Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Holding Back The Years - Simply Red (haired)

Recently I was at work and the song For Your Babies by Simply Red came on the radio. "What a great song," I was forced to concede after the chorus line had seeped its way into my conscious thoughts. It's one of those songs I've heard a thousand times, but I'd never previously made a conscious effort to listen to.

I have a bit of a bittersweet relationship with Simply Red. I hated them as a kid. Not so much because of the music - in fact, I always had a huge soft spot for the song Holding Back The Years, especially as the video features nearby Whitby; just down the Yorkshire coast, a familiar childhood holiday destination. It was for two other reasons really.

The first because Mick Hucknall, like me had red hair, and as there weren't too many famous male redheads back then (the other main one in British popular culture at the time being Chris Evans) that connection was always made by other kids at school.

Of course, back then Hucknall himself was mocked for being ginger constantly in the media. This was long before the days of Ed Sheeran and Rupert Grint. Back then you got some serious sledging for having the hair colour. Plus, Simply Red weren't exactly the edgiest of bands, and as I entered teenager-hood myself I was much more into other Manchester bands like Oasis, the Smiths and the Stone Roses. So I was never too impressed when someone made the wise crack "Haha, you want to be Mick Hucknall, don't ya!" just because of the hair colour. It annoyed me to say the least.

The second reason why I pushed back so much was that my mam was a huge fan of the band. Mick Hucknall in particular.

Music is such a personal thing, and if you know someone who likes a particular band or artist it's almost like that artist belongs to them - it's their thing. So it's only natural that as a child you don't want to identify with the music your parents love. You want something that's your own. That helps you create your own identity. So Simply Red was something "that my mam listened to", it wasn't something that I listened to.

However, as we get older it's often the case that we come full circle and find ourselves embracing the music our parents liked. Albeit a little reluctantly at first. We realise how much like our parents we are, and how much their tastes influenced our own, however subtly. The music that filled the house stays with us and hangs in our souls as we grow older.

So I'm quite familiar with the songs of Simply Red, though I never made the effort to become so. It wasn't just my own house as well. I remember the song Fairground playing incessantly around my friend's house when I was about 13, so that too gives me instant recall of late summer (girl-noticing) memories when I hear it. In point of fact, and maybe I'm revealing too much here, I distinctly remember being in that very same house and looking at that very remembered girl - with her bobbled blonde hair, and then looking at myself in the mirror in comparison, and seeing all the freckles covering my face. I was acutely aware that there was a chasm of difference between us in beauty.

I'd never been bothered about how I looked up until that point. The taunts about having red hair annoyed me, but not in any real aesthetic sense. So that was a strange moment of self-awareness. Like some ancient Greek mortal seeing his reflection in a pool of water for the first time, whilst in the presence of some semi-divine nymph.

No doubt I had at least some awareness that red hair and freckles were deemed unattractive before then, but that particular moment was nevertheless quite profound. It's almost like before then I was simply too young to think such an adult thought. Anyway ..you can see what music has done to me. I'm now lost in nostalgia thanks to a single song. So I need to get back to the other song that pricked me to write.

When I got home that night after I'd heard For Your Babies on the radio I searched the song out on YouTube. So it's now in the mix with all the other songs I'm listening to at the moment, along with a number of other Simply Red tracks.

As I listened I realised I'd did Mick Hucknall (and myself and my mam) a huge disservice by never mentioning him on here before. One of the great songwriters of our time, with possibly the reddest hair to boot, and still no mention on here after over ten years. I guess I've been holding back all these years.

(Sorry, that's awful. Anyhow, here's the track. It's a slightly odd title for a track I always think, but it's a truly great song.)

(For Your Babies - Simply Red)

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

1500 Famous Redheads!

Our partner blog Famous Redheads in History has just reached the remarkable milestone of 1500 posts!

You would never have thought there would be so many famous redheads, right? Obviously, we can't put our finger on all of them, but it is still a respectable figure.

These are some of the latest posts. 

Pin-up model June McCall

Artillery officer Dick Dowling

Thursday, August 18, 2022

What's in a colour: xanthòs

If you are interested in the history of red hair, probably you know this sentence from the Physiognomics,  a treatise attributed to Aristotle: "Blond (xanthós)-haired people have a bold spirit like lions, red (pyrrhós) -haired people are villainous like foxes". This is quite surprising, since, as we have seen in a previous post, several Greek heroes and gods are described as auburn-haired.

When referred to hair colour, the adjective xanthòs is usually translated as blond, but is that correct?

