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Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Lapis Lazuli

Lapis Lazuli, the name comes from Lapis, Latin for 'stone' and  Lazhuward, Persian for 'blue'. It has been mined almost exclusively, in north-eastern Afghanistan and a part of Pakistan for nine centuries. It was used to fashion the eyebrows on the funeral mask of Tutankhamen over 3,300 years ago.

It is a mineral rock which provides the most intense deep blue pigment. When it began to be imported into Europe in the Middle Ages, blue was a difficult and expensive colour for artists to obtain and it became the basis of French Ultramarine paint for centuries until artificial pigment could be manufactured. This had the effect of making it rare and costly so that it became a status symbol in art in much the same way as gold leaf. 
The Madonna, Sassoferrato, 17th century
Blue colours symbolise Heavenly Grace in Medieval art as well as hope, good health and the state of servitude. The Virgin Mary is frequently depicted wearing blue clothing to indicate heavenly chastity.

It is useful to bear in mind that this rule, as with all symbolism, should not be seen as immutable; artists were free to create alternative values but the 'meaning' of a picture would often need to be 'read' through it's depictions and colours.
I'm listening to George Harrison singing 
Bob Dylan's 'If Not For You' from 
All Things Must Pass.

8 comments:

Hels said...

*nod* Lots of artists wanted lapis lazuli so even though it was rare and costly, they must have been prepared to sell one of their kidneys to get it. Now Johannes Vermeer didn't have enough money even to feed his vast flock of children, so I am assuming mother-in-law helped out... as usual! The Milkmaid (1658) was lush, while his Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) was more subtle. My favourite was A Young Woman Seated At A Virginal (1671).

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

I have aways loved the color blue. To me, it is the color of hope and peace.

bazza said...

Hels: I was going to show The Milkmaid but it was one of my Painting of the Month series some time ago but I adore it. I suppose the artists patrons would have paid for materials in many cases.

bazza said...

Arleen: Yes, I mentioned the attribute of Hope. There are many things about a painting that one can't know by merely looking at it!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - I love lapis ... and the fact it's been so precious over the centuries, if not millennia. I need to look more into paintings and understand why they were painted - i.e. as you mention through the colours and the way it is depicted. I didn't know about Giovanni Battista Salvi either ... so I keep learning (very slowly) .... cheers Hilary

bazza said...

Hello Hilary. 'Reading' paintings is a notoriously dodgy practice because the symbols, colours etc can mean different things at different times and places. Ultramarine signified 'servitude' but only in England at a certain time. It's lots of fun though!

All Consuming said...

I love that colour, it's so very vivid and being a fan of rocks and minerals too I'm even keener. Oil paints have a much stronger colour than acrylics I find and blues in particular are incredibly striking.

Have at this - http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/millais-mariana-t07553

I've seen many Pre Raphaelite paintings in 'the flesh' as our city art gallery is packed with them, and the colours are amazing.

bazza said...

I enjoy much of the Pre-Raphaelite output and Mariana is a gorgeous example, full of symbolism. By the time Millais made that painting synthetic ultramarine had been available for about twenty-five years. I presume you were referring to the Manchester Art Gallery - somewhere I would love to visit one day. Meanwhile I'll struggle by with the Tate, The National Gallery, The Wallace Collection and The Courtauld Institute!