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Venus and Anchises (William Blake Richmond, 1889/1890, oil on canvas)

Venus and Anchises (William Blake Richmond, 1889/1890, oil on canvas)

In classical mythology Anchises was a prince of Dardania who found lasting fame as the mortal lover of the goddess Aphrodite. One day when he was hunting in the forest, she appeared to him disguised as a Phrygian princess. They made love for two weeks straight (!) whereupon she vanished–much to the distress of the besotted prince. Nine months later she reappeared to him in her full glory as the goddess of love…with a baby, Aeneas, who was fated to survive the fall of Troy and found Rome. Here is a splendid, splendid painting of their meeting which was made by William Blake Richmond in 1889/1890 at the zenith of nineteenth century painterly craft.

In the painting, Venus is not working very hard to conceal her godhood (although, uncharacteristically, she is garbed). Flocks of doves spring up at her feet. Sparrows fly everywhere like confetti and the dead winter woods burst into crocuses as she passes. Glowing hawthorn flowers frame her beauty like a halo of stars and a pair of adult lions bound through the woods in front of her to herald her coming. Yet these peripheral details are clearly lost on the gobsmacked Anchises whose focus is squarely on the goddess. His horn hunting bow has dropped to his side (although the top limb juts out in a not-at-all symbolic manner).

This lovely painting is remarkable for the way it merges seemingly incompatible contrasts. The larger-than-life mythical characters somehow fit in with the hyper realism of the forest in early spring. Likewise the glowing white and gold of Venus’ glowing raiment is starkly juxtaposed with the dark earth tones of the mortal world—yet somehow they go together. Her lambent robes seem to form a swirling nebula. Richmond lavished such effort on the details of this picture. Look at each perfect crocus or the endearing little Phrygian hat. You should blow the painting up and look at it full size—it is an appropriate Valentine’s Day treat.

Chuck Yeager's X-1 Test Plane

It has been a while since Ferrebeekeeper has presented a post about color.  Therefore, to liven up the gray monotony of midwinter, today’s post features one of the most vivid colors out there.  International orange is a brilliant deep orange which is in widespread use throughout the world. Strangely enough, this eye-popping color was created and adopted for practical reasons.  International orange (a dark orange with hints of red) is the contrasting color with sky blue (pale blue with tinges of green).  The military and aerospace industry use international orange to make planes and personnel distinct from their surroundings.  Many famous test planes have been painted international orange including Chuck Yeager’s X-1 (above).   The color is also commonly used for flight suits, rescue equipment, and high-visibility maritime equipment.


Thanks to the high contrast of the color against the background, crews were more able to track the progress of test craft against the sky.  Additionally, if something went wrong, rescue and recovery became easier if the craft stood out against the sky, ocean, and land.

The Golden Gate Bridge

Aside from its use in spacecraft and supersonic test planes, international orange also makes tall structures stand out against the skyline (and therefore protects against accidental collision).  A darker “architectural” version of the color is instantly recognizable as the orange of the golden gate bridge.  The Tokyo Tower was painted in international orange and white in order to comply with safety regulations of the time.  The bright orange of both structures has become an integral part of their recognizability and appeal.

The Tokyo Tower

Although it is not branded as such, the natural world also has a use for international orange and a surprising number of poisonous creatures can be found in similar shades. Bright orange makes the creatures visible and advertises their toxicity to potential predators.  It is funny to think that tiny frogs and huge towers share the same color.

Oophaga pumilio (Strawberry Poison-dart Frog)

The Common Teal

The Common Teal (Anas crecca) is a gregarious dabbling duck which is widespread throughout temperate Europe during all seasons.  Further east, great flocks of teals live in Siberia during the summer and then migrate to India and China for the colder months.  But why is this duck being mentioned on Ferrebeekeeper?  Well, as it turns out, this is a post about color–and the common teal gives its name to one of the most widespread colors, teal, a middle tone blue-green.  The male common teal has a blue-green patch of feathers around his eyes–and these feathers are what the color was named after.

Situated half-way between blue and green, teal is a handsome tone which appeals to people who like both those colors. Teal featured prominently in the Plochere Color System, a color methodology favored by interior designers since the late forties.  Additionally, teal was one of 16 original HTML web colors formulated in 1987, so if you are a web pioneer or came of age in the nineties you may also have seen quite a lot of it.  But, even if you are somehow not an aging interior designer or an old school computer geek, you have still been inundated with the color teal by a different industry.

In order to make scenes comprehensible, television and movie producers (and visual artists for that matter) need to make the people in their shots stand out from the background.  Most actors range in hue from pale to dark orange. As you can see in the color wheel which I have very helpfully included above, orange is opposite on the color wheel from teal.  The easiest way to make actors contrast with the background and thereby have shots with adequate color contrast is to portray orange actors against a teal background.  Of course gifted directors use a whole range of techniques to provide contrast to their shots—talented filmmakers utilize light and shadow, wide-ranging color contrast, and subtle visual cues to make shots comprehensible.  But terrible directors (or producers running behind schedule) can simply have the digital effects technicians make everybody look like John Boehner running around in a swimming pool.   It’s shocking how many movies (especially bad movies) do in fact look exactly like that.

Chevy Chase, is that you? You look like a pumpkin!

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

April 2023