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« The Purple Dresses | Main | Gold Renaissance »

Princess of Purple

The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Burned on the water. The poop was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumèd that
The winds were lovesick with them. The oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke …

Antony and Cleopatra (1606–7), William Shakespeare

Purple was in ancient days considered a royal colour because the dye was so expensive to produce. Tyrian purple came from from a type of sea snail found around the Mediterranean. This purple dye varied in colour from reddish to blueish, depending upon the processes used to manufacture it. The Roman Emperors wore Tyrian purple, and it is still used by royalty today on ceremonial occasions.

These beautiful quotations scattered throughout illustrate how treasured purple has been since ancient times.

Hector and his comrades are bringing
Swift-eyed, tender Andromache; with her are golden
Bracelets and purple robes and fine-chased jewels and
Silver cups beyond counting and splendid ivory …

Fragment 44, late 7th century BC, Sappho

The colour is also associated with piety and faith, from its use in the purple garments worn by the officials of western religions. And in China, purple symoblises spiritual awareness, healing, strength and abundance, while in Japan it is associated with the aristocracy, and signifies wealth and privilege.

When the deep purple falls over the sleepy garden walls,
And the stars begin to flicker in the sky,
Thru’ the midst of a memory you wander back to me,
Breathing my name with a sigh.

‘Deep Purple’ (1939), Mitchell Parish

So Easter is a prime time to wear something purple, especially for princesses like me! It is only recently that I have begun to wear it however; as I child I conceived a passionate hatred for the hue owing to a loathsome dress my mother dragooned me into wearing to my sister’s wedding (it was mum’s favourite colour). I’ve finally grown out of my antipathy and into this much prettier vintage 50s dress, made from a chequered iridescent fabric. It’s accessorised by a golden feather tiara, a vintage patent belt, gold coin earrings, an amber rhinestone ring, and gold and chocolate snakeskin sandals. 

Just as the hyacinth up in the mountains is trampled under-
Foot by shepherds, and the purple flower lies on the ground …

Fragment 105c, late 7th century BC, Sappho

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