Shades of blue
October 23, 2019 5:25 AM   Subscribe

Lapis lazuli is a deep-blue metamorphic rock that has been prized since antiquity for its intense color.
By the end of the Middle Ages, lapis lazuli began to be exported to Europe, where it was ground into powder and made into ultramarine, the finest and most expensive of all blue pigments. It was used by some of the most important artists of the Renaissance and Baroque, including Fra Angelico.
Shades of blue on wikipedia.
Via localstain
posted by growabrain (18 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Also important for enchantments.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 5:29 AM on October 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

The best stuff comes out of Afghanistan. There is a Wild West style story ongoing around Lapis production there waiting to be written. The elements are locals trying to eek out a living while their town is controlled by a few wealthy and corrupt guys at the top that have gangs of thugs. The bandits aka the Taliban occasionally show up; sometimes killing the rich guy; alternatively working for him. The government sometimes sends in soldiers to kick out the Taliban. They are not hero’s either. They’d like to stop the small time miners and instead bring in a foreign mining consortium to extract the revenues and skim most of the tax revenues for themselves.
posted by interogative mood at 6:14 AM on October 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Finally, a thread about my favorite Steven Universe character.
posted by xedrik at 6:38 AM on October 23, 2019 [12 favorites]

There's a similar story with Turquoise in the pre-Columbian Americas. Pretty much all the turquoise in the New World comes from the area around present-day Arizona and New Mexico. But that's far to the north of the main cultural centers of the Aztec and Maya, not to mention the Inca. Those cultures used turquoise in their art (see this phenomenal Aztec mask). They traded for it over a very long distance; any time you see turquoise in Meso-American art it's an indication of a very sophisticated long distance economy.

There's a theory the reason Chaco Canyon (in present New Mexico) was so relatively wealthy is that the Anasazi there controlled the turquoise trade.
posted by Nelson at 6:41 AM on October 23, 2019 [10 favorites]

Lapis lazuli? I hardly know him!
posted by aubilenon at 7:40 AM on October 23, 2019

So, let me make sure I'm getting this straight, the wax is just retaining the other, non-lapis components (i.e. calcite, sodalite, pyrite, etc) of the original rock? Is this a polar chemistry thing, or is it something else that allows the lazurite to wash out of the wax?
posted by Kyol at 7:46 AM on October 23, 2019

Thank you for stirring up some of the blue dust memories of my art history past...
posted by jim in austin at 7:56 AM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

While that strong lapis lazuli color is stunning, my absolute favorite is the softer cornflower blue (the shade in Girl with a Pearl Earring).
posted by sallybrown at 8:05 AM on October 23, 2019

There was a paper published earlier this year where they think they have discovered a forgotten medieval artist by the ultramarine pigment in the tartar on her teeth, presumably left there by the traditional artist's habit of sucking a brush to get a finer point. The woman who worked at a monastery was entirely forgotten by history, but may have been an exceptionally skilled, as working with a pigment as expensive as ultramarine was reserved for the grandest of manuscripts.

The (very academic) original paper considers several explanations of how the ultramarine ended up in her teeth, but considered the artist scenario as the simplest. The (more readable) Ars Technica article summarises the story quite neatly with a quote by Virginia Woolf: “For most of history, anonymous was a woman.”
posted by Eleven at 9:56 AM on October 23, 2019 [16 favorites]

All my eyes are cornflower blue.
posted by clavdivs at 10:11 AM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Eleven, there was a January FPP on that discovery, Discovery of pious Medieval women who quietly painted and wrote books; see also this article at The Atlantic.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:44 AM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

My favourite colour to work with.

Anyone who's ever diluted their ultramarine gouache from their nearest soda can will learn that sulfur's an important component of the pigment. The smell is memorably terrible.
posted by scruss at 11:23 AM on October 23, 2019

The perfect color blue is so hard to find - yet having the blues is so easily available.
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 11:29 AM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Stuff you Missed in History Class recently had an episode on ultramarine!
posted by dinty_moore at 11:49 AM on October 23, 2019

Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art by Christopher Moore
I'll just leave this here.
posted by DaddyNewt at 4:57 PM on October 23, 2019

I like Klein Blue and 'smalt' (cobalt blue glass) but lapis lazuli is also quite nice.
posted by Rash at 5:13 PM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Anyone who's ever diluted their ultramarine gouache from their nearest soda can will learn that sulfur's an important component of the pigment.

Sulfur is actually the only part of the pigment, the color comes from the tri-sulfur anion radical, S3-, trapped in a mineral.
Interestingly, this radical is a player in lithium sulfur batteries. If you boil some elemental sulfur in dimethyl formamide it will turn the same blue. Other chain lengths, S2- and S4-, will make red and yellow (these are hard to form), so that mixed solutions can be green and violet.
posted by 445supermag at 5:15 PM on October 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

Yay, I feel seen! :)
posted by lazuli at 7:35 PM on October 23, 2019 [10 favorites]

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