I first heard of Finlay’s brilliant book on an equally brilliant BBC 4 Radio Show called ‘The Museum of Curiosity,’ described as a “Panel show in which three distinguished guests donate fascinating exhibits to a vast imaginary museum.” This dry description totally fails to encompass the wide, weird and wonderful range of guests and topics that are covered.
Like many of the guests, Finlay has taken a subject few of us truly think about and made it her own, researching and delving into her topic. Where did the original royal (Tyrian) purple come from that Cleopatra and Roman Emperors were so fond of? Was it truly a purple, or more of a hot pink? How did Spain corner the market on red for so long? Why did Michelangelo leave a large part of his The Entombment unfinished? Why do Taliban soldiers line their eyes in kohl?
Finlay is never satisfied with simply reading about her subject. She travels the world for Indian cows force fed mango leaves for yellow, goes into Afghanistan during a war to find blue, and goes to the Australian outback to find ochers.
This is a a book worthy of an entire semester’s study, and could easily be the basis of a college course. Color should be required reading for anyone in the visual arts and will be as equally interesting to those in the sciences, geography, geology and history. Wide-ranging, in-depth and fascinating.