Why is it not a color:
White is not a color, technically. In light, it is mixture of all colors. A white object is reflecting back all colors, none are absorbed. Not true with pigments: mixing all colors will result in a muddy brown or gray.
Symbolism in Christian Art:
In Christian art this non-color has meanings: innocence, purity, holiness are some. In paintings of the Transfiguration, Christ wears it. In the Annunciation, between the Angel Gabriel and Mary, there is often a white lily in a vase. Liturgically, it is used during Christmas, Easter and Ascension.
Multi-Cultural meanings of White:
“… has the power to exorcise or forbid unacceptable things. Priests were dressed in it, and the dead are buried in white robes (The Hausa believe that it is a symbol of positive and desirable things. The word for this color, in their language (fari) is used as a word for good things: to have a white heart is to be equable, happy, and rejoicing.” However, in Japan and China, this color is associated with death and sickness.
White can be Deadly:
Chalk, zinc, barium, rice, or the shells of sea creatures were early sources for this pigment.The Dutch artist Vermeer used alabaster and quartz that gave it a luminescent effect. In Victoria Finlay’s book, Color: The History of the Palette, she discusses lead as a deadly ingredient of this pigment. Used in cosmetics, goblets and dishes, artwork, the Romans knew of its poisonous quality. A new method, the “stack” process, was developed in Rembrandt’s time. It resulted in lead carbonate. The process could be deadly to the workers. Finally, in 1994, the European Union banned the sale of lead paint, except under strict conditions. Now, titanium is the ingredient that has taken the place of lead in artists’ paints.