SYMBOLIC COLOURS by Baron Frederic de Portal, is a rare treatise concerning the religious symbolism of colour written in 1837. It was published in English as a limited edition of 100 copies in 1845. There has been no edition published since.
Within SYMBOLIC COLOURS Portal has gathered together many historical references concerning such symbolism and in doing so has preserved a unique insight and understanding of another time, a time more concerned with spiritual verities than with the rewards of a life dedicated to materialism. His is a voice that reminds us that we are not merely sons or daughters of monkeys but spiritual beings with a higher purpose and destiny than we currently realise, and if his objective in writing this book is, as I believe it to be, to remind us of that fact, then he has been eminently successful, and his foresight and effort deserves our gratitude
|The History||SYMBOLIC COLOURS is a translation of Des Couleurs Symboliques written in 1837 by the Baron Pierre Paul Frederick dePortal (1804-1876). Portal’s work, utilised by Eliphas Levi in his studies of the Kabbalah, was translated by W.S. Inman, RIBA, a London based architect, active in the first half of the 19th century, for Mr. Weales Quarterly Papers on Architecture. It was later issued in 1845 as an edition of one hundred printed and bound copies. Inman recognised the importance of Portal’s book on colour symbolism for the decoration of churches and produced his translation for the benefit of the architects and artists who were working on the many churches being built or restored in the Gothic Revival style and decorated in tune with the principles of the Anglican ritual revival of the early Victorian period. Moreover, Portal also demonstrates throughout this extraordinary work a profound familiarity with the esoteric teachings discreetly transmitted from generation to generation in the schools of initiation that have existed in one form or another throughout the history of civilisation. It is also apparent that he is concerned neither with the scientific application nor with the philosophical understanding of colour, rather, it is clear that his primary concern is with the symbolism of colour employed by the learned of previous generations; about which he is evidently as well, or better informed, than any of his generation.|
|Author|| Baron Frederic de Portal (1804-1876) Born into a minor noble family from the Languedoc who could trace their ancestry back to the early medieval period. They were active during the wars of the Albigensian Crusade, although they seem to have opposed the French for local patriotic reasons rather than for their beliefs. But dissent did run in their blood and with the coming of the Reformation they embraced the Protestant faith, although after the collapse of the Huguenot cause some of the family fled to England. Frédéric’s branch, however, remained in South-Western France and, as a Jurist, historian and author, he became, perhaps, the most distinguished head of his family. He wrote one other book on symbolism, but it is for Des Couleurs Symboliques (1837) – which was utilised by Eliphas Lévi in his studies of the Kabbalah – that he is deservedly best known.
|Excerpts||“The three languages of colours, divine, consecrated, and profane,classify, in Europe, the three estates of society, the clergy, the nobles, and the people. The large glass windows of Christian churches, like the paintings of Egypt, have a double signification, the apparent and the hidden; the one is for the uninitiated, the other applies itself to the mystic creeds. The theocratic era lasted to the renaissance; at this epoch symbolic expression is extinct; the divine language of colours is forgotten, painting becomes an art and is no longer a science.” [p.15]
According to symbolism, two principles produce all colour, light and darkness. Light is represented by white and darkness by black; but light does not exist but by fire, the symbol of which is red. Setting out from this basis, symbolism admits two primitive colours, red, and white. Black was considered as the negation of colours and attributed to the spirit of darkness; red is the symbol of divine love; white the symbol of divine wisdom. From these two attributes of God, love and wisdom, the creation of the universe emanates. Secondary colours represent different combinations of the two principles. Yellow emanates from red and white; it is the symbol of the revelation of the love and of the wisdom of God. Blue emanates likewise from red and white; it indicates divine wisdom manifested by life, by the Spirit or the breath of God [air, azure], it is the symbol of the Spirit of Truth. [John, xvi. 13.] Green is formed by the union of yellow and blue, it indicates the manifestation of love and wisdom in action; it was the symbol of charity, and of the regeneration of the soul by works.” [p. 19-20]
SYMBOLIC COLOURS by Frederic de Portal
A truly important work with many references scarcely known today concerning the mystical symbolism of colour.