Wool Merchant, Germany, 15th century. Image Source: Marchand de vêtements de laine. Tacuinum sanitatis, Ibn Butlân, Taqwim es Siha. Allemagne, Rhénanie, XVe siècle BNF, Département des Manuscrits, Division occidentale, Latin 9333, Fol. 103.
The Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) has a great online exhibition right now, based on documents it holds that show the history of the colour Red. (Thanks to -B.) Red was highly prized in the Middle Ages as the colour which provided earliest demonstration of technical knowledge and skill in dyeing fabrics.
Adoration of God. Image Source: Adoration de Dieu. Vincent de Beauvais (1190?-1264?) Speculum historiale (traduction Jean de Vignay), Miroir historial. Maître François, Enlumineur. France, Paris, 1463. BNF, Département des Manuscrits, Français 50, Fol. 13.
From the site: In most Indo-European societies, red, along with white and black, formed a three-centred system, around which, until the middle of the Middle-Ages, all social codes were organised.
Ceres, Goddess of Agriculture, 15th-16th centuries. Image Source: Cérès (déesse de l'agriculture, des moissons et de la fécondité). Boccace, De mulieribus claris (traduction anonyme). France, Cognac, XVe-XVIe siècles. BNF, Département des Manuscrits, Français 599, Fol. 8.
From the site: Red has been associated, since the beginning of time, with blood and fire, with life and vigour, with authority and beauty.
Men worshipping the dragon, from the Book of Revelation. Image Source: Les hommes adorent le Dragon rouge-feu qu'ils prennent pour le Christ. Bible. Grande-Bretagne, Salisbury, vers 1250. BNF, département des Manuscrits, Français 403 fol. 23. "Puis un second signe apparut au ciel: un énorme Dragon rouge-feu, à sept têtes et dix cornes, chaque tête surmontée d'un diadème. Sa queue balaie le tiers des étoiles du ciel et les précipite sur le terre." Apocalypse XII, 3.
From the site: Red became the colour of sign and signal, danger and prohibition…
Up to modern times, red has been associated in the West with the authority of the Church, monarchy, social hierarchy and, more recently, popular power. Those connotations now carry over, sometimes in an inverted, dangerous way, into new messages of power in advertising, consumption, entertainment, rebellion and revolution.
The Phantom of the Opera poster, 1926. Image Source: Affiche pour Le fantôme de l'Opéra. Archives sur les ballets russes de Diaguilev. Film de R Julian. Vaillant, affichiste. 1925. BNF, Estampes et photographie, Vaillant-Tr Gr rouleau 35.
From the site: Red has become the dominant colour in places of pleasure and entertainment. It is the colour of theatres where shows are given, where music is listened to, or where a play or an opera is performed. Everywhere theatres and concert halls are covered in red from floor to ceiling, from the seats to the curtains, to express at once the exceptional character of the place and the pleasure of being there. Without red, the celebration would not be complete, the pleasure not as great, the place more common.
Salome and the Dance of the Seven Veils, 20th century. Image Source: La Danse des sept voiles de Salomé avec à ses pieds la tête coupée de Jokanaan. Maquette de costume pour Salomé. Richard Strauss (1864-1949), Compositeur. France, XXe. BNF, Bibliothèque-musée de l'Opéra, D 216 M 12, Planche 2.
Over centuries, red also became the colour of love, eroticism and dangerous passion.