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Rhode Island School of Design

Color: Theory, Terminology, Science, and Symbolism: Definitions & Symbolism

A resource guide exploring the many facets of color

Getty & Berg Online

These sources are available through RISD Library's Databases A-Z

Art & Architecture Thesaurus is an authoritative source for the language and terminology used in art & architecture. Use it to gather terminology on a topic. For a sample of its content, begin by scanning the entries under color.


Berg Fashion Library - is a full-text, scholarly source for information relating to fashion and dress. See the article on Color in Dress.


Definitions & Terminology; Color Naming & Classification
Dictionary of Color
Color: universal language and dictionary of names
Dictionary of Colour a lexicon of the language of color

Glossary of Color Terms
Color Terminology (ebooks)

Historic Works
Werner's Nomenclature of Colours. 1821 (digitized)
See also Werner's Nomenclature Online

Répertoire de Couleurs. 1905 (digitized)
Color Standards and Color Nomenclature. 1912 (digitized)

Sudden Flight
Annie Besant &
C.W. Leadbeater

Color Symbolism, Meaning, Culture
Color and Culture: Practice & Meaning
from Antiquity to Abstraction

Color and Meaning: Art, Science, and Symbolism
Color Categories in thought and language
Color Compendium
Colors what they mean and how to make them
Dictionary of Symbols

Browse the subject Symbolism of Colors


Bibliographies on Color
Color Theory: a Guide to Information Sources
Faber Birren Collection of Books on Color

Many individual colors have their own subject heading- here's a sample from RISD's catalog:

black in art
blue in art
pink in art

red in art
yellow in art
green in art
white in art

TIP: Use these subjects to search meta-catalogs, such as Worldcat to find more items on specific colors. Use Interlibrary Loan to request items not owned by RISD, Brown or the Athenaeum. You may also suggest a purchase for the library's collection.

Dictionaries & Encyclopedias

See this article on Color from the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (2nd ed.) for a discussion of Color in the Arts and Color Science. Notice the bibliographies of these articles for further study.

Oxford English Dictionary Online-OED definitions include the origin of the word, its historical useage including its first appearance in the English language, cited quotations, pronunciation, spelling, and a date chart showing its useage over time. example: crimson

Credo Reference-includes full-text definitions and essays on a wide range of topics. See Munsell colour system

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