A Brief and Fascinating History of Ultramarine Blue

cciba history of ultramarine blue 1     cciba history of ultramarine blue 2

Left: Cropped image of Vermeer's, Girl with a Pearl Earring, ca. 1665.

Right: Cropped image of Sassoferrato's, The Virgin in Prayer, 1640–50.


Have you ever considered the history behind ultramarine blue? As a colour it has long been imbued with connotations of royalty, divinity and wealth. It turns out there is a very particular reason for this, the first and foremost being that it was outrageously expensive to have it sourced and made. Ravi Mangla narrates a fascinating historical tour of ultramarine blue in The Paris Review saying:


Derived from the lapis lazuli stone, the pigment was considered more precious than gold. For centuries, the lone source of ultramarine was an arid strip of mountains in northern Afghanistan. The process of extraction involved grinding the stone into a fine powder, infusing the deposits with melted wax, oils, and pine resin, and then kneading the product in a dilute lye solution. Because of its prohibitive costs, the color was traditionally restricted to the raiment of Christ or the Virgin Mary.


To read Ravi Mangla's full article in The Paris Review click here.

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