Wednesday, May 1, 2019

ULTRAMARINE BLUE : Colour of the month #9

Throughout history, blue colour was unobtainable or rare. Humans took many years to discover, understand and work with this colour.  It wasn’t easily found in nature making it quite difficult to extract. One of the most expensive blue colours in history, even more than gold is Ultramarine Blue due to its extensive production process and its origin.

Ultramarine Blue
‘Blue from beyond the seas’

Etymology: ultramarinus
Source: mineral
Chemical name: lazurite
Colour range: deep blue 

Ultramarine is a deep blue colour pigment originally extracted from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli and ground into powder since ancient times. The name comes from the latin word ‘ultramarinus’, which means blue from beyond the seas.

Image: Studio Laura Daza. Colour Provenance palette

Since the 7th millenium BC, the stone was imported to Europe from the mines in Afghanistan called Sar-e-Sang located in the northern area. Afghanistan was the source of lapis for the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilisations, also later on for the Greeks and Romans. 

Photo: Studio Laura Daza. Lapis lazuli stone

Lapis lazuli is a deep blue metamorphic rock used as a semi precious stone highly prized for its intense colour.  This stone is composed of the mineral lazurite, which gives the blue particles; pyrite crystals (fools gold) and other components.

Photo: Studio Laura Daza. Lapis lazuli stone

Ultramarine blue is the most difficult pigment to extract, because it is not extracted by just grinding the stone, otherwise a greyish blue powder was obtained. During the Middle Ages, an improved method was used, this process consisted of mixing the ground powder with melted wax, resins and oils, and then introduced in a lye solution.

Photo: Studio Laura Daza

Lapis when polished was made into jewellery, carvings, mosaics, ornaments and vases. During Renaissances times, the stone was grounded and the pigment had to be extracted through different processes used in frescoes and oil painting. Ultramarine was suitable for use in both oil and water media.

Photo: wikipedia. Painting Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian

Widely used during Renaissance times, usually used to depict the robes of the Virgin Mary by artists such as Masaccio, Titian, Vermeer, Michelangelo. Famous painting by Italian artists Titian, painted Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-23) also the Sixtine Chapel was painted using this pigment.

The 15th century artist Cennino Cennini wrote in his painters' handbook: "Ultramarine blue is a glorious, lovely and absolutely perfect pigment beyond all the pigments. It would not be possible to say anything about or do anything to it which would not make it more so."

Photo: Studio Laura Daza. DIY Colour Recipe Book

Ultramarine blue pigment was produced until the beginning of the 19th century until a synthetic ultramarine was invented in 1826. Modern sources for natural lapis lazuli include Russia, Chile and the United States.

Interested in learning more about Ultramarine Blue? 
Join us in the upcoming Colour Alchimia workshop in Milan, May 25th.

More info 
Also you may purchase our DIY Colour Recipe Book

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