Green decor is capturing the attention of designers and homeowners alike this cozy season, which might be leading you to wonder about the vast history of the color green. Specifically, you might be wondering why the green pigment of choice right now seems to match the extra virgin olive oil in your pantry. From ancient Egyptian and Ancient Roman farmers and artisans came this fascinating non-primary color that is undeniably the preeminent hue of the moment. Join us on this fascinating journey through the history of olive oil green.
Olive Oil Green swatch from Pantone. Source.
The Historical Significance of Olive Oil Green
Ancient Civilizations and Olive Oil Green
The annals of history are full of references to olive oil, with its first usage found as far back as 6000 BCE in an ancient civilization situated in Haifa, the third-largest city in modern-day Israel. The early olive oil extraction methods were rudimentary but effective, involving the crushing of olives using stone presses. Historically, olive oil was utilized not just in cooking but also for lighting lamps, medicinal purposes and anointing in religious rituals.
The Mediterranean region, known for its rich history and cultural contributions, is often synonymous with olives and olive oil. As early as 2500 BCE, the island of Crete, then governed by the Minoan civilization, prized olive oil as one of its most important products. Olive oil’s influence would later ripple through the Roman Empire, making it an essential commodity within their empire. Ancient historian Pliny the Elder attested to the quality and affordability of Italian olive oil by the 1st century CE, declaring it "the best in the Mediterranean."
Olive trees in Erbil, Iraq. 2023. Source.
Beyond its functional uses, the olive tree is often used as a symbolic representation of peace and reconciliation. In Greek mythology, the tree's sacredness is evident in the naming of Athens. The city received its name in honor of the goddess Athena, whose gift of an olive tree eclipsed rival Poseidon's offering of a salt spring, thereby weaving olive oil into the very social and religious fabric of ancient society.
Throughout the centuries, the olive tree, oil and branch has stood as a prevailing symbol of both victory and peace. In Queen Elizabeth I’s portrait below, one can see her holding an olive branch, symbolizing her reign as a way to unify and restore peace to England.
Green as a symbol:
- The Earth's Canvas: Green is inextricably linked with the natural world, symbolizing life, growth and fertility.
- Calm and Healing: Its serene undertones are known to have a calming effect and are often associated with healing.
- Fortune and Wealth: In many Western cultures, green is synonymous with prosperity and good fortune.
- Freedom and Liberation: In some historical contexts, green has been the color of revolutionary movements.
- Immortality: In some myths, a green elixir is said to grant eternal life.
- Symbol of Youth: Classical literature often depicts youthful characters dressed in green, symbolizing inexperience and growth.
Olive Oil Green in Art History and Modern Decorating
It is no surprise that interior designers have dubbed this shade of green the “it” color of winter, 2023. It has been popping up in many different areas, of design, but perhaps its most obvious in interior spaces. As a versatile backdrop in a room, this warm green can offer a calming atmosphere while providing a sense of depth and sophistication. Its tonality complements a range of materials such as mahogany wood, gilded frames or fine porcelain, allowing for a seamless blend with an array of art pieces and historical objects.
Art History: Hues of Change
In the 18th and 19th centuries, as the Romantic artistic and intellectual movement swept through art and literature, green evolved to signify not just social rank but also emotional states. With artists focusing on the power of nature, specifically nature as the ultimate teacher or truth, the hue green expanded, or one might say harkened upon its former symbolic status, as the ultimate natural color. Renowned figures like Goethe lauded green as the ideal color to evoke rest, and artists like John Constable and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot used the hue to capture the idyllic pastoral scenes that contrasted sharply with the industrial grimness of their era.
The Bather By Childe Hassam. Circa 1905. M.S. Rau.
If you’re looking to make olive-oil green walls shine, we suggest choosing a painting like the one above with similar hues. In this remarkable post-impressionist painting by Childe Hassam, the artist captures the viewer's imagination through its poetic interplay between the human form and the surrounding green landscape. Hassam conjures an idyllic scene where a woman walks through an olive-oil hued spring forest.
The painting's symbolism is two-fold. First, it celebrates the natural state of the human body, a subject often explored within the broader Impressionist movement. Second, the figure is placed within the beauty of the natural world, evident in the lush green foliage that forms the backdrop to the central figure. Hassam employs a palette where the blues act as a counterpoint, serving to further emphasize the green hues of the leaves, creating a composition that transcends mere representation.
Through these artistic choices, Childe Hassam delivers a composition that transcends mere representation. It serves as an exploration of both the human condition and our intrinsic relationship with the natural environment, rendered through the nuanced application of color and form.
Incorporating Olive Oil Green into Your Jewelry Collection
The allure of green jewelry has captured the attention of connoisseurs for centuries. Much like its use in fine art, this shade is often linked with qualities such as wisdom, growth and harmony. These gemstones first arrived in ancient civilizations— peridot was highly prized in ancient Egypt and was believed to have protective qualities. Peridot, tourmaline and diamond all appear in the distinct shade of olive oil green, offering a unique blend of earthiness and sophistication.
