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Isabelline (animal colour)

File:Quarter Horse(REFON).jpg
Light Palomino Quarter Horse, which may be described as "Isabelline"

Isabelline (pronounced /ɪzəˈbɛlɪn/), sometimes called Isabella, is a colour, variously described as pale grey-yellow, pale fawn, pale cream-brown or parchment.

The first recorded use of Isabella as a colour name in English, according to the 1930 book A Dictionary of Color was in the year 1601 [1]; however, others argue for an earlier date of first use—see below.

With horses, Isabelline or Isabella Palomino are terms applied to very pale palomino horses whose coat colour is cream, pale yellow or almost white. It is sometimes also applied to cremellos. This term is not used to any significant degree in the United States, it is more commonly used in Europe. The term is also found in bird names, with reference to plumage colouring, in Isabelline Waterhen, Isabelline Wheatear and Isabelline Shrike. The Himalayan Brown Bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus), named subspecifically for its sandy colour, is sometimes known as the Isabelline Bear.



The genetic pigmentaion disorder "isabellinism", seen in birds, is a term derived from the colour. It is a form of leucism caused by a uniform reduction in the production and expression of melanin resulting in areas of plumage, normally black, being strongly faded, or isabelline, in appearance. Isabellinism has been reported in several species of penguin.[2]

In horses, this colour is created by the action of the cream gene, a type of incomplete dominant dilution gene that produces a horse with a gold coat and dark eyes when heterozygous, and a light cream-coloured horse with blue eyes when homozygous.

Myths and origins

According to popular legend, the name comes from Isabella, Archduchess of Austria (1566–1633), daughter of Philip II of Spain (1527–1598). Her husband, Albert VII, Archduke of Austria (1559–1621) laid siege to Ostend in July 1601 and Isabella, expecting a quick victory, vowed not to change her underwear until the city was taken. The siege lasted a little over three years (ending in September 1604) and her underwear understandably became discoloured in the interval.

This origin is demonstrably false, as the word was in use before 1601. In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I of England's wardrobe inventory included one rounde gowne of Isabella-colour satten [...] set with silver bangles. A more plausible, though probably still false, version refers to the much earlier Isabella I of Castile, the Catholic (1451–1504) and the eight-month siege of Granada by Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452–1516). This siege ended in January 1492 and again resulted in overworn underwear belonging to Isabella.[3]

In French (isabelle) and German (Isabella), the colour refers to a cremello or palomino horse. The name may derived from the Arabic word izah meaning "lion" and, by extension, lion-coloured.

In popular culture

  • An isabella palomino stallion called Thowra and his descendants starred in the series The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell


  1. Maerz and Paul A Dictionary of Color New York:1930 McGraw-Hill Page 197; Color Sample of Isabella: Page 49 Plate 13 Color Sample K7
  2. Everitt, David A.; Miskelly, Colin M. (2003). "A review of isabellinism in penguins". Notornis 50 (1): 43–51. http://www.notornis.org.nz/free_issues/Notornis_50-2003/Notornis_50_1_43.pdf. 
  3. World Wide Words

See also

  • Animal colouration
  • List of colours


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