What kind of flag is that

Flags and their colors

First of all, the origin of all flags of the European cultural area - and in the world it shaped - lies in the coats of arms of the Middle Ages. First of all, these have their shape from the shields of knights. These shields were given personal characteristics because the armored knights were no longer recognizable or distinguishable on the battlefields. So you could keep track of things. Later it became a custom for the feudal lord (emperor, king, duke, etc.) to hand over a finished coat of arms when a henchman was enfeoffed. Heralds were on hand to give advice. This is how heraldry came about, a strict set of rules for the design of coats of arms.

The heralds cataloged and systematized the heraldic images in so-called heraldic scrolls, thus maintaining order. Heralds were also to be found on the battlefields; they were considered neutral and unassailable, as they could determine who had been wounded or who had been killed using the coats of arms on the shields or the items of clothing (often capes or cloaks) decorated with the coat of arms The course of the battle was very important.

Sometimes important feudal lords held personal banners with their coat of arms in high positions, so the henchman or servant knew in peacetime as in war where his master or leader was to be found.


The flag of the Portuguese royalty in the 14th and 15th centuries. century

In addition to these heraldic banners, there were also flags that were assigned to special troops or knights and mercenaries. In the crusades there were even flags for national contingents. The coat of arms banners became more and more widespread, were often elaborately crafted individual pieces, or the coat of arms motifs were painted on cloth. However, following the system of the feudal era, the coat of arms or the flag remained associated with the feudal lord. Also important in the history of colors were so-called vexilloids, often pieces of clothing that were worn on a pole, such as the blue cloak of the Virgin Mary, the blue cloak of Saint Martin, or the green cloak of the prophet Mohammed.

As trade flourished, became international and transcontinental, as maritime powers began to conquer the world, it had become important to create distinguishing marks for ships. They had to show the colors of the country, the city or the feudal lord, but in a simplified, optimized form that made it possible to differentiate between great distances. The flags and pennants of the ships were kept simpler in terms of color and design.

In the Napoleonic era, the national idea began to blossom. The inhabitant, farmer or citizen found a new identity that began to detach itself from the person of the prince and turned towards the country, state or even the nation. The old banners made way for simple flags - often with only a few structures or colors, and stood for common interests or identities. In addition, they had to be available en masse all at once, and consequently be quick and easy to manufacture.

The way of the colors led from the coats of arms to the banners and from there to flags and banners. Heraldry knows only six colors: red, blue, green and black (as colors), and gold and silver (as metals):

(By clicking on the colors you get explanations of the respective color)


A few other colors were added later, such as purple, brown and orange, or exotic species such as iron gray, ash colors and flesh colors.

There were also regional peculiarities, let's just think of the "Murado" (mulberry color) that occurs in Spain.

The colors on the coat of arms were assigned quite arbitrarily, without any major ulterior motives, although care was taken to ensure that at least one color was combined with a metal, and never color on color or metal on metal. In the interests of courtesy, these rules have been softened over time by using black outlines to limit the touching elements.

In principle, these colors and their rules would still be valid today and should cause little discussion. Unfortunately, however, it happened that - especially at the time when flags and banners appeared in large numbers and were mass-produced - no importance was attached to compliance with heraldic rules, and - far worse - shades of colors developed , So all possible conceivable colors and variants of blue, as light blue, azure blue, sky blue, dark blue, heraldry blue, aquamarine, Prussian blue, royal blue, British blue etc. This also happened with red or green, but not nearly as often and varied as is the case with blue. What was that?

First of all, the dyes used. In the Middle Ages, the colors of the coat of arms were painted on shields or stone reliefs. Usually these colors withstood their more or less heavy use with a certain resistance, and could easily and cheaply be touched up. For this purpose, unmixed, pure, mineral, rarely organic colors were used. Mineral colors were, for example, cobalt blue, ultramarine, vermilion, red lead, verdigris, Schweinfurt green, but also clay that can occur in certain colors, but also black obtained from soot. Instead of gold and silver, yellow (sulfur yellow) or white (lead white) were often used. Organic colors were egg yolks or dyes that could be obtained from snails or certain animals, such as crimson or purple. Depending on the raw material used and the concentration, each color naturally develops its own tone.

One can easily imagine that the concentration and quality of the color often differed because it was a question of money, or just the natural occurrence in quantity and composition. In the same way, the mixing of the colors, the binders and fixatives were by no means standardized, so that the individual colors could turn out to be quite different. But that was not a problem, because in heraldry, blue is blue and red is red, regardless of how it could be reproduced and used in reality. If access to the color raw materials, ideally always from a very specific source, was unrestricted and permanently possible, and a craftsmen working according to recipes could develop, then preferences for certain shades of colors developed during this time. Likewise, one cannot infer the color of historical flags from the original coloring of the coat of arms, because the textile dye must be completely different. It is absolutely clear that there had to be deviations here. But, as I said, no problem in the past. Alredy today.

