Lapis Lazuli: Ultramarine Blue
The beautiful blues in paintings from the Renaissance are thanks to the blue of lapis lazuli, the blue rock loved by the ancients, from Mesopotamia, to Egypt, to Persia, to Greece and Rome. The ancient city of Ur has a thriving trade in lapis as early as the fourth millennium B.C. The name is international, from the latin, lapis, which means stone, and from the Arabic, azul, which means blue.
When lapis was first introduced to Europe, it was called ultramarinum, which means beyond the sea. Ground lapis was the secret of the blue in ultramarine, the pigment which painters used to paint the sea and the sky until the nineteenth century. Lapis was also popular in inlays.
The columns of St Issac’s Cathedral in Petersburg are lined with lapis and the Pushkin Palace in Petersburg has lapis lazuli paneling!
The Romans believed that lapis was a powerful aphrodisiac. In the Middle Ages, it was thought to keep the limbs healthy and free the soul from error, envy and fear.
Lapis is a dark blue microcrystalline rock composed primarily of the mineral lazurite. It often sparkles with golden pyrite inclusions.
Lapis lazuli is still mined at the deposits of the ancient world in Afghanistan. Lapis is also mined in Chile. Small quantities are also produced in Siberia, in Colorado in the United States, and in Myanmar.
Lapis lazuli is somewhat porous and should be protected from chemicals and solvents. Warm soapy water is the best way to clean it. Lapis is not very hard at 5.5 and should be protected from other jewelry when stored to avoid scratches.