As he embarked upon his research, he began to notice a pattern—that red and green featured prominently in a vast majority of the screens. “After a while, I was quite surprised that those colors were repeated so often,” Bucklow noted. Although he wasn’t the first to notice the frequency of this color scheme, he was the first to speculate why this was the case.
Red and green’s significance depended on the medieval viewer’s intimate understanding of artists’ materials at that time. Most people today use smartphones and computers whose inner workings are a total mystery to them, Bucklow said. “But that is a relatively new phenomena. Up to the 17th century, people understood most of the cultural artifacts that they saw.”
When it came to paintings (such as those decorating the rood screens), viewers knew what materials had been used to create the different colors of paint. Red was derived from iron, while green came from copper. During medieval times, these metals were associated with planets—Mars and Venus, respectively.
And these associations went further. The planet Mars got its name from the Roman god of war, Venus from the goddess of love. In poetry, said Bucklow, Mars is typically described as red, while Venus is often pictured rising out of the green sea. In essence, pairing these colors “sets up the idea of duality: male and female, love and war, that kind of stuff,” he continued. Since rood screens were positioned between the lay people and the clergy, they offered a physical representation of the transition from a profane space to a sacred one. A palette of red and green, Bucklow theorized, may have been a way to emphasize this duality.