The problem is that flags are viewed as historical finds with the modern eye and are quickly given a specific color name. Keyword "light blue"; completely ignoring the fact that the light blue is very likely to be attributed to washing out and fading, a property of indigo (woad) known and appropriately exploited to this day. Just think of the famous jeans. It gets even worse when the light blue is supposed to be a specific one. Bavaria now officially allows two shades of blue for its diamonds, even the lighter of the two is often rejected as being too "Prussian blue". How blue would you like it? Would you like a little more? Heraldically, of course, that's all nonsense.

With the increasing use of flags and banners, standardized processes had to be created that could produce results that were as uniform as possible. Experience in dyeing textiles had been around for a very long time, but the colors of the flags had to be able to withstand wind and weather particularly well, i.e. they had to be resistant. Textile colors are not mineral colors because they would be washed out. Dyes from various plants were used here. The most famous are woad (later indigo) and madder, with which there was a lively trade. The methods of fixing the colors were also important. It is easy to understand that only the industrial age with its norms and standards was able to create a certain stability here. Until the end of the 19th century, mainly natural colors were used for uniforms, clothing and flags for reasons of cost. Chemical textile dyes began to be used in Great Britain around 1860, but they did not gain acceptance until around 1890.

In the second half of the 19th century, the US Army designated its uniform color as dark blue, Prussian blue or navy blue (it was actually a very dark blue), the temporary pants color "sky blue" was changed to "Saxon blue" designated. And the navy blue became de facto black all over the world, as the blue "look" introduced for sailors in the 19th century in the aggressive, salty sea air had the tendency to extremely "darken".

What is and what was "dark blue" in the French army? One and the same dark blue, generated from indigo or woad, was called "royal blue" in royal France, "republican blue" in revolutionary France, and "imperial blue" in imperial Bonapartist France. Only in 1815 - during the 100 days after Napoléon's return - he ordered the blue to be "lighter colored" in order to save resources.

Another example of the subjective, visual color perception (quoted from Osprey-Verlag, "Men-At-Arms" series, Volume 334, page 2): The colors of the Spanish uniforms generally followed those of other European armies. However, blue meant a very dark blue, emerald green was a medium green, scarlet red was just red, but purple was more reddish than its British counterpart.

Or we will take the gray of the Confederate Army. Even today it is not simply referred to as "gray", but as "gray" and it encompasses shades from almost white to black-gray.

The industrial age naturally invited people to prefer very specific shades of color, which is reflected in the development of the colors of the flags. Especially in England, the first industrialized state, shades of certain colors came into fashion, so that a navy blue or a royal blue could appear. Especially with blue, an inflationary development began in modern times. Every potentate, every country, every nation now attached importance to "his" blue. The pinnacle of this development was reached with the flag of Sabah (federal state of Malaysia in the north of the island of Borneo). A single flag with three different shades of blue on it!


The flag of Sabah

Such excesses are encouraged by the industrial possibilities. Just think of the "Pantone Mixing System" (PMS), which today is unfortunately the standard for specifying colors on flags, which offers a palette of around 1,750 colors. It may be helpful to be able to say that the color should look like this or that, but it is overlooked that different pigments of a specific color can also be used in the formulation of the Pantone colors, which of course has an impact on the mixing result and the color stability . Just hold the color fields of two Pantone fans next to each other once. The deviations are already noticeable here.

In the years 2014/2015 there was an art project about the flag of the European Union. The initiators ordered European flags in all 28 member states of the European Union. The color of the European flag is set to "Pantone Reflex-Blue". Curiously, flags in 28 different shades of "Pantone Reflex-Blue" came from all 28 member states.


The flag of the European Union

It is often overlooked that the vast majority of print products are produced in the CMYK color space, i.e. all chromatic colors have to be mixed with cyan, magenta, yellow and black. This is only possible to a limited extent with pantone colors. The same applies to displays on monitors that are generated in the RGB (red-green-blue) color space.

Many print products that were printed with Pantone colors deviate from the original color scheme after just 10 minutes - i.e. during the drying process. This is a popular topic with advertising agencies to make print products bad without even knowing what you are talking about. Less studies and more practice would work wonders here.

Quelle / Source: Volker Preuß, Wappenkunde, Katechismus der Heraldik, Flaggen-Atlas Erde, Jürgen Kaltschmitt