The symbolism of the colour black

As with the colour white, one sometimes wonders if black is a colour… In any case, it was part of the ancient system. It is the absorption of all colours, or rather of all wavelengths, and as such, it sometimes delivers an ambiguous message. Let’s look at it in detail.

Black color in history

In Latin, there were two words to define this particular colour: niger meant shiny black, and ater was dull black. Only the latter was worrying. Our ancestors were more sensitive than we are to different shades of colour.

It is often said that black contains all the colours, but have you ever tried this kind of mixing with your gouache tubes? The result is a rather unappealing brown. Until the end of the Middle Ages, black was rarely used in paintings and textiles because it was difficult to obtain.

But the Reformation made austerity fashionable, whether among ecclesiastics or princes, and black became the preferred colour. Black became more democratic. From the 19th century onwards, synthetic colours made from coal and tar were used.

Black color in the world

In the West, it is the colour of elegance and authority, but also of loss, mourning and sadness. In Andalusia, the wedding dress was traditionally made of black silk with a matching lace veil: this was to show her devotion to her husband until death…
In Africa, black is a symbol of wisdom and maturity.
In Japan, black refers to mystery, to non-existence.
In India, it is a little more complicated because black also symbolises death and darkness, but for the Sufis, this colour is considered the path to bliss. A black dot is drawn on the face of newborn babies to ward off the evil eye.

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

The Psychology of Black color

As we have seen, black has many facets, and we can see this in fashion: the little black dress is elegant, glamorous, sophisticated… but a black suit confers seriousness and authority.

Black absorbs all the light, it creates mystery and as such can provide emotional security because you can hide. It has the face of elegance and simplicity.

But black can, on the contrary, appear not protective but threatening, cold, too serious. It can give rise to feelings of oppression as it also symbolises power and discipline.

Black in decoration

I belong to several decorating groups on Facebook and I see more and more creations that dare to use black on a whole wall, on all the furniture in a kitchen, on the tiles in a shower… “Black is black” sang our national Johnny, but black is never as black as we think! It can be “crow’s wing” black with a blue tint, “walnut stain” black with brown highlights, or “graphite” black with silver-grey highlights. Just look at the success of the paintings of Pierre Soulages, the inventor of outrenoir.

Black is interesting for creating intimate, cocoon-like spaces. Did you know that black also makes rooms look thinner? It gives the sensation of shrinking the space, like all dark tones. But be careful, too much black in a room and you’ll feel melancholy. It’s a fabulous foil when combined with other colours: it works well with everything, whether it’s bright or pastel.

Black likes to be paired with white, a very classic but still trendy duo. It also likes neutral tones: grey, beige… It also likes yellow, but this is a very contrasting combination, which will not be suitable for resting rooms. For a less marked contrast, combine it with orange.

Finally, choose a matt black, with a satin paint finish.

Peinture noire
Photo by Kilian Seiler on Unsplash

Black in feng shui

In feng shui, black is associated with the water element. It nourishes only one zone of Bagua: the North.

If you need to nourish this zone, you can therefore bring black (or blue, the other colour of water in feng shui) in the form of a solid colour or accessories.

Of course, to nourish this area, you can also bring water in the form of “matter”, yin water in a vase or yang water with an aquarium. But be careful, because these two forms of water are activators or remedies for the school of flying stars, so be careful not to upset the stars by thinking you are doing the right thing.


Sources :
Le petit livre des couleurs – M. Pastoureau et D. Simonnet
DécoBook – Sophie Mouton-Brisse
Le Pouvoir des couleurs – Karen Haller  

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