from Syracuse (5th century BCE), a wealthy metic(Metics were free resident aliens who lived permanently in the city. The majority of metics had come to Athens to benefit from the Athenian economic miracle, and were usually involved in commerce. It is noteworthy that ancient sources contrast metics not with the citizens but with the townsfolk. Only a small percentage of metics were former slaves who had opted to stay on in Athens after being given their freedom) and elderly arms manufacturer living in Athens who engages in dialogue with Socrates in Plato’s Republic. He was the father of orator Lysias, philosopher Polemarchus and Euthydemus.

Cephalus was married to Procris, a daughter of Erechtheus, an ancient founding-figure of Athens.  One day she climbed to where he was to spy on him. Cephalus, hearing a stirring in the brush and thinking the noise came from an animal, threw the never-erring javelin in the direction of the sound – and Procris was impaled. By accident something terrible happens.

This popular legend is painted by many artist such as Piero di Cosimo, Paolo Veronese, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, Pablo Picasso and many others from the past to present day.

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Attributed to Leonard Thiry – Cephalus and Procris

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Procris & Cephalus VII Painting, Animal, Oil, Paper, 155x65cm, 2010 Sarah Knill-Jones

This Animation about the story of Cephalus and Procris has been  made for .

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Cephalus and Procris made for Motion Design.

           I also find this Greek myth about these couple in love in the Medieval Nuremburg jetton.

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It is one of the Franco-allegorical jettons; on the obverse are Procris and Cephalus and on the reverse is Minerva, dating to c. 1588 to 1589 AD.

So, when I ‘adventured’ into and surrounding the Kefalos town and Kefalos meaning, I found the one of the most beautiful blue colour – the ceruleum blue and I wouldn’t stop ‘adventure’ into this blue colour.

                                                                                                      Ceruleum blue

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Cerulean, also spelled caerulean, is a color term that may be applied to certain colors with the hue ranging roughly between blue and cyan, overlapping with both. It also largely overlaps with azure and sky blue, although cerulean is dimmer. The first recorded use of cerulean as a color name in English was in 1590. The word is probably derived from the Latin word caeruleus, “dark blue, blue or blue-green”, which in turn probably derives from caelulum, diminutive of caelum, “heaven, sky”

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Cat in the Zephyr restaurant with a nice view of the bay of Kefalos. The family who run this taverna have become good friends of ours.

Cerulean blue pigment was discovered in 1805 by Andreas Höpfner, the pigment originally referred to as cerulean blue (or corruleum blue) was first marketed in 1860 as “coeruleum” by George Rowney.

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 Exactly this blue blue and white colour was the most characteristic feature of  the Greek architecture: blue and white coloures are the dominating colours in all the islands of the complex.

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Why houses are white and blue? and not green or yellow?

Houses in Greece are traditionally covered with a layer of plaster (Sovas in Greek, made out of calcium carbonate or lime stone). This plaster is regularly maintained by whitewashing by the same material which under the greek sun and because of its very bright white color creates visual uncomfort. In order to “break” the brightness, people started to add a bit of blue colour(Lulaki blue) in their whitewash. “Loulaki” in Greek quite literally  translates to “Lilac” in English and represents a distinctive Greek blue color. The “Loulaki blue” is the color used in the traditional island settlements who use white and blue (Lulaki Blue) for the house exterior colors. All that blue has absolutely nothing to do with the colors of the Greece flag.

History has it that the combination of white and blue was introduced during the dictatorial rule of Ioannis Metaxas (Greek: Ιωάννης Μεταξάς)  (dictator during the 4th of August Regime, from 1936 until his death in 1941), in a quest for order and uniformity.

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Ioannis Metaxas was a Greek general and dictator, serving as Prime Minister of Greece from 1936 until his death in 1941.

 It is quite interesting the fact that houses were painted in these two colours after a government act. The Greek prime-minister Ioannis Metaxas actually ordered in 1936 the inhabitants of Cyclades to paint their houses white with blue doors and windows so that these colours match with the blue sky and the white wave foams of Greece. These two colours are also used for churches, as the walls are painted white and the domes are blue. But is something more in the cultural tradition is sacrosanct and Greeks today manage to draw a circle of traditions around themselves even with modernity encroaching at every turn. Most customs are tied to religious practices, yielding special holidays, observances and special feasts. Dyed red eggs are served at Easter, and Saints’ names days are celebrated.

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Dyed red eggs in Zefyros made by the family who own the taverna.

But other customs vary from island to island. For example, especially the Mediterranean region the preferred color is blue because the people believe that it has the power to keep the “evil eye” away.

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Hence it is common to see cupolas, windows, doors, walls painted in shades of blue on these islands.

                          Myth or reality? Who knows?

Blue is calming. It can be strong and steadfast or light and friendly. Ceruleum it became the preferred pigment for artistic use in painting the sky, because it lacked greenish hues and it retained its color very well. As the above quote indicates, it has gone on to become utilized in fashion as well. In 1999 Pantone named the sky blue color of Cerulean as the color of the new millennium. Cerulean is found in nature, on birds including: the cerulean cuckoo-shrike, cerulean kingfisher, cerulean paradise-flycatcher, cerulean warbler, and cerulean-capped manakin

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Cerulean warbler

 Do you remember the novel “The Devil Wears Prada,”  which was made into a movie back in 2006 and the ceruleum blue scene? 

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You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select… I don’t know… that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.”

Cross-section of a sample from the sky in the painting The greenish-blue specks in the uppermost paint layer are particles of cerulean blue

Cross-section of a sample from the sky in the painting “Girl in a wood” Van Gogh.The greenish-blue specks in the uppermost paint layer are particles of cerulean blue

Paintings conservators also knows that cerulean was a new colour in  Van Gogh’s palette.  Van Gogh began using in the spring of 1886 was the greenish-blue cerulean blue (cobalt tin oxide), a pigment that came onto the market in the second half of the 19th century. In the past, we thought that Van Gogh had used this pigment for the first time in Paris, and not during his earlier Dutch period. He wrote in a letter to Theo on 14 August 1882, :‘Yet it was all a question of colour and tone, the gradations of the range of colours in the sky, first a lilac haze — inside it the red sun, half covered by a dark purple cloud with a delicate edge of gleaming red; beside the sun vermilion reflections, but above a yellow band that turned green and higher up bluish, the so-called Cerulean blue, and here and there lilac and greyish clouds catching reflections from the sun.’

There are some pigments that are harder, some pigments are softer, some are very opaque, some are transparent but I am quite sure almost everyone likes some shade of the color blue, the blue is the color of the sky  and  happiness.

No more worries about rain.

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Smile with blue !

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About conservationwithella

Hello, I'm Ella, Art on Paper Conservator & Preservation Manager at Glasgow University Archives and Special Collections. This blog is a walk through my daily life, work, arts & crafts history, my discovery that everything in my life is enough to be a continuous source of reflection. I started blogging to entertain myself but I hope you enjoy it too. I'm sure you agree, that Life without art is nothing. :)

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