Saturday, 23 February 2008


In Europe, this blue rocky material was valued as precious from ancient times when it was used in making jewellery, but also ground up as a pigment. Top quality lapis lazuli was sourced in the ancient world from the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan where is has been mined for more than 6500 years, but other sources now also include Siberia, Chile, the U.S., Pakistan, and Canada. If one was painting with such a precious material as lapis lazuli (from which the finest ultramarine blue was made), the expanses of blue that one would plan for in one’s paintings depended on the size of one’s purse. The noble and the rich could afford to paint their ceilings with ultramarine and the extravagance of their paintings could be gauged by the amount of blue they instructed the artist to use when painting.

Lapis is considered a rock, not a mineral. This is because it combines various minerals in a complex and intimate mixture. It is composed mainly of lazurite, but also contains calcite (white), sodalite (blue) and pyrite (fools' gold, a metallic yellow) and to be considered a mineral it would have only one component. A strong blue, sometimes with a hint of violet characterises gem quality lapis lazuli, but its value decreases with the presence of white patches (calcite). In some uses, small veins of pyrite are often prized.

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