Having found lists of obscure/obsolete color names and rounded out the alphabet with a few simply-charming-to-me colors, each day, I’ll introduce a color and a swatch I’ve painted and then write about whatever comes to mind as I muse about the day’s color. Fair warning, my mind is a non-linear traveler, so who knows where my contemplations will take us.
Z is for…
Zaffre – a deep, intense blue color
The first recorded use in English of zaffre as a color name was sometime in the 1550s, but its history is far older.
The word zaffre also refers to impure cobalt oxide, which was used to color glass blue, with extensive use in the Victorian age.
However, the first known example of cobalt glass dates around 2000 BCE and was found in Mesopotamia. About five centuries later, it appears in Egyptian pottery and then makes it to the Aegean area.
Besides coloring glass, it was used as an artist’s pigment in more modern times, However, as such, it was found to lose its color over time and is no longer used.
I love cobalt glass and keep a number of bottles lined up on the windowsills in my studio, where they can catch the light and delight me.
Years ago, I saw my first bottle tree, hung with cobalt bottles. I think perhaps I had first heard of them through Eudora Welty’s story Livvie:
“She knew that there could be a spell put in trees, and she was familiar from the time she was born with the way bottle trees kept evil spirits from coming into the house – by luring them inside the colored bottles, where they cannot get out again.”
The tradition of bottle trees originated in the Congo in the 9th century. It was believed that roaming spirits, usually considered evil, could be captured in a bottle. So empty glass bottles were placed outside of living spaces, and spirits, attracted to them would become caught and destroyed when the morning light hit them.
The practice of making bottle trees made it to America with the enslaved peoples of Africa and became widespread in the plantation regions of the South.
Bottles used in the trees can be any color, but cobalt blue is always the color of choice in the hoodoo folk-magic tradition.
These days bottle trees have been adopted as folk art, and as also seen as garden decorations, often with bottles simply placed on a pre-made metal frame.
As a flower essence practitioner and aromatherapist, smaller cobalt bottles are my go-to. Using glass bottles to store medicine dates back to the 1600s, and became widely popular in the 1700s. Glass was less reactive than ceramics, and colored glass helped protect its contents from light. Blue was the color of choice. When color became more widely used, a system of color coding developed. Blue bottles were assigned to store poison, although later, this changed to green.
I have a cobalt blue glass hand, on which I normally keep a poison ring – in tribute to the time when blue glass meant poison. But today, I’ve slipped on a sapphire ring, which looks perfectly zaffre, don’t you think?
I’ll end with a quote from Van Gogh:
“Cobalt is a divine color and there is nothing as fine for putting an atmosphere round things.”
What about you? Have a favorite color of glass? Ever seen a bottle tree? Are you feeling blue now that we’ve reached the end of the alphabet? Do tell – you know I’d love to hear.
Yours was a very interesting theme and I enjoyed reading our post. Thanks for joining us!
Thanks John. And once again I had a wonderful time playing in the challenge. Your work on the A-Z team is greatly appreciated.
I’m not familiar with the term “poison ring.” Is it like a mood ring?
I like cobalt blue glass but I do not own any; I tend to purchase red glass, especially ruby red depression glass. I have a small collection.
I have enjoyed reading your A-to-Z this year. All the nuances of color — and the various thought paths they cause one to wander down — have been delightful to explore. 🙂
Thanks for your kind words, Mrs. Fever. I certainly enjoyed your series as well.
Poison rings have a built-in secret compartment that can hold a stash of poison, which could, hopefully, surreptitiously be dumped in someone’s drink or food. I promise, though, I don’t use mine for nefarious purposes. 🙂
I love depression glass as well. My grandmother had a small collection, and her ruby piece was my absolute favorite. Having a July birthday, I’m rather partial to Ruby. As a kid I liked to imagine her glass was the real thing, and made up elaborate stories of how she came to have it.
I think a bottle tree sounds perfect! Congrats on another successful finish to your A to Z. I’ve loved the colors you presented.
