13 July 2017

Lapis Lazuli and the World's 'Most Perfect' Colour

Lapis lazuli is a semi-precious stone with a unique place in the History of Art…

Detail of 'Madonna and Child' Giovanni Bellini, Venice, c.1475-76. Ultramarine pigment created from ground Lapis Lazuli is used for the Virgin's Robe.

This vivid and intense blue rock, mottled with white calcite, has been mined in remote mountainous regions since antiquity; principally the Badakhshan mountains of modern day Afghanistan.

Before the discovery of smaller mines across the globe, these remote mountains were the only source of the rock known to Europeans. Travelling via the expanded east to west trade routes of the Medieval and Renaissance periods, lapis was ground into the pigment known as ‘Ultramarine'.

Declared by Italian painter Cennino Cennini as ‘the most perfect colour’ (The Book of Arts, 1400), the brilliance and rarity of the pigment usually reserved it for the adornment of angels and royalty, in particular the Virgin Mary. 

Through the influence of master painters Giotto, Masaccio and Bellini, the distinctive hue is now forever associated in visual culture with the robes of the Holy Mother.

Despite increased availability, the status of genuine lapis lazuli has endured and is used for fine jewellery, exquisite ornaments and striking decorative objects around the world.

If you would like to pick up your own piece of the world’s most perfect colour, we have curated a selection of objects available at Grays...

Fine carving from Lapis Lazuli depicting courtly ladies adorned with flowers. Chinese, mid 20th century. Available at Christopher Cavey and Associates

18ct Gold and Lapis Lazuli Castellated Seal. English ,Victorian c1839-1901. Available at The Antique Jewellery Company

Carved Lapis Lazuli Sculpture of a bird, Afghanistan, mid- 20th century. Available at Safiullah Shamas Antiques

Lapis Lazuli and Diamond Brooch, 1970s. Available at Michael Longmore

Free-form natural Lapis Lazuli. 20th century.  Available at Christopher Cavey and Associates

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