History of Color Theory


Color Theory is a formal approach that describes how colors mix together and interact with one another from a design perspective. The history of color theory begins with Aristotle and continues through the work of Johannes Itten.


  • In "On Sense and Sensible Objects," Aristotle described a seven color progression that could be traced to connect black and white. His linear scale was white, yellow, red, purple, green, blue and black.

Early 16th Century

  • In 1510, Leonardo da Vinci created a sketch of a linear view of colors that progressed from yellow to green to blue to red.

17th Century

  • In 1611, Aron Sigfrid Forsius wrote a dissertation on color, which theorized that white and black were the primary colors of the world from which all other colors were derived. In 1630, Englishman Robert Fludd created the first printed color wheel in a medical journal.

Isaac Newton

  • The color wheel created by scientist Isaac Newton had red, blue and yellow as primary colors with purple, green and orange as secondary colors.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe

  • Goethe took an innovative approach to color theory by adding the emotional impact of color upon people to the color wheel.

Johannes Itten

  • Johannes Itten built upon Goethe's work, incorporating emotional effects of color with the work that had been done by previous theorists; his color wheel is shown above.

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  • Photo Credit The color wheel of Johannes Itten
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