Color Chart

CHAPTER 2: Color as iconography

Cultures around the world have always inscribed significance to colors. They can stand in for intangible qualities like status, purity, divinity, or be trademarked like Yves Klein’s blue. In the Catholic church, priests wear different color robes depending on the time of the year. Green symbolizes hope and is worn during the liturgical season called “Ordinary Time” when the church isn’t celebrating high holy days. This tradition goes back centuries and can be seen in the Ecclesiastical Cape from 16th century Spain. The Virgin Mary is often depicted wearing blue for humanity and red for divinity. In Madonna and Child with Angel by Giovanni di Marco, the artist added touches of gold leaf to emphasize the figures’ sacred status. In the early 20th century Native American artist Maria Martinez, along with her husband Juan Martinez, revived the art of black-on-black pottery, a technique used by the Pueblo people since the Neolithic period until the 17th century. Martinez was asked by a professor of archeology to recreate the polished jet black style after being lost for centuries. Today, an artist will use specific colors to recall popular culture like Antonio Caro’s use of “Coca-cola” red in Colombia and Richard Pettibone’s miniature work imitating Andy Warhol’s iconic multi-colored Marilyns.

Cope (Ecclesiastical Cape)


Cope (Ecclesiastical Cape)
Velvet and silk embroidery
135.9 cm x 278.8 cm (53 1/2 in. x 109 3/4 in.)
Gift of Vivian Merrin, 1982

Copes were worn by Catholic bishops and priests during religious processions. Decorated with embroidery, copes often had orphreys, or ornamental borders, that depicted scenes from the lives of holy figures. This work features an orphrey that represents seven popular episodes from Christ’s Passion, such as the Agony in the Garden, Kiss of Judas, Flagellation, Crowning of Thorns, Mocking, Road to Calvary, and finally the Crucifixion. In the lower part of the Crucifixion panel is a coat of arms that suggests this ecclesiastical garment probably belonged to a member of a Flemish family. The pattern and quality of the velvet, on the other hand, points to an Italian origin. It is likely that the orphrey and the velvet were sewn together in the twentieth century.

Madonna and Child with Angels

Giovanni dal Ponte
Florence, Italy, 1385 - 1437, Florence, Italy

Madonna and Child with Angels
Tempera and tooled gold leaf
89.2 cm x 61.6 cm (35 1/8 in. x 24 1/4 in.)
Bequest of Jack G. Taylor, 1991

The devout Catholics for whom this painting was intended would have recognized this presentation of Mary as the Queen of Heaven. She wears an elaborate crown, in addition to the disc-like halo, and hovering angels honor Mary and the baby Jesus by holding an ornate cloth behind them. Jesus looks out at the viewer and raises his right hand in a gesture of blessing. In his left hand, he holds a finch, a foreshadowing of the Crucifixion that refers to a legend that this bird removed a thorn from Jesus’s crown and was marked by a drop of blood. Based on the scale and the subject matter, it is likely that this was the central panel in an altarpiece. The unworked upper corners and sides indicate that at some point in its history an elaborate gilded frame was removed, so that the fragment preserving the central figures could be sold as a satisfying whole.

Colombia Coca-Cola

Antonio Caro
Bogotá, Colombia, 1950 –

Colombia Coca-Cola
Enamel on tin
69.8 cm x 100 cm (27 1/2 in. x 39 3/8 in.)
Susman Collection, 2014

"Colombia Coca-Cola," first painted in 1976 and later proliferated in different sizes and formats, presents the name of the artist’s country in the iconic Coca-Cola script. Caro’s recycling and subversion of ubiquitous logos like this one derives from his experience working for an advertising agency in the early 1970s. Here the superimposition of nation and logo points not only to a history of U.S. imperialism in the region, but also to how the line between “us” and “them”—consumers and producers—has become blurred.

This art object can not be displayed

Image credit:
Richard Pettibone
Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe, 1973 (detail)
Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, six panels
The Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States, a joint initiative of the Trustees of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection and the National Gallery of Art, with generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2008