Violet/Purple Timeline

Violet is a spectrum color, a wavelength of visible light that can be seen through a prism. It is not so with purple. Purple is a mixture of red light and blue or violet light and is a secondary color that sits between red and blue on the color wheel.

Violet and purple pigments, paints, and dyes have been some of the most difficult colors to produce. Listed here are some of the myths, cultures, and discoveries associated with the search to capture this elusive range of colors.


  • 1550–1200 BCE, Phoenician Bronze Age
    Tyrian Purple

    This reddish-purple to purple dye is associated with the Phoenician city of Tyre, now in Lebanon. It is created from the glands of the spiny murex sea snails. This smelly and costly product had a strength that increased with age and wear and was the famous "Royal Purple" of Mediterranean societies like ancient Greece and Rome.

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  • 1045-771 BCE, Western Zhou Dynasty, Imperial China
    Han Purple

    This ceramic glaze is one of the earliest manmade pigments. It was made by melting sand or quartz with copper mineral and barium mineral. It is less stable than Han blue and Egyptian blue, which have similar properties.

  • 213 BCE, Ancient Rome
    Sumptuariae Leges (Sumptuary Law)

    This was the first of many laws stipulating who may or may not wear purple.

    "…she may not wear gold jewelry or a garment with a purple border, unless she is a courtesan…"

  • 48 BCE, Ptolemaic Dynasty, Egypt
    Purple, Cleopatra IV's Favorite Color

    When Julius Caesar visited Egypt, he discovered that Cleopatra lived a sumptuous lifestyle, not only dressing in Tyrian purple but also coordinating her wardrobe with purple sofas, galleys with purple sails, and purple porphyry that lined her palace.

    "She came sailing up the river Cydnus in a barge with gilded stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the music of flutes and fifes and harps. She herself lay all along, under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful young boys, like painted Cupids, stood on each side to fan her." (Plutarch, Life of Marcus Antonius, Ch. 7)


  • 1665 CE, The Age of Enlightenment
    Isaac Newton’s Prism Experiments

    Newton's experiments revealed the spectrum of colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet are the components of white light.

  • March 12, 1856, Victorian England
    William Perkin discovers Mauveine

    In 1856, the promising young chemist William Perkin was attempting to create a synthetic form of quinine, which at the time was used in the treatment of malaria. Cleaning up from a test using coal tar, he discovered Mauveine, the first aniline dye. This discovery opened the door to a rainbow of aniline, coal tar dyes, many of which were later developed in Germany.

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  • 1856
    Cobalt Violet

    This color was first prepared by Jean Salvetat in 1856. The color was weak, very expensive, and it was quickly replaced by Manganese Violet. It is still available as an artist paint color today. It is a muted color and not as vibrant as Manganese Violet.

  • 1868
    Manganese Violet

    This color was first introduced in Germany as Nuernberg violet. By 1890, it was available as an artist paint. Claude Monet used this color in most of his paintings, especially in his studies of light and shadow.

    "I have finally discovered the true colour of the atmosphere. It’s violet. Fresh air is violet. Three years from now, everyone will work in violet."
    –Claude Monet on Manganese Violet

  • 1928
    RGB color model - Millions of colors

    The first RGB television color transmission in 1928 was demonstrated by pioneer Scottish inventor John Logie Baird. The first color television broadcast happened in 1938 in England.

  • 1950
    Acrylic Paint

    Mexican muralists were some of the first users of acrylic paints, which quickly became popular with artists like Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, and Mark Rothko. Dioxazine purple is one of the standard acrylic colors and is used to produce a wide range of violet and purples.

  • 1958
    Quinacridone Violet

    Quinacridones were first sold as pigments by Du Pont. The suggested uses for the pigment were for automobile and industrial coatings because of weather fastness and outstanding color. They are available as artist paints today.

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Hercules' dog discovers Tyrian purple.

Hercules' dog bit into a sea snail and the snail's blood turned the dog's mouth purple. Tyro, a nymph Hercules was courting, saw the result and demanded a garment of the same color. This myth was the origin of the Tyrian purple dye, and the same story is also associated with the Phoenician deity named Melqart. The Hercules version of the story is found in the Onomasticon written by Julius Pollux in the 2nd century CE. It was also the subject of one of the oil-on-panel sketches that the artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens created for the Torre de la Parada in Spain.

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Detail Hercules dog discovers purple
Detail: Hercules and the Discovery of the Secret of Purple
By Sir Peter Paul Rubens
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Mauve Mania

The first trendsetter, Empress Eugenie of France, wife of Emperor Napoleon III, began wearing mauve, which she said matched her eye color. Then in 1862, Queen Victoria wore a silk mauve gown to the Royal Exhibition. Mauve suddenly became all the rage! The satirical magazine Punch called the popular color trend Mauve Measles.

Visit the Google Doodle honoring William Perkin’s discovery

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Detial Empress Eugenie surrounded by her ladies
Detail: Empress Eugenie surrounded by her ladies
Note: See full size at