Thanks, Janet. It’s been another fun April, hasn’t it?
It is a divine color! One of my favorites. The ring does look perfect on the hand.
You’re a true blue devotee, Margaret.
What a beautiful shade of blue! I’ve really enjoyed all your posts and congrats on completing the A to Z challenge.
My A to Z Blogs
DB McNicol – Small Delights, Simple Pleasures, and Significant Memories
My Snap Memories – My Life in Black & White
Thanks Donna. And double congrats to you for doing a double challenge, and doing them so well.
Very interesting theme. Happy to see the different shades of Blue.
Thanks, and I appreciate you stopping by.
Cobalt blue glass is definitely one of the great beauties of the world. When studying stained glass windows in churches, it is the cobalt and emerald colours that can pop – but I do tend to seek out and favour colours in the amber range, from yellow through to red.
Congrats on completing yet another wonderful abecedarium! YAM xx
Thanks for your kind words and visits, Ymaini.
My favorite blue n glass is any kind of blue-the blue of your glass hand or a lighter blue. Congratulations on completing the Challenge. I’m not blue because I look forward to resuming my normal blogging schedule after a month off.
Although cobalt is my favorite blue glass, I like the turquoise blue shades as well. So many beautiful things to appreciate! Congratulations to you as well, Alana, for completing the challenge, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Zaffre is a pretty shade of blue. I’ve seen blue glass that color, and now I know what it’s called!
I agree, it’s a pretty shade indeed. Thanks for your visits and comments, Chrys.
I had never heard of bottle trees – how intriguing. It’s like a version of the genie in the lamp.
‘I really like blue glass – such a rich colour. Zaffre is new to me, as well, as is ‘poison ring’ – I do like blog writers who teach me things.
Have you heard of Bristol blue glass? https://bristol-glass.co.uk/
Thank you for the link, Janice. I hadn’t known about Bristol blue glass, and it was fun to check it out.
I really love the A-to-Z challenge because I end the month feeling like I’ve learned so many new things, and been so genuinely inspired. How does it get better than that?
I love both blue glass and red – blue because of its bottle promise of exotic content an red because it reminds me of those giant coloured bottles they used to have I pharmacy’s, shaped like teardrops…
I wonder if any of Van Gogh’s Blues have faded – it’s more common for red pigments not to be lightfast.
I have really enjoyed your theme this year, though when have I not…
Apothecary glass, especially the colored pieces, simply delights me, and I can understand the appeal of the red teardrop.
There is indeed an issue with Van Gogh’s blues and reds being unstable. As glorious as his work is, it’s interesting to imagine we might not be seeing it as initially intended.
Thank you for your kind words and visits, Andrew. I’ve immensely enjoyed your posts as well. I still have more to read, so I’m glad they won’t disappear with April’s end.
Congratulations on making it through the A to Z!! Always an accomplishment. And I will have to look over your entries later, to find out more about color and all the interesting side-paths they lead you down. I liked the bottle thing today. Trapped, and then destroyed by the morning sun, eh? That is really fascinating. And, from the perspective of the evil spirits, sort of horrifying. But they shouldn’t have been so evil, I guess.
Thanks, Melanie – and congrats to you as well. April was a whirlwind, but I hope you had lots of fun, too. And yes, indeed, the harsh light of day isn’t very kind on those unrepentant evil spirits. 🙂
I love cobalt glass, too, and have some on my kitchen windowsill, as well as some in my cupboards for use. For a while I collected smashed blue glass whenever I saw it on the ground, because if you put it in a vessel when you fire it, it makes an awesome blue glass pool at the bottom. (But now I don’t have access to pottery-making any more.)
There really is something very magical about that color, and it’s a great word, too. (Have you ever looked up the etymology of “cobalt,” by the way? You would enjoy it.)
Alphabet of Alphabets: Zebras
How cool about the blue pool of glass! My SIL recently got rid of her kiln, and now I’m even more sad. On the other hand, you’ve totally cheered me up by steering me to the etymology of cobalt. How fun!