Shades of yellow
Hues of yellow
Lemon amber chrome gold
Burnt umber, bronze
A yellow butterfly
Escaping from the ghetto
A patch of yellow wall in Vermeers View of Delft
The Jewish Bride
Slashes of yellow satin sleeves
The little prince
Daffodils and sunflowers
A host of golden daffodils
Your hair is the color of gold
Linden trees turning gold
Rows of grapevines
The color of fall
But also the color of spring
A color is not just a color but is imbued with meaning, an intrinsic meaning, a universal meaning, a meaning that is only mine.
For Aciman it was blue – the blue of the ocean.
For Caravaggio it might have been red.
For Klimt, possibly yellow, as it is for me. Or gold.
A color synonymous with the metal that enchanted people of all periods.
That led to plunder and destruction.
That falsely deceived men into believeing it to be god.
Yet there was also the golden rule.
Not red or green or blue, but golden.
A ray of yellow sunlight unexpectedly sliding in through a window takes me back to many years ago in a museum in Amsterdam and the golden sleeve of an arm reaching protectively to rest a hand on the breast of a woman in a deep red-orange gown. A young art student on his first trip to Europe stands before the painting, entranced, face to face with Rembrandt’s Jewish Bride. That student too was golden-haired and inseparably in my memory is that glowing golden sleeve and the rapturous face of this young man confronted with a painting he had only dreamed about.
The lightness of a butterfly is yellow. In June of 1942 the butterfly that Pavel Friedman watched as it floated out of the ghetto “carried lightly ‘way up high.”… that “wished to kiss the world goodbye” was yellow.
Butterflies for Proust were also yellow, for in his In Search of Lost Time he described Bergotte , his gaze fixed “like a child with a yellow butterfly that he wanted to catch” on a precious fragment, a patch, of wall in Vermeer’s View of Delft. The patch of wall was yellow.
Wordsworth’s host of golden daffodils have been my companions from when I was in my teens. They are part of my culture as D’Annunzio’s Rain in pine woods or Leopardi’s L’Infinito are of the Italian culture. Mention daffodils to someone brought up in the English language and automatically the mind will go to Wordsworth, whereas it will mean nothing, like the fox that has not been tamed, to an Italian.
Since Saint-Exupèry’s fox did not eat bread, the wheat fields had nothing to say to him. And yet when he had been tamed, the grain, which is golden, brought his thoughts back to the little prince whose hair was the color of gold.
Reproductions of Van Gogh’s sunflowers and fields of wheat appear on scarves and purses in every “fine arts” showcase. They are all some shade of yellow and one wonders if Van Gogh could have painted any other flowers in any other color. Well, yes, he did. But it was his sunflowers that most of us associate with Van Gogh.
I don’t need his sunflowers, for I have my own yellow here in the neatly combed rows of golden vines scrolling up the hillsides, and the burnt umber foliage of the linden trees standing sentinel along the road leading into the city. New England has its blazing red maples to take one’s breath away, but Umbria has its softer autumn golds and yellows that rise up out of the mists in the morning. For Clive James his red Japanese maple was synonymous with that one last season in his life. The autumn colors here presage rebirth and spring and daffodils.