The Mystery and Emotion of “Blue”

By: Kevin Grace

The Three PrincessesIt is a color that has both negative and positive connotations, is symbolic of mysticism, social rank, both high and low emotions, and of serenity and wisdom.  Blue is a color that is a signifier of both Hell and purity, of luxury and dignity.  There are as many interpretations of what “blue” symbolizes as there are cultures in the world.

And the symbolism of the color is the rationale behind an online exhibit created by Archives & Rare Books Library.  Intended to highlight the spectrum of rare books in the collections, the selections show the cultural diversity over the ages of this particular color.   Nineteen volumes are represented in the exhibit, with several examples from each of illustrations and bindings, ranging from a 15th century illuminated book of hours to early Qur’ans and Persian poetry.  There are botanicals, fairy tales, Art Deco bindings, Asian drawing Ms. No. 20manuals, pochoir pattern books, and Turkish ebru marbled paper.  Each indicates a specific use of blue that depends on religion, technology, or geographical heritage.

The holdings of the Archives & Rare Books Library covers the range of our concepts of the codex, or book, which is the result of human endeavor.  While there are specialties and subject strengths – history of the book, early travel & exploration, the Arts & Crafts Movement, 18th century British literature, and others – the rare books collection is truly broad in how it demonstrates how human beings regard the written – and illustrated – word.

The exhibit, simply titled “Blue”, is available at  Clicking on each image will lead to a larger version and slide access to additional images of a particular book.

Papillons and Ottomon Motifs

The Archives & Rare Books Library is located on the 8th floor of Blegen Library. To learn more about the library and its holdings, please call 513.556.1959, email us at, visit us on the web at, or discover us on Facebook at

Literary historian Herman Pleij has stated, “The color blue has by far the greatest variety of negative connotations and the widest range of possible interpretations.  This must have something to do with the extremely positive connotations the color also carries.”

Images from Green Willow and other Japanese Fairy Tales and Book of Hours