Isaac Newton

After Newton had used a prism to separate daylight and count seven individual colours, it appeared to him that, when considering colour-hue, this was a closed system. By taking the violet end of the spectrum and linking it to the red start-point, he thus created a convincing circle of colours. With Newton’s circular shape, the transition between the one- and two-dimensional colour-system is complete. It is helpful to realise that although this step was made by a physicist, it actually has little to do with physics; it is our brain that, out of the straight line of physics, makes the circle first drawn by Newton. (Detailed text)

Date: The famous circular arrangement of spectral colours appeared in 1704 in his central work: Opticks.

Country of origin: England

Basic colours: Red, orange, yellow, green, cyan blue, ultramarine blue, violet blue

Form: Circle

Application: Physics

Related systems: Grosseteste, Alberti, da VinciAguiloniusKircherWallerMayerHarrisSchiffermüllerSowerbyGoetheFieldMaxwellHelmholtzWundt

Bibliography: Newton, «Opticks», London 1704 (numerous subsequent editions); K. T. A. Halbertsma, «A History of the Theory of Colour», Amsterdam 1949; R. S. Westfall, «The development of Newton’s theory of color», Isis 53, pp 339-358 (1962); John Gage, «Colour and Culture, Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction», Thames and Hudson, 1993, pp. 201-203 (mention and comment).