The point is that ancient Greeks (and, in part, Romans as well) classified colours in a different way than we do, because their relationship with colours was different from ours. For them, colours could not be dissociated from the sensations they aroused. 

The subject was first treated in the treatise On Colours (Latin De coloribus, Greek Perì chromáton), attributed to Aristotle but sometimes ascribed to Theophrastus or Strato. The work outlines the theory that all colours (yellow, red, purple, blue, and green) are derived from mixtures of black and white. On Colours had a pronounced impact on subsequent colour theories and remained influential until Isaac Newton's experiments with light refraction. Even Goethe, in his Theory of Colours, argued that all colours derive from the meeting of light and darkness. 

Basically, ancient Greeks did not separate emotions from colours. For example, they associated chloros (yellow-green) with fertility, argos (silver-white) with quick and flashing things, porphureos (purple) with swollen things and oinops (wine) with passion or melancholy (see Homer's 'wine-dark' sea). There’s something similar in modern English, in expressions like "feeling blue" or "seeing red".

So, what about xanthòs?

This colour was used to describe such things as: the sun, gold, sand, ripe wheat, the bile, fire, the coat of lions and even verdigris. Most of these things are indeed yellowish, but some are light brown and some have a tinge of red.  So, the term xanthòs compassed colours that today we would call yellow, tawny, dark red, light brown, reddish brown and even auburn, as we can see here. Because, after all, "auburn" is not actually "red", like a cherry or a watermelon.

So, the translation of xanthòs as "blond" is correct, but it’s not the only translation possible.

And indeed, here is the surprise. Everybody know Boudicca had red hair, right? Well, the only description we have of her is from Cassius Dio, a Roman writing in Greek more than a hundred years after Boudicca’s death (which means he never met her). Here’s the passage.

Here, Dio has added the suffix –otatos to the adjective xanthòs (having put both in feminine singular accusative form), to mean "very" or "extremely".  As you can see, the translator has rendered xanthòs as tawny, and we could wonder what "very tawny" mean. Deep brown? Very light brown? We could also wonder why the translator choose tawny and not blond, for instance. 
Probably what Dio wanted to do was describing the emotions Boudicca aroused than the actual colour of her hair (which he never saw, after all). I don't know who was the first one who talked about Boudicca’s red hair, but maybe this person, knowing the meaning of xanthòs and knowing where Boudicca came from, thought "red" could be a fitting translation. 

However, let us examine this translation a little further. What colour is tawny when referred to human (and not lion's) hair?

Here’s "tawny hair" according to Google images.

(click to enlarge)

But since we're talking about translations, let's translate tawny into other languages. In Italian, tawny is fulvo, and here's capelli fulvi according to Google.

That’s clearly red hair, with some strawberry blonde. Fulvo is also the colour used in the Italian Bible to describe David's hair: "Quegli mandò a chiamarlo e lo fece venire. Era fulvo, con begli occhi e gentile aspetto. Disse il Signore: 'Alzati e ungilo: è lui!' (1 Sam 16.12).

As we have seen before, Cassius Dio was Roman, not Greek, and here is a table with the names of the colours of the ancient Romans. Fulvus is the number 32 (while the colour used for blond hair was flavus). Maybe Cassius Dio had this colour in mind?

But let's go on with more languages.

In German, tawny is gelbbraun (gelb=yellow), but apparently this is not a colour used to describe human hair.

In Spanish, it's rubio oscuro (dark blond).

In French, it's fauve and in this case we have a mix of red and dark blond.

So, it seems in modern languages too we "see" colours in different ways.
Interestingly, the adjective xanthòs ("ξανθὴν" in this case) was also used by the ancient historian Aelian (c. 175 – c. 235 AD), in his Varia Historia (12.14), to describe Alexander the Great's hair colour.

Unfortunately, we don't have portrait paintings of Alexander (356 BC – 323 BC) made during his lifetime, but we have mosaics.

Here's a detail from a mosaic (known as "the Lion Hunt") in the Pella Museum, dating back to the late IV century BC (Alexander is on the left). 

Here's another mosaic from Pella, known as the Stag Hunt Mosaic, c. 300 BC (Alexander is on right).

And here's a detail from the famous Alexander Mosaic, also known as the Battle of Issus Mosaic, from the House of the Faun in Pompeii, which is believed to be a copy of an early 3rd-century BC Hellenistic painting.

