• Marina

Ultramarine

Пост обновлен 15 сент. 2019 г.


Lapis Lazuli – ‘The Blue Stone’ in Latin, is a semi-precious mineral from the mountains of Afghanistan. Many civilizations including the Ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamian, the Greeks, and Romans used it for decoration and jewellery.


No one appears to have used it as a pigment until much later. Not least because it’s difficult to process, but also because Lapis contains so many impurities. The result can be greyish and requires a special technique to make a true blue.


At the end of the Middle Ages, Lapis Lazuli was exported to Europe, where the process of grinding it into powder was refined and finally made into ‘Ultramarine’. This word in Latin means ‘beyond the sea’, because of its location. Ultramarine was used by some of the most important artists of the Renaissance and Baroque and was often reserved for paintings of the Virgin Mary, due to its cost.


Lapis Lazuli was arriving in Europe via Venice making the pigment relatively affordable for local artists. While the majority of Italian painters were saving ultramarine for the Virgin Mary, Venetians used it more freely and could paint other subjects such as the sky. It was more expensive for Northern European artists to purchase and Albrecht Dürer for example rarely used it, but when he did he always complained about its cost. When buying pigments in Antwerp in 1521 he paid almost one hundred times for ultramarine what he paid for other pigments.


In 1824 the Society for Encouraging National Industry in France offered 6,000 Francs to anyone who could create an affordable synthetic ultramarine. Four years later Jean-Baptiste Guimet, a French chemist won the prize. A year ago Christian Gmelin, a German chemist, made the same colour but kept his experiments in secret. The new syncretic colour was called French Ultramarine. It’s different from the original but it was so much cheaper than it soon replaced the expensive stone. You can still buy the genuine Ultramarine, but it costs its weight in gold – In fact, more.


Ultramarine is warmer than Prussian Blue, so I keep both colours on my palette. I only use French Ultramarine which you can see in the first photo in this post, in the second you can see the Lapis Lazuli stone.

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