Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Liturgical Colour of Rose: A Consideration

The question of Rose vestments for Gaudete Sunday in Advent and Laetare Sunday in Lent always excites some interest. With Gaudete Sunday coming up, and as many priests and parishes are in a mode now where they are acquiring and commissioning new vestments, (particularly so they have all the pieces for the celebration of the more ancient form of the Roman liturgy as well) I thought it would be of interest to show various examples of Rose vestments and explain why I think these in particular work quite well.

Let's begin with this vestment which comes from Tridentinum:

This particular vestment employs a lighter overall shade of rose which can often be difficult to achieve edifying results with, but the matte (i.e. non-shiny) nature of the fabric, the use of a rich yellow gold trim and the distinctive colours found within the fabric all contribute to giving the vestment interest and texture, making for a very pleasing result.

A second example comes from Saint Bede Studio in Australia. It employs a more muted form of Rose that has stronger purple undertones. This sort of choice would seem to work well when employing a non-brocaded fabric, or when the brocade is of the same shade.

Rose with noticeably purple undertones is certainly one appropriate expression as it helps link the colour of this Sunday back to the dominant colour of purple used throughout the rest of the liturgical season.

Rose also works particularly well when the rose fabric employs a silver brocade throughout, as well as using silver trims. This seems to work particularly well with a wide variety of shades of rose. As with the above example, it helps to break up the colour and make it more nuanced and subtle.

The above vestment comes off better in person than in this photo I must note as the silver isn't showing through as strongly in the photo as it does in person, but I think it still gets the basic idea across. I ran into this particular Rose vestment while Oxford, England this past summer.

However, the single most impressive and edifying example that I have seen comes from a parish in Rome courtesy of a photo over at WDTPRS that we've seen for the past couple of years there:

(A closeup of the fabric can be seen as well.)

You will see that it employs a Rose that has more red undertones with a very bright and impressive use of silver. Very nice indeed.

What Colour is Rose?

No doubt all of this will raise the whole question of what colours might constitute rose. Some might feel that one colour is too purple, one too pink, or one too red and so on.

In view of that, permit me to share this consideration I recently came across by Rome of the West which considers the matter through the lens of the history of dye-making. The blogger there considers how Rose might have been historically expressed by virtue of how the colour would have been made historically.

The Latin rosacea is translated as rose-colored, but of course roses can be red, white, pink, or yellow or many other colors in the warm part of the color gamut. So we ought to look closer at history.

Traditionally, textile dyes were made from organic sources, often with little or no special processing. Because of the limited number of natural dyes that were available before the introduction of the first synthetic dye in 1856, we can often quite accurately deduce the precise colors of historical textiles. The bright pink often used as the liturgical rose color probably dates no earlier than the 1960s, when fluorescent dyes were first broadly used.

Rose Madder is an organic dye, made from the root of the madder plant, which was extensively used until its active ingredient, alizarin, was synthesized in the late 19th century. This was the traditional rose-colored dye used since remote antiquity in Egypt. Due to its relative weakness, the use of this pigment was limited to textiles rather than for oil paint.

Here is a sample of a very bright Rose Madder:                         


However, Rose Madder dye can produce a pinker color:                         

The bright Rose madder seen above, would seem to be precisely the colour employed in the last vestment pictured above.

The lighter form of Rose would seem to be generally close to the other vestments pictured.

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