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The Story Behind Venetian Red

Ah yes, the POWER of red. A color that’s the epitome of social status, political authority, and identity since ancient times.

The Story Behind Venetian Red

Ah yes, the POWER of red. A color that’s the epitome of social status, political authority, and identity since ancient times. We’ve been obsessed with finding objects that can reproduce these powerful tints of blood, fire, flowers, and even sunsets.

The earliest proof of dyed red dates back to the 6th millennium BC, in Turkey. But where it really took hold was the boom of the textile industry out of Venice.


Since the middle ages, European elites we’re paying massive prices for red velvets, sleek satins, and tapestries. They played an important role in the sign of authority and affluence. Elites were so consumed with the color, that Charlemagne wore red shoes for his coronation. The mantle of Roger II of Sicily created in the 12th century for Holy Roman emperors was made of gold on a vivid red background. In the 14th century, Richard II of England was presented with an important painting covered in kermes (insects wtf??) of dyed fabrics.

And in the 15th century, textiles blew the F up. Places like Florence, Lucca, Genoa, Bruges, and Lyons. But the most important producer was Venice. And they made a fortune with this shit.

“The deepest and most resplendent reds, collectively known throughout Europe as ‘Venetian scarlet’, were the envy of all who saw them.” (Butler Greenfield 32)

All textiles sold in Venice had to be dyed locally in order to prevent sketchiness. The government regulated the work of the dyers. Their performance reflected the reputation of the city and was vigilant about satisfying international commissions. King Francis I of France ordered hundreds of satins for his wardrobe, and the English used to send their clothes to be dyed in Venice and Florance.

In order to maintain the prestige of Venetian Reds, the government had a color-coded system to specify the dye. These regulations were subject to constant inspections.

Rank was also depicted by the color of clothing. Appointments of the Republic wore red velvet over silk robes. Senators wore slightly less fancy silk. Citizens wore black togas. A 15th-century manual even established the superiority of scarlet and crimson above all colors.

Venice enjoyed the privileged of precious dyes thanks to Mediterranean and Eastern trade. And they REELED IN IT. You can thank the Italians for that red Ferrari you don’t own.

All, Story of the Week


September 11, 2021

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