Saturday, 23 February 2008


The Romans used lapis as an aphrodisiac. The ground powder was mixed with milk and used as a compress to relieve ulcers and boils and, during the Middle Ages, lapis lazuli was believed to maintain the skeleton in healthy condition while keeping the spirit free from the negative emotions of fear and jealousy.

The euphonious name of the stone is derived from 'lapis', the Latin word for stone, and lāzaward, which comes from the Arabic and means blue (compare our word “azure”), but which ultimately is derived from the Persian word Lajward, the place where the rock was mined. The worth of this stone to the world of art is immeasurable, for the ultramarine of the Old Masters is nothing other than genuine lapis lazuli. Ground up into a powder and stirred up together with binding-agents, the marble-like gemstone can be used to manufacture radiant blue watercolours, tempera or oil-paints. Before the year 1834, when it became possible to produce this colour synthetically, the only ultramarine available was that valuable substance made from genuine lapis lazuli that shines out at us from many works of art today. Unlike all other blue pigments, which tend to fade in the light, it has lost none of its radiance to this very day. Nowadays, the blue pigment obtained from lapis lazuli is mainly used in restoration work.

Here is an Illuminated Manuscript Bible in Latin, from. Northern Italy, completed around 1273 AD. The brilliant blue of ultramarine is as splendid as the day it was painted on the parchment.

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