The Colour Red

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David Shaw Lecture Theatre

Medical School

Framlington Place

Newcastle upon Tyne

NE2 4HH

United Kingdom

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The colour red

A celebration of Red - the colour of passion, the colour of danger, the colour of Christmas, the colour of blood, the colour of Coca Cola, the colour of Royal Mail, the colour that stands out in a crowd, What does it mean to you?

Our event will discuss the status of the colour red in a range of contexts such as evolutionary anthropology, fashion and design, art conservation and psychophysics and should appeal to everyone who is interested in colour – irrespective of background or knowledge of the subject.


Prof Robert Barton (Durham University)

Seeing red: the evolutionary and cultural significance of colour

The colour red has strong associations in both nature and culture. In a variety of animals, red ornaments are sexually-selected, testosterone-dependent signals of health and dominance, usually in males. Red signals can vary between individuals of different dominance, and also within an individual over a short time period due to flushing caused by variation in the flow of oxygenated blood to the skin, related to its current state of arousal. In some birds, a male’s dominance rank can be increased simply by the attachment of artificial red stimuli. Although we have much larger brains than these species and are considered more rational and less instinctive, I present evidence that all of these effects are also found in humans. Intriguingly, cultural associations of the colour red appear to reflect its evolutionary functions. I conclude that red has a special place in the evolution of animal signals and human visual culture.


Dr Jane Colbourne (Northumbria University)

From dragons’ blood to mercuric sulphide: the history, use and alchemy of red traditional pigments

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a paper conservator and technical art historian, Dr Jane Colbourne, Programme Leader, MA Conservation of Fine Art at Northumbria University, discusses a number of prominent red pigments which have featured in artworks over the centuries. Beginning with the ubiquitous iron oxide- the most abundant red pigment on Earth- the discussion progresses onto other more mercurial colourants based on a range of minerals, exudates, bugs and roots which have unfailingly provided a focal point to so many compositions on wood, canvas, paper and parchment. The intriguing history, behaviour and how these key red pigments came to fruition are discussed. The pigments that form the focus of this presentation include, cinnabar, madder, kermes, cochineal, dragon's blood, synthesised vermilion, and in equal measures the beautiful yet deadly red lead and Venetian red which was regarded as the most expensive and finest red in Renaissance Europe, its secret ingredient being, arsenic added to brighten the colour!


Tim Rundle (Nottingham Trent University)

Colour me red

A subjective investigation into the relationship between the colour red and various key Fashion attitudes. The talk briefly establishes the colour in a fashion context and then goes on to take a range of classic reds (a spectrum from deep Burgundy through to pale Coral) and aligns them with certain architypes and fashion narratives past and present, exploring the relationship between this highly evocative colour and nuanced fashion codes, characters and stories it helps to portray.


Dr Gabriele Jordan (Newcastle University)

Is the red you see the same as the red I see?

Colour vision is often taken for granted and many people assume that our perceptual worlds are equally colourful. However, this is not the case since marked inter-individual differences exist in red-green colour vision within the colour-normal population as well as within the sub-group of individuals diagnosed as colour deficient. The perceptual differences are caused primarily by the variability of two X-linked genes coding for the middle- (M) and long-wave sensitive (L) cone photopigments in the retina, colloquially known as green and red cones.

The presentation will highlight the evolutionary reasons for this genetic variability in the red-green opsin gene array and will outline how the phenotypic manifestations can be measured in the laboratory.



A reception will be held after the talks with drinks and nibbles.

You can join The Colour Group Great Britain by clicking on the following link: http://www.colour.org.uk/join-CGGB.php

Membership costs just £20 per annum and entitles you to join our events nationwide.

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David Shaw Lecture Theatre

Medical School

Framlington Place

Newcastle upon Tyne

NE2 4HH

United Kingdom

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