Symbolism of the colour red

Today, I’m putting on my interior decorator’s hat to talk about the power of colours. Colours are not neutral, they speak to us, they interact with our unconscious, with our moods, with our physiology! Each colour has its own frequency, so each one reasons differently with the human beings we are. Moreover, the complexity of man and the different cultures, gives strong disparities in the world. I will try to gather the information gleaned from my research, to give you an overview of the symbolism linked to each colour.
Today, let’s talk about the colour red.

Red in History

Red appeared very early in the history of mankind: on the cave paintings of prehistoric caves, certain drawings were made using red ochre pigment. In the Neolithic period, the pigment from madder was also mastered and later, iron oxide or mercury sulphide was used.

In ancient times, purple was the most widely used dye. At that time, there were only three poles in the colour system: white, black and red. It was therefore the only colour worthy of the name. It was the colour of the robes of Roman centurions, certain priests, the god Mars, etc.

In the Middle Ages, there were several ways of making red. There was kermes (cochineal eggs), which was difficult to harvest and expensive to produce: this magnificent red was therefore reserved for the lords. For the others, madder is still used. So there is red and there is red, ladies and gentlemen! In Venice, for example, dyers have different licences: those who work with madder red are not allowed to work with kermes red.

Very early on, red was associated with the notion of power, fire and blood. And so, in fact, depending on our references, our culture, it has either a positive or a negative side: fire is purification but it is also the flames of Hell, blood is life, but it is also crimes and sins… Red is ambivalent.

Red in the world

In China, it is the lucky colour par excellence. In India, it also has a positive connotation as it is one of the colours of the Shakti: it is associated with victory, purity and love.

In Africa, red represents blood in general, therefore both life and the courage of all those whose blood was shed while fighting for their freedom (slaves, the oppressed of Apartheid…). In South Africa, it is the colour of mourning.

In the West, red is more synonymous with passion and desire. But it is also the colour of anger (“seeing red”) and danger (road signs). In Eastern Europe and Russia, it is emblematic of communism and revolution (Red October). In Russian, however, krasnoi means red but also beautiful (Red Square is also the “beautiful square”).

The Psychology of Red

Red light has a wavelength between 620 and 780 nm. It is the longest of the visible spectrum (which is why it is also referred to as infrared). It is part of the so-called “psychological primaries”. It does affect us physically: it increases our heart rate and rhythm. The more intense the red, the more physically stimulating it is.

It also stimulates the fight-or-flight instinct in case of threat. This colour therefore also speaks of courage, rebellion and survival. It is no coincidence that it is the colour of choice for danger signs, stop signs and traffic lights… red!

Experiments have shown that red increases men’s attraction to women: red lipstick or dresses are tools of seduction!

Red is the colour of warmth, enthusiasm, virility, energy, endurance, passion and desire. It is the colour of action. Red is not timid, and it is full of ambition.

Its faults? It can be aggressive, violent, generate anger, irritation or annoyance. In short, he is sometimes insolent. Also, one should be careful not to use too much red, or the wrong shade of red, when decorating.

Red in decoration

It is a colour that is difficult to manage in decoration. That’s why it’s generally advised to use it in small touches: cushions, vases, paintings… In my opinion, it’s a pity because we deprive ourselves of its benefits.

As we have seen, red brings dynamism, passion, and helps to move into action. There are therefore rooms where red walls are quite appropriate: offices, co-working spaces, sports rooms… But it also has its place to energise a corridor, an entrance hall, the dining room and even the kitchen as it whets the appetite!

However, it is not recommended for bedrooms, other than in light touches.

In general, be careful not to overdo it either, as this could bring out the aggressive side of red. For example, you can adopt the solution of the painted half-wall: the upper part is painted red for example, and the lower part is reserved for more neutral colours such as grey, beige or linen.

Red goes particularly well with blue for a warm-cool effect and the pure contrast of two primary colours.

Red likes green, which is its complementary colour on the colour wheel. Red awakens green, which calms red. It is a balanced association.

The colour orange can be combined with red to create a harmonious and dynamic combination of two warm colours.

Finally, red and violet can be combined to create intimate, luxurious spaces.

Red in feng shui

In feng shui, red is the colour of the fire element, of the South, of summer. It is also associated with the energy of life and purification.

If your front door faces South or South-West, don’t hesitate to use a beautiful red on your walls, for a protective and purifying effect. In China, red lanterns are often found hanging on doors and gates or red columns that frame the door.

In China, red is one of the three lucky colours (with yellow and green). It is the national colour, and the colour of many traditional festivals such as New Year’s Eve. It embodies vitality, but also happiness, luck, success and beauty (the Chinese bride is traditionally dressed in red).

lanternes rouges chinoises
Photo by Henry & Co. on Unsplash

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

la symbolique du rouge audaladeco

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