How Purple Was Made

Hercules' Dog Discovers Purple Dye

The Discovery of Purple by Hercules’ Dog by Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1636) 

The color purple is historically associated with royalty and wealth because creating purple dye was an expensive process. In ancient times, purple was referred to as Tyrian Purple because the dye was traded out of Tyre, a city in Phoenicia. The city still stands in what is now modern day Lebanon. The color was created from the mucus of murex snails that lived, and continue to live, by the Mediterranean Sea.

Coincidentally, myth indirectly connects the creation of the color purple to Athena. It is said that Hercules, Athena’s half-brother, was walking by the Mediterranean shore with his dog. The dog bit a murex and began to drool purple saliva. And that is how the color purple came to be. In 1636, Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens depicted the discovery of the color purple by Hercules and his dog in The Discovery of Purple by Hercules’ Dog. The painting is housed in the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.

In order to create one ounce of purple dye from the snails, harvesters needed 250,000 snails. Due to the tedious process of creating the color, purple die was very expensive and reserved for royalty. Once synthetic dyes became readily available, purple became affordable to the masses. 

Purple Things

As iconic as the color purple is, it’s no surprise that there’s a plethora of references to the color in popular culture and history. Here are some of our favorite purple things and purple facts:

  • Purple Rain, Prince’s 6th studio album
  • The Color Purple, 1983 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Alice Walker 
  • The Pantone Color Institute has declared ultra violet, a shade of purple, to be the color of 2018 
  • The Purple Heart, a military decoration awarded to those wounded to killed in action 
  • The CHS and CHSAA logos 
  • There are several Purple Mountains in the world, with 5 in the US. The right combination of light, angles, distance, and atmosphere in those areas make the mountains appear purple 
  • Purple is the color of the Suffragette Movement 
  • Purple technically does not exist on the visible spectrum and is considered by scientists to be a non-spectral color
  • The British Royal Family often uses purple on celebratory occasions. In 1958, there was a purple stamp of Queen Elizabeth II. The ticket for her coronation 5 years earlier was purple. There was purple in the queens train and crown and in the curtains behind her and The Duke of Edinburgh in their official coronation portrait 

What’s your favorite purple fact or thing?