Violet is the color at the end of the visible spectrum of light between blue and the invisible ultraviolet. Violet color has a dominant wavelength of approximately 380-450 nanometres.
Violet and purple look similar, but violet is a spectral colour, with its own set of wavelengths on the spectrum of visible light. Purple is a dichromatic colour, made by combining blue and red. In the traditional colour wheel used by painters, violet and purple are both placed between red and blue. Purple occupies the space closer to red, between crimson and violet. Violet is closer to blue, and usually less intense and bright than purple.
Violet and purple retained their status as the colour of emperors and princes of the church throughout the long rule of the Byzantine Empire.
While violet was worn less frequently by Medieval and Renaissance kings and princes, it was worn by the professors of many of Europe’s new universities. Their robes were modelled after those of the clergy, and they often wore square violet caps and violet robes, or black robes with violet trim.
Violet also played an important part in the religious paintings of the Renaissance. Angels and the Virgin Mary were often portrayed wearing violet robes.
The first cobalt violet, the intensely red-violet cobalt arsenate, was highly toxic. Although it persisted in some paint lines into the twentieth-century, it was displaced by less toxic cobalt compounds such as cobalt phosphate. Cobalt violet appeared in the second half of the 19th century, broadening the palette of artists.
Vincent van Gogh was an avid student of colour theory. He used violet in many of his paintings of the 1880s, including his paintings of irises and the swirling and mysterious skies of his starry night paintings, and often combined it with it complementary colour, yellow. In his painting of his bedroom in Arles (1888), he used several sets of complementary colours; violet and yellow, red and green, and orange and blue.
In 1856, a young British chemist named William Henry Perkin was trying to make a synthetic quinine. His experiments produced instead an unexpected residue, which turned out to be the first synthetic aniline dye, a deep violet colour called mauveine, or abbreviated simply to mauve (the dye being named after the lighter colour of the mallow [mauve] flower). Used to dye clothes, it became extremely fashionable among the nobility and upper classes in Europe, particularly after Queen Victoria wore a silk gown dyed with mauveine to the Royal Exhibition of 1862. Prior to Perkin’s discovery, mauve was a colour which only the aristocracy and rich could afford to wear. Perkin developed an industrial process, built a factory, and produced the dye by the ton, so almost anyone could wear mauve.
In Europe and America, violet is not a popular colour; in a European survey, only three percent of men and women rated it as their favourite colour, ranking it behind blue, green, red, black and yellow (in that order), and tied with orange. Ten percent of respondents rated it their least favourite colour; only brown, pink and grey were more unpopular.