Green is the colour between blue and yellow on the visible spectrum. It is evoked by light which has a dominant wavelength of roughly 495–570 nm.
In Ancient Greece, green and blue were sometimes considered the same color, and the same word sometimes described the color of the sea and the color of trees. The philosopher Democritus described two different greens: cloron, or pale green, and prasinon, or leek green. Aristotle considered that green was located midway between black, symbolizing the earth, and white, symbolizing water. However, green was not counted among the four classic colors of Greek painting – red, yellow, black and white – and is rarely found in Greek art.
The Romans had a greater appreciation for the colour green; it was the colour of Venus, the goddess of gardens, vegetables and vineyards. The Romans made a fine green earth pigment that was widely used in the wall paintings of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Lyon, Vaison-la-Romaine, and other Roman cities. They also used the pigment Verdigris, made by soaking copper plates in fermenting wine. By the second century AD, the Romans were using green in paintings, mosaics and glass, and there were ten different words in Latin for varieties of green.
In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the colour of clothing showed a person’s social rank and profession. Red could only be worn by the nobility, brown and grey by peasants, and green by merchants, bankers and the gentry and their families. The Mona Lisa wears green in her portrait, as does the bride in the Arnolfini portrait by Jan van Eyck.
Unfortunately for those who wanted or were required to wear green, there were no good vegetal green dyes which resisted washing and sunlight. Green dyes were made out of the fern, plantain, buckthorn berries, the juice of nettles and of leeks, the digitalis plant, the broom plant, the leaves of the fraxinus, or ash tree, and the bark of the alder tree, but they rapidly faded or changed colour.
During the early Renaissance, painters such as Duccio di Buoninsegna learned to paint faces first with a green undercoat, then with pink, which gave the faces a more realistic hue. Over the centuries the pink has faded, making some of the faces look green.
The 18th and 19th century brought the discovery and production of synthetic green pigments and dyes, which rapidly replaced the earlier mineral and vegetable pigments and dyes. These new dyes were more stable and brilliant than the vegetable dyes, but some contained high levels of arsenic, and were eventually banned.
The late nineteenth century also brought the systematic study of colour theory, and particularly the study of how complementary colours such as red and green reinforced each other when they were placed next to each other. These studies were avidly followed by artists such as Vincent van Gogh.
Varieties of the color green may differ in hue, chroma (also called saturation or intensity) or lightness (or value, tone, or brightness), or in two or three of these qualities. Variations in value are also called tints and shades, a tint being a green or other hue mixed with white, a shade being mixed with black.
Hooker’s green is a dark green colour created by mixing Prussian blue and Gamboge.
Mint green is a pale tint of green that resembles the colour of mint green pigment, and was a popular colour in the 1950s, and 1990s.
Sap green is a green pigment that was traditionally made of ripe buckthorn berries. However, modern colours marketed under this name are usually a blend of other pigments, commonly with a basis of Phthalocyanine Green.
Olive is the shade of dark yellow-green found on green olives. It has been commonly used by militaries around the world as a colour for uniforms and equipment.