Lapis Lazuli – Ultramarine Blue is Deep – Classic Color Series

Lapis Lazuli Ultramarine is one deep and gorgeous color and has remained so since Egyptian times (3500BC). Found richly inlaid in the sarcophagus of King Tut, the Egyptians used lapis extensively in the jewelry of kings and queens, ground it into eye shadow, powder for dyes, and medicinal elixirs. It continued to inspire throughout the centuries and today, it is a color-for-all-seasons with great appeal for all types of creatives from every field of design.

Dry Pigment

The earliest recorded use of Lapis Lazuli as a pigment was the 700-900 AD cave paintings near the Sar-e-Sang mine in Afghanistan, known as the finest source of this mineral. The Latin name “ultramarinus” refers to the hue of Lapis and literally means “beyond the sea” because it was eventually imported to Europe from Asia by sea.

This sumptuous hue was the most expensive pigment in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, of higher value than gold and truly exotic because of it’s place of origin. The natural pigment, genuine ultramarine, made of the powder of the crushed Lapis Lazuli, was manufactured in Europe by the finest color men (Sennelier, Winsor and Newton) until the late 1930’s, when good quality stone was no longer available.


Lapis lazuli, arrived in Italy from the mines in Afghanistan.

13th century European recipes for genuine ultramarine pigment described the best methods for extraction of this hue from Lapis lazuli:

“The powdered lapis lazuli was mixed with a pastille of pine resin, mastic, wax or linseed oil boiled together. The mass was soaked and kneaded in lye until the color was extracted.”

The need developed for synthetic ultramarine in Europe, and France took it upon itself to develop a new chemistry for this paint color that could carry the same effects as the genuine ultramarine pigment. In the 19th century, synthetic ultramarine was manufactured in France, Italy, Germany, Belgium and the US. This version of ultramarine blue was a little brighter than genuine ultramarine.

The raw materials used to manufacture synthetic or French Ultramarine:
A pure clay, with silica and alumina in the proportions of, or close to –

SiO2:Al2O3 (kaolin)
Anhydrous Sodium Sulphate – Na2SO4
Anhydrous Sodium Carbonate – Na2CO3
Powdered sulphur
Powdered charcoal, relatively ash-free coal or colophony in lumps.

”The materials are baked together in closed crucibles in a kiln and then slowly cooled. This produces a greenish porous cake which is powdered. A little sulphur is added followed by gentle roasting for several hours. The resultant material is again powdered, and then washed and dried. At this stage further calcination may be required to develop the exact ultramarine hue and make it into paint.”

History of Art

“An art which isn’t based on feeling isn’t an art at all… feeling is the principle, the reds and yellows, a sufficient amount of blue to give the impression of air.” Paul Cezanne

Cezanne’s palette included a variety of blue pigments; ultramarine blue, cobalt blue and Prussian blue.

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ultramarine was used for frescoes when it was applied “secco” because fresco’s absorption rate made its use cost prohibitive. The pigment was mixed with a binding medium like egg and applied over dry plaster.

The Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer, 1632- 1675, extensively used natural ultramarine (pure lapis lazuli). Not only was it found in blue colored objects in his paintings, but also in the shaded portions of the white draperies, black marble tiles, green foliage, white washed walls and even the shadows of a vermillion orange gown.


Ultramarine Blue, when it is painted on walls, gives the feeling of sky and openness. This way, walls do not feel like walls, they can feel like air.

Footnote: Two legendary creatives associated with lapis lazuli are the artist, Frida Kahlo and the designer Yves Saint Laurent. Their homes in Mexico & Morocco are painted with ultramarine blue pigment.

Daily Life

If you drive a dark blue car, trend forecasters and colorists say it exudes credibility, confidence, and dependability. If your vehicle is a Light or Mid-Blue, it’s different; Coolness, calmness, faithfulness, and quietude. Ultramarine blue labels are associated with coolness and lightness. It is the color of the heart and has a positive connotation used for commercial or business purposes.