Peridot Bracelet By Raymond Yard, 46.60 Carats. M.S. Rau.
When adding this color to your collection, it’s important to think of it as a neutral, blending seamlessly with both warm and cool palettes, while still exhibiting intensity. Consider items that showcase the color in its full depth and complexity, ideally framed with precious metals such as gold or platinum for contrast and prominence.
This peridot bracelet by Raymond Yard is a marvelous example of vibrant elegance. With five superb emerald-cut peridots totaling an impressive 46.60 carats, the gems retain their color and brilliance even in low-light conditions.
Chameleon Diamond Necklace, 4.41 Carats. M.S. Rau.
The chameleon diamond, particularly in shades of grayish yellow-green, stands as one of the most enigmatic and captivating varieties of gemstones known to collectors and connoisseurs. This rare diamond exhibits a remarkable optical phenomenon: it temporarily changes color when subjected to variations in light or temperature.
Originating from mines in regions of both South Africa and Russia, these diamonds are scientifically fascinating due to their complex structure involving trace elements and lattice defects, which facilitate their color-changing abilities. The yellow-green hue, specifically, presents an elegant interplay of light and color, echoing the mysteries of nature in its mutable appearance.
Raymond Yard Unheated Green Paraiba Ring, 3.65 Carats. M.S. Rau.
The green tourmaline is a distinct hue that comes from a complex interplay of elements such as iron and magnesium within the crystal lattice, giving the gem a depth and complexity rarely found in gemstones. Historically, tourmaline has been associated with protection, grounding and intellectual aptitude. Additionally, many jewelry connoisseurs attribute the olive-oil green variant with notions of wisdom, maturity and, of course, the beauty of the natural world.
Vases and Decorative Objects
Much like timeless antiques themselves, items featuring a warm yellowish-green coloration feel both enduring and evocative. Decorative pieces in this hue can elevate living spaces with an added layer of refinement. The integration of an objet d'art or vase in olive oil green can serve as a harmonious counterpoint in contemporary settings, inviting a dialogue between classical aesthetics and modern design. Here are a few items that can give you this blended aura of classic and calm.
Wedgwood Green Dip Tricolor Snake Handled Vase. Circa 1850. M.S. Rau.
The vase's yellowish green hue evokes the color of olives, and stands as a paramount example of tricolor jasperware from Wedgwood. Introduced by the esteemed firm in 1786, this kind of vase showcases the allure and grace of antiquity, all while incorporating modern technological advances.
The amphora form, with an elongated neck flanked by serpentine-entwined scroll handles—a rare motif even for Wedgwood—is further distinguished by an intricately applied frieze capturing the nuptials of Cupid and Psyche. Tricolor jasperware, particularly those featuring diceware patterns, remains exceedingly rare, rendering pieces of this caliber highly sought after by discerning collectors.
Jasper Gold Box
Jasper Gold Box With Burma Rubies. Circa 1880. M.S. Rau.
Green jasper, alternately known as heliotrope or "bloodstone" for its characteristic flecks of reddened hematite, is a particular form of chalcedony that has been revered since ancient times. Historically, it was said to confer invisibility to the possessor, to invoke solar eclipses and to maintain good health. By the 18th century, English and German craftsmen used green jasper to carve and produce seals, signet rings and snuff boxes.
This exquisite French jasper and gold box created around 1880 is accented with Burma rubies, emeralds and enamel. Crafted in the Egyptian Revival style, objets d’art such as these were commissioned by wealthy aristocracy and were certainly seen as status symbols.
Camille Fauré Tulip Vase. Circa 1930. M.S. Rau.
Often cited by florists and interior designers, the incorporation of greenery like eucalyptus and ferns can significantly enhance the longevity and visual appeal of an interior setting. While vases are frequently designed with understated elegance to highlight the beauty of the floral displays they hold, there is an exceptional category of glasswork that takes this concept a step further. This remarkable art glass vase immortalizes floral motifs on the vase itself, offering a perpetual canvas that extols the beauty of the natural world.
Exemplifying the great Camille Fauré's signature artistry in intricate and colorful floral motifs, this enameled vase is particularly notable for its vibrant green coloration among the palette of yellows and reds. The green hues in the tulip designs are rendered even more radiant through Fauré's specialized technique of raised enameling. In this process, a luminous base is first crafted by applying silver leaf to copper, which is then enriched with an enamel paste. The composition is fired to achieve a lustrous quality that makes the green elements strikingly eye-catching.
As one of the most esteemed enamelers of the Art Deco period, Fauré's innovative contributions to the field have secured his place in art history. His works are prized collectibles that have found homes in eminent institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Corning Museum of Glass in New York.