In this case too, as in Boudicca's, the actual hair colour is anybody's guess. 😄

So, to return to the original quote, what colours did pseudo-Aristotle have in mind? Since he mentions lions and foxes, probably he had in mind the colours of their coats, but not all lions are blond, and not all foxes are red. The lions that lived in the Mediterranean area probably belonged to the species called Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica), and as you can see, this lion can have a mane ranging from blond to dark brown, almost black.

Foxes can also be brown, or grey. These photos are from Italy, which, as you know, is not far from Greece. 

This cutie is from Tuscany.

This one from Abruzzo.

 And this one from Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

So, yes, probably the pseudo-Aristotle was talking of blond hair and red hair, or of chestnut hair and red hair, or blond hair and brown hair, or auburn hair and orangey hair.😁😁

To add to the confusion, we can talk a little about hair colours names. My shade of red, for example, is called copper blond (or copper gold), because for hairdressers red is not a colour in itself, but a variant either of blond (in most shades) or of brown. Basically, for hairdressers the only "natural" colours are blond, brown and black (which is in line with red hair being the result of a gene mutation).

Look at this chart.

If you look at the "copper" and "red" sections, you’ll see what I’ve just said, that is, all shades have either a blond or a brown base.

The sections "gold" and "rich gold" are also interesting. If you look at the bottom, you'll see shades so dark that probably only hairdressers would refer to them as "golden". 

On the far left you have the naturals, that is, the bases. By adding a "tone" (or two tones) to the base, you can have all the shades you want. Here's an article about that. 

We can conclude this long rambling with a quote from William Michael Rossetti about Fanny Cornforth, one of the Preraphaelites' favourite sitters. He wrote that "she was a pre-eminently fine woman with regular and sweet features, and a mass of the most lovely blond hair – light-golden, or 'harvest yellow'."

These are some of the paintings featuring Fanny Cornforth, and her hair, here, doesn't look very blond to me...

Sidonia von Bork,
by Edward Burne-Jones

Fair Rosamund,
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Aurelia (Fazio's Mistress)

Blond and red hair are definitely in the eye of the beholder.😄

Red Hair in Art: Michele Tosini

Michele Tosini, also called Michele di Ridolfo, (1503–1577) was an Italian painter of the Renaissance and Mannerist period, who worked in Florence.

He apprenticed initially with Lorenzo di Credi and Antonio del Ceraiolo, but then moved into the studio of Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, from whom he acquired the name Michele di Ridolfo or Michele (di Ridolfo) del Ghirlandaio.

His acceptance of Mannerism was slow, but by the 1540s the influence of Salviati and Bronzino was visible in his work. After 1556, Tosini served as an assistant to Giorgio Vasari in the decoration of the Salone dei Cinquecento in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Through Vasari's example, Tosini adopted a vocabulary derived from the work of Michelangelo and painted some of his best-known works in this manner (e.g. Night, c. 1560; Rome, Galleria Colonna, and Leda, c. 1560; Rome, Galleria Borghese). He executed several important commissions late in his career: the fresco decoration of three city gates of Florence (1560s), the altar in the chapel at the Villa Caserotta (1561), near San Casciano Val di Pesa, and the paintings on the sides and back of the tabernacle of the high altar of Santa Maria della Quercia (1570), Viterbo. According to Vasari, Tosini headed a large workshop that executed numerous altarpieces and paintings. He was also a notable portraitist.

Madonna col Bambino, con sant'Anna,
san Rocco e san Jacopo

Sposalizio mistico di santa
Caterina e santi


Madonna col Bambino e san
Giovanni Battista

Effusio sanguinis

Ritratto di una dama

Madonna col Bambino
Madonna col Bambino e san
Giovanni Battista

Battesimo di Cristo

Monday, August 15, 2022

Red Hair in Art: Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1872 - 1945) was an English artist known for her paintings, book illustrations, and a number of works in stained glass.

She was trained first at the Crystal Palace School of Art, under Herbert Bone and entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1896. Her first major painting was The Pale Complexion of True Love (1899). She soon began exhibiting her oil paintings at the Royal Academy, and her watercolours at the Dowdeswell Gallery, where she had several solo exhibitions. While at the academy, Fortescue-Brickdale came under the influence of John Byam Liston Shaw, a protégé of John Everett Millais.

In 1909, Ernest Brown, of the Leicester Galleries, commissioned a series of 28 watercolour illustrations to Tennyson's Idylls of the King, which Fortescue-Brickdale painted over two years. They were exhibited at the gallery in 1911, and 24 of them were published the following year in a deluxe edition of the first four Idylls.