Victoria Redshaw – a well-known trend forecaster, recommended Lapis Lazuli as a top ten color for 2012. She stated: “If I had to point to one blue that would work across a broad range of products and will also appeal to both contemporary and classic consumer design tastes, then Lapis Lazuli is IT! This is a color to be brave with…it needs to be applied as a solid block. It’ll look equally stunning on large pieces – like a sofa, or small items – like a lamp”.


The color blue signified distance and volume to Matisse, and early in his career, he painted solid slabs of single color, a technique that became known as Fauvism. The Blue Nudes were some of the last known works by Matisse in 1952. This series emerged as the result of his lifetime challenge of combining contrasting and dominant tones.

In 1969, after a period of over thirty years, a supply of good quality lapis lazuli became available again in European countries. This enabled the manufacture of a limited quantity of genuine ultramarine pigment, which was offered as Artists’ Oil Color, Artists’ Water Color cakes and dry levigated powder in glass phials.”

Ultramarine is a vivid color, halfway between blue and purple. When it is set beside other pigments on the artist’s palette, it is one of the darkest, only black can be darker. ultramarine blue juxtaposed with titanium white creates the cold contrast of the San Juan Islands in northern Washington state in December.

The French artist, Yves Klein, 1928 -1962, began using a version of ultramarine in the post WW2 years. He synthesized his own blue, International Klein Blue and used this pigment to evoke his boundless vision of the world.“Blue Monochrome, 1961”, was defined by Yves Klein as an “open window to freedom; as the possibility of being immersed in the immeasurable existence of color.”


The ancient Egyptians used Lapis Lazuli as a symbol of Truth. When working or meditating with Lapis Lazuli, it is said to bring matters more clearly to the mind. It is a powerful stone, the energy of deep calm and a strong connection to cosmic wisdom.

Some believed that dreaming of lapis would foretell love that would be forever faithful – “true blue.” It was also used as a medieval cure for melancholy.

When spoken in English the word “blue” sometimes refers to sadness. The phrase “feeling blue” is linked to the custom of old sailing ships. If a ship loses her captain she would fly blue flags when returning to home port.

“Sky ocean sleep twilight”

Lapis Lazuli Ultramarine is a transcendent and spiritual hue, the color of the dark sky with pyrite stars and space, directing into infinity.


From the time of the ancient Egyptians, the blue depths of water personified the female principle. Lapis Lazuli honors Aphrodite, the Roman goddess who governed all aspects of human life, and is known for her beauty and passion; the “Queen of Heaven”.

Bluing or “Laundry blue” is a solution of synthetic ultramarine used for color corrective purposes when washing white clothes; to adjust the yellowish tinge often present in things meant to be white, such as linen, cotton or paper. This is interesting.

Ultramarine blue is the color of sky and water. It is the color of heavenly gods, distance, the divine, and the spiritual.


Image Captions:

(Middle pic in the banner) A watercolor and pencil drawing of fashion designer Bill Blass’s New York bedroom captures Biedermeier furniture and Napoléonic art. Jeremiah Goodman
History of Art

(banner image) “Portrait of Joaquim Gasquet”, 1896, by Paul Cezanne.
(banner image) “The Suitors Praying,” 1304-06, Giotto di Bondone, Scrovegni Chapel.
(banner image) “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, 1665, by Johannes Vermeer
(banner image) Blue Mosque, Afghanistan
(banner image) Edinburgh, Scotland
(banner image) House Plans LLC
The home of Frida Kahlo, Mexico
The home of Yves Laurent, Morocco
5. Daily Life
(banner image) “Ultramarine Dream”, Stacy Garcia Inc.

(banner image)“The Blue Nude” 1952, by Henri Matisse
(banner image)“Ultramarine” 1959, by Antonio Tapies
(banner image)“Blue Vista”, 2005, by Paula Griff McHugh
(text insert pic) “Blue Monochrome”, 1961, by Yves Klein