In about 1630, barely twenty years after the publication by
Throughout its 200 pages, Fludd occupies himself with a diagnosis of his observations on urine. Through its colour and consistency, he attempts to draw conclusions about a patient’s state of health. Fludd’s basic approach, the course of which can be followed into the modern age, rests on a firm conviction concerning a metaphysical duality, manifest on earth by the opposite poles of light and darkness. The purpose of his colour circle («
Fludd assigned values to the basic colours within his circle, in that he established how much «brightness» (light) and how much «darkness» (blackness) was represented in them. White is light without blackness («Nigfedinis nihil»), and black is an absence of light («Lux nulla»). In green, there is an equilibrium of light and blackness, and in yellow there is a balance between white and red. Orange originates if, in yellow, red increases in relation to white, and sky blue will arise if, in green, the blackness increases in relation to light. (We have shown these traces of Aristotle’s theory in a second smaller
The ideas of Aristotle thus remain influential well into the 17th century, and for this reason a short description — for which there was previously no space — is now worthwhile. In principle, it must be noted that colour theories from the Antiquity relate to a few basic colours and their corresponding mixtures. Our understanding of these theories is hindered because our language is almost incapable of expressing the terms used for colours by Greek or Latin. Translators of the Aristotelian texts, for example, have pointed out time and again that one and the same word was often used to describe various tints. This is partly because many colour names did not primarily describe a colour hue, but rather the material from which the colour can be extracted. Individual words thus cover a whole range of different brightnesses or brilliances not implied by our modern (standardised) colour phraseology.
Avicenna (died 1037) disputed the existence of colours where darkness prevailed, since without light the vital «verum esse» would be denied them. His adversary Alhazen (died 1038) took the opposite view — that colours indeed exist in darkness, but did not reach the eye.
In the European Middle Ages, Roger Bacon (died 1294) looked into this question once more, declaring that light and colour only occur when combined («Lux … non venit sine colore»). He strongly opposed Aristotle, mainly objecting to the names of the colours and their translation. With Bacon, the terms «albedo» (white), «rubedo» (red), «viritas» (green) and «nigredo» (black) emerge, but he also insists on a fifth colour which he calls «glaucitas», probably meaning a bright blue.
We shall close this study with a reference to the Nikolaus Cusanus (1401-1464), the Bishop of Brixen, who was the first to express the idea that light did not so much reveal the colour of objects as create the colours themselves: «Omnis esse colores datur per lucem descendentum». And he said something delightful: the transient, earthly things, according to Cusanus’ observations, change their colours when they change themselves. He thus concludes that the purpose of colours is to visually demonstrate an «ability to become». Colours, therefore, show what life can do.
Date: The system appeared between 1629 and 1631 in a work on medicine.
Country of origin: England
Basic colours: Blue, green, red and two different yellows
Bibliography: R. Fludd, «Medicina Catholica», 2 volumes, Frankfurt, C. Rötelli, 1629-1631; J. Godwin, «Robert Fludd Hermetic philosopher and surveyor of two worlds», London 1979; John Gage, «Colour and Culture, Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction», Thames and Hudson, 1993, pp. 9 and 171 (mention and comment).