SNP’s word of the day: Titian

Illustration by Lewis Mirrett
Illustration by Lewis Mirrett

Word: Titian

Meaning: The Italian Renaissance painter (c. 1488) known for naturalistic colour, realistic brushwork and versatility. He painted portraits, landscapes and religious images equally well—but in colour lexicon, he’s remembered for one thing: the auburn colour he painted. The term “titian” refers to a natural, though not usual, shade of red found in hair—famously created by the artist. He loved redheaded honeys like nobody’s business.

Usage: Rebekah Brooks, the ferociously ambitious titian-haired executive…” [Reuters]

You should know it because: 2011 is the Year of the Redhead. I say this because it’s so bloody hot I can’t remember anything before this week, and this week, titian-haired titans rule the news. Let’s think about why.

Brooks, the former Murdoch aide, News of the World editor and News International exec, was arrested in the heat of the phone-hacking scandal yesterday; she makes for a fascinating witch in the hunt. She, like so many redheads before her, is described with one of three cardinal Fs: “ferocious,” “fierce” and “feisty.” Also, er, “fone hacker?” Brooks is probably guilty, and we find this easier to believe because no one could have so wild a hair colour and be innocent. Just ask Lindsay Lohan.

Meanwhile, the incomparable Björk—who releases her multimedia album Biophilia today—has donned a wig that makes her look like our beloved Grace Coddington with a bad case of the statics, or maybe a burning bush. Why? Oh, you don’t ask Björk why. But there are many reasons to be a redhead: the attention, of course. The presumption that you’re on fire in the sheets (again, ask Lindsay). The deeper, mythic connection to our very roots of sexual desire and deviance: If you look at the Sistine Chapel (or GoogleImage it) there is Eve wearing nothing but a twisted rope of hair, the hue of a dying sun.

It’s no wonder that the early 20th-century heiress and muse Marchesa Luisa Casati, a legendary eccentric, with insatiable and destructive appetites, dyed her curls with henna. Or that when Rihanna went from good girl to bad, she also went a sour-cherry red (far too fake to be titian, but has been described as such). Or that my own childhood heroines, the ones who did all the things I didn’t dare, were natural-born gingers: the bad-tempered and romantic Anne of Green Gables, the merrily devilish Pippi Longstocking, the intrepid Nancy Drew. Or that one of the most (in)famous harbingers of American sexual liberation via birth control was the nurse, activist and redhead Margaret Sanger.

Truly, once you start thinking of redheads, you realize you love a disproportionate number of them: Florence Welch? Emma Stone? Tilda Swinton? If any of them had been alive in Titian’s time, they might have been burned at the stake for their evil-hued locks. Now they’re just on fire.