Fortescue-Brickdale exhibited at the first exhibition of the Society of Graphic Art in 1921. Her 1921 World War I memorial to the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry is in York Minster.

The Forerunner

Time the Physician

Today for Me

Youth and the Lady

Kate Barlass

Idylls of the King (Vivien)

Idylls of the King
(O master do you love my tender rhyme)

Idylls of the King (Guinevere)


The Introduction

Friday, August 12, 2022

Red-haired Pyrrha

If you have read Neil Scott’s book An Esotheric History of Red Hair, you’re already familiar with the name Pyrrha. The name derives from the Greek adjective πυρρός, purrhos, i.e. "flame coloured", "the colour of fire", "fiery red" or simply "red" or "reddish".

In Greek mythology there are at least three characters with this name. Two are those that interest us.

The first is the daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora and wife of Deucalion. They had three sons, Hellen, Amphictyon, Orestheus; and three daughters Protogeneia, Pandora II and Thyia. She is describes as red-haired by Horace (Odes, 1.5) and Ovid (Metamorphoses). Pyrrha and Deucalion are at the centre of the Greek myth of the deluge. The two versions (Horace’s and Ovid’s) are slightly different from each other, but the core is still identical. Deucalion and Pyrrha are the only survivors of the deluge and consulted the oracle of Themis about how to repopulate the earth. They were told to throw the bones of the mother Gaia behind their shoulders, being the “bones” the rocks. They threw the rocks behind their shoulders, which soon began to lose their hardness and change form. Eventually, the stones thrown by Pyrrha became women; those thrown by Deucalion became men (here you can find both the myths recounted in more detail).

So, according to this myth, all women are the daughters of a red-haired mother.

The Flood, by Paul Menwart
Deucalion and Pyrrha,
by Giovanni Maria Bottalla

Pyrrha (Louvre Museum)

The other mythological episode in which we find the name Pyrrha is that of Achilles on Skyros, which is part of the myth of Achilles. The episode doesn’t exist in Homer's epic poem Iliad, but it’s written down in detail in some later versions of the story, particularly the Achilleid by the Roman poet Statius.

According to ancient sources, the nymph Thetis, rather than allow her son Achilles to die at Troy as prophesied, sent him to live at the court of Lycomedes, king of Skyros, disguised as another daughter of the king or as a lady-in-waiting, under the name Pyrrha "the red-haired" (or Issa, or Kerkysera, depending on the source). There Achilles had an affair with Deidamia, one of the daughters of Lycomedes, and they had one or two sons, Neoptolemus and Oneiros. Since another prophecy suggested that the Trojan War would not be won without Achilles, Odysseus and several other Achaean leaders went to Skyros to find him. Odysseus discovered Achilles by offering gifts, adornments and musical instruments as well as weapons, to the king's daughters, and then having his companions imitate the noises of an enemy's attack on the island (most notably, making a blast of a trumpet heard), which prompted Achilles to reveal himself by picking a weapon to fight back, and together they departed for the Trojan War.

Achilles Discovered among the Daughters
of Lykomedes, by Gérard de Lairesse

Achilles among the Daughters of
Lykomedes, by Jan de Bray

This means that Achilles might have had red hair, and this hypothesis is reinforced by the fact that his and Deidamia’s son Neoptolemus is also called Pyrrhus. He became the mythical progenitor of the ruling dynasty of the Molossians of ancient Epirus and, according to the myth, an ancestor of Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great. Neoptolemus was described by the chronicler Malalas in his account of the Chronography as "of good stature, good chest, thin, white, good nose, ruddy hair, wooly hair, light-eyed, big-eyed, blond eyebrows, blond beginnings of a beard, round-faced, precipitate, daring, agile, a fierce fighter" (Chronography, 5.104). Meanwhile, in the account of Dares the Phrygian, he was illustrated as ". . .large, robust, and easily irritated. He lisped slightly, and was good-looking, with hooked nose, round eyes, and shaggy eyebrows (History of the Fall of Troy ,13).

Interestingly, in Dares the Phrygian’s account of the war of Troy, Achilles is described as “chestnut-haired”, and other characters as auburn-haired: Aeneas, Cassandra, Menelaus and Meriones (although in Malalas’ account some of these descriptions are different).

Here are some details (referring to Ulysses discovering Achilles on Skyros) from a mosaic in a Roman villa in La Cueza.

The man on the right is Achilles

The man on the right is Ulysses

Priam aux pieds d'Achille,
1876, by Théobald Chartran

Andromaque and Pyrrhus,
by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin