RE: Chromatic font research

From: Marco Cimarosti (
Date: Thu Jun 27 2002 - 07:30:52 EDT

I (Marco Cimarosti) wrote:
> Michael Everson wrote:
> > Marco said:
> >
> > >MC> However, the Aztec script uses color has a structural element:
> > >MC> signs with the same design can mean different things if
> > painted in
> > >MC> different colors.
> >
> > Has it? Reference?
> The best I can come up with from my private library is a
> single paragraph on
> a book about the history of writing in general ("Storia
> universale della
> scrittura" by Giorgio R. Cardona, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore,
> Milano 1986,
> chapter XII "Le scritture del continente americano", 2 "Le scritture
> mesoamericane", "Area azteca e olmeca", page 257):

I noticed only now that this book also has a specific chapter about color
(II-VII "La scrittura colorata", pages 85-87). The chapter refers how color
was and is applied to writing by different cultures. Most of these usages
involve coloring whole glyphs or the background: what we moderns would call

However, at the very end of the chapter, the author deals again with
Meso-American writing system, stating more clearly that color was a
structural element, which could even form minimal pairs:

        "L'uso più cospicuo del simbolismo dei colori in un sistema grafico
è dato dai manoscritti mesoamericani; le figurazioni e i glifi hanno le
varie parti colorate con colori precisi, legati a un simbolismo che in parte
conosciamo e che rimanda al pantheon delle divinità, alla divisione dello
spazio, agli elementi componenti del cosmo. Anche le rappresentazioni a
bassorilievo erano in realtà colorate, benché [ciò] si possa ricostruire
solo congetturalmente. Questi colori erano decifrati esattamente come
qualsiasi [altra] componente della scrittura, e in certi casi il colore è
l'unico determinante in glifi per il resto uguali."

        (my translation: "The most important use of color symbolism in a
graphical system is found in the Meso-American manuscripts; the pictures and
the glyphs have their various parts colored with well-defined colors, bound
to a symbolism that we know in part, and which refers to the deities
pantheon, to the subdivision of space, to the elements composing the world.
Actually, also the bass-relief representation were colored, although [this]
can only be reconstructed by guesswork. These colors were deciphered exactly
like any [other] component of the writing system, and in some cases color
was the only difference {determinant} in glyphs otherwise identical."

_ Marco

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