The Rainbow Bridge
Rainbows in Art, Myth, and Science

2001   THE RAINBOW BRIDGE: Rainbows in Art, Myth, and Science ,
by  Raymond L. Lee, Jr ., and Alistair B Fraser.
( Pennsylvania State Press :, 2001.408 pp.ISBN: 0271019778).

This book was a twenty-year project for Alistair and his (former) doctoral student, Ray Lee.

Jacket blurb:

Venerated as god and goddess, feared as demon and pestilence, trusted as battle omen, and used as a proving ground for optical theories, the rainbow’s image is woven into the fabric of our past and present. From antiquity to the nineteenth century, the rainbow has played a vital role in both inspiring and testing new ideas about the physical world. Although scientists today understand the rainbow’s underlying optics fairly well, its subtle variability in nature has yet to be fully explained.

Throughout history the rainbow has been seen primarily as a symbol--of peace, covenant, or divine sanction--rather than as a natural phenomenon. Lee and Fraser discuss the role the rainbow has played in societies throughout the ages, contrasting its guises as a sign of optimism, bearer of Greek gods’ messages of war and retribution, and a symbol of the Judeo-Christian bridge to the divine.

The authors traverse the bridges between the rainbow’s various roles as they explore its scientific, artistic, and folkloric visions. This unique book, exploring the rainbow from the perspectives of atmospheric optics, art history, color theory, and mythology, will inspire readers to gaze at the rainbow anew.


Nature (Nov. 29, 2001) described the book as: “Stunningly well informed about the art, science, philosophy and history of all eras since the Periclean Golden Age, unerringly elegant, flatteringly intelligent and beautifully illustrated, it is a masterful piece of accessible scholarship.”

Publishers Weekly (June 18, 2001) says: “This smart, impassioned cross-disciplinary study, with its many color photos and illustrations, provides an eight-course feast for the intellect and the eyes.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer says of the book: “Over it, under it, sideways, you name the angle: a spectacular cultural history of the rainbow in art, myth and science. It shimmers.”

Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (Sep. 2002) says that “The Rainbow Bridge traverses an immense ground with style, grace, wit, and insight. It will provide atmospheric scientists with an authoritative account of the scientific and cultural roots of their field. And perhaps most important, it wil make all of us better observers. Atmospheric scientists who may never have thought of themselves as cultured may find themselves with an ability to diagnose paintings with unexpected discrimination and knowledge.”

Notices of the American Mathematical Society (Dec. 2002) says that “This is a magnificent and scholarly book, exquisitely produced, and definitely not destined only for the coffee table. It is multifaceted in character, addressing rainbow-relevant aspects of mythology, religion, the history of art, art criticism, the history of optics, the theory of color, the philosophy of science, and advertising! The quality of the reproductions and photographs is superb. The authors are experts in meteorological optics, but their book draws on many other subdisciplines.”

Physics World (Nov. 2002)  says , “ Lee and Fraser are masters of prose, and their book is sumptuously produced and abundantly illustrated. They are to be congratulated for producing not only a definitive rainbow scholarship but also a gorgeous work of cultural synthesis.”