Have you ever wondered what Lapis Lazuli is? As artists you may have heard its name being used to describe a particular type of blue, 'Lapis Blue' but never really knew it’s origins? Or it's association to Ultramarine? Lapis lazuli is the Latin word for ‘the blue stone’. It yields the more commonly known pigment called Ultramarine. Ultra, is Latin for ‘beyond’ and ‘sea’ - mare - marine. Beyond the Sea. The name refers to the remote inhospitable valley from which it was mined and the distance travelled over the sea by the traders.

The properties of Lapis Lazuli

Lapis Lazuli is thought of as a semi precious stone. It is, in fact, a rich deep-blue metamorphic rock (metaphoric means it has undergone transformation by heat, pressure, or other natural occurrences). The Lapis lazuli stone combines various minerals such as blue Lazurite, (which comes in many shades of blue, the more intense blue is favoured), and has flecks of white calcite and iron pyrite (fools gold). Other minerals can be found in some Lapis lazuli stone but to be truly called Lapis lazuli a rock must be distinctly blue in colour and have at least 25% blue Lazurite contained within it.

It has been used as a semi-precious gemstone in jewellery or crushed to make a powdered pigment used to paint the most significant artworks in history. It has also been used as a sculpting material to adorn objects of art. It is believed that the connection between humans and Lapis goes back at least 6500 years! There are several mines today in Chile, Russia, California, Colorado and Canada, however the Afghanistan mines still provide most of the world's demand for Lapis. The North East Afghanistan mines are the oldest and before the 18th century they were the only ones providing the Lapis.

Lapis Lazuli was originally found in the Sar-e-Sang Valley in the Badakhshan Mountains in northeast Afghanistan and through the Silk Road, which runs through the mountains of the Hindu Kush and found its way to many destinations including Europe, China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

It was highly treasured in ancient times by the civilisations of Mesopotamia where they used Lapis to adorn their temples, create jewellery and make seals. In Egypt it is believed that Cleopatra wore powdered Lapis Lazuli as eyeshadow! It has been desired by Egyptian Pharaohs and Roman Emperors alike. It can be found in the jewellery, coffin and the funeral Mask of King Tutankhamen set in Gold, used not just for its beautiful decorative quality but for its special healing properties.

Crystals of lazurite (the main mineral in lapis's lazuli) from the Sar-i Sang mine in Afghanistan, where lapis lazuli has been mined since the 7th Millennium BCE.
(Image source - Wikipedia)

A polished block of lapis lazuli
(Image source - Wikipedia)

Lapis Lazuli Healing Properties

 It was believed that putting Lapis Lazuli and Jasper around a living person would cure their ills. Lapis was a favoured deep blue stone used by the ancient Egyptians, where it was believed to lead the soul into immortality and open the heart to love. The Royal stone, it was said to contain the soul of the gods. And used in ancient Egypt around 1900 BC Lapis, Jasper, Carnelian and Turquoise were placed around the necks of newborn babies to protect them! 

Ancient Egyptian cult image of Ptah; 945–600 BCE; lapis lazuli; height of the figure: 5.2 cm, height of the dais: 0.4 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)(Image source - Wikipedia)

Lapis Lazuli meaning, Emotional healing and Crystal Healing 

It is believed the pharaohs celebrated Laps Lazuli because of its healing powers, and compelling energies. They saw it as being the 'Wisdom stone'. From this heritage of belief it is still considered to be a protection and healing stone from psychic attacks. Bringing harmony, and nurturing qualities of honesty, compassion, self knowledge, self expression, inner truth, inner peace, self awareness, and inner self, empowering all your senses! This all round natural blue stone is also used to relieve anxiety and negative thoughts especially when worn around the upper body as a necklace or as earrings. It is thought the stone will give the wearer lots of positive energy resulting in feelings of well being. Lapis lazuli is known to be a highly spiritual stone and is also know as the Stone of Truth and Friendship.

In Crystal healing Lazurite has been used to treat infections, respiratory and nervous systems, and is also used to reduce pain and soothe inflammation especially for those who suffer vocal issues and sore throats. It is believed that it also lowers blood pressure.

It is believed that Lapis lazuli metaphysical properties is a helpful tool for aiding and enhancing ones intellectual analysis, problem solving and creating new ideas. Lapis lazuli is also associated to the third Eye chakra, known as the mind's eye or inner eye, linked to mind consciousness and believed to provide perception beyond normal sight.

A piece of jewellery made from Lapis Lazuli supposedly bringing harmony, nurturing qualities of honesty, compassion, self knowledge, self expression, inner truth, inner peace, self awareness, and inner self.

Natural ultramarine pigment made from ground lapis lazuli. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance it was the most expensive pigment available (gold being second) and was often reserved for depicting the robes of Angels or the Virgin Mary
(Image source - Wikipedia)

Natural Ultramarine pigment and famous works of Art

Around the 5th, 6th and 7th century AD a powdered pigment derived from Lapis was found in the cave paintings in Afghanistan and in Buddhist temples near the lapis mines.

Around the 10th to 12th century AD the pigment Ultramarine was also found in Chinese paintings and the Japanese artists used Ultramarine pigment to make ink for ukiyo-e printing. In India it was used for mural painting during the 11th, 12th and 17th Century and found in the Indian Mughal miniatures of the same time.

It was used in the west in the 14th and 15th centuries for illuminated manuscripts together with the vibrant red vermillion pigment and gold leaf off setting its vibrant blue. The Wilton Diptych (1395-1399) is a rare example of medieval painting using mostly ultramarine in various tones depicting the Virgin Mary and child surrounded by 11 Angles set in a meadow studded with flowers, unfortunately the Artist is unknown.

The Wilton Diptych; c. 1395–1399
(Image source - Wikipedia)

Albrecht Dürer, Adoration of the Magi. 1504. 99 × 113.5 cm. Oil on wood. Uffizi, Florence.
(Image source - Wikipedia)

The Annunciation, Oil transferred from wood to canvas, c. 1434. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 93 x 37 cm
(Image source - Wikipedia)

During the Middle Ages and Renaissance period, famous paintings such as the Annunciation by Jan Van Eyck, Adoration of the Magi by Durer and Death of Virgin By Hugo Van der Goes, all illustrate how Ultramarine blue elevates the paintings to the highest Religious status. 

Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian, 1522-23. Oil on canvas (applied onto conservation board 1968). 176.5 cm × 191 cm (69.5 in × 75 in).
(Image source - Wikipedia)

By the time it reached Europe it cost almost as much as Gold! It was known to be the finest and most expensive blue that painters could use. It was reserved for special commissions for the most wealthiest of patrons and reserved for the most important elements of a composition like the robes of the Virgin Mary and the sea or sky. Used by major Renaissance artists such as Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) active about 1506; died 1576, seen in his painting 'Bacchus and Ariadne' painted with ultramarine in the early 1520's. Swathes of royal blue fabric, set against a back drop of bright blue sky receding into a dark blue night sky. Leonardo da Vinci used ultramarine for the robes of the virgin Mary in 'Annunciation', Michelangelo for the sky in the Sistine Chapel fresco and for the robes of 'Mary of Nazareth' painted on church walls and for the painting 'Holy Family'. His painting 'The Entombment' was left unfinished as it is believed he couldn't afford the Ultramarine pigment. It is believed also that the Dutch Fine Art master Johanne Vermeer (1632-1675) ended up bankrupting his family for his lavish use of the natural Ultramarine pigment! One of his most famous paintings ‘Girl with the Pearl earring’ shows just how commanding ultramarine as a colour truly was and still is! Rich shades of blue ranging from intense blue in the folds of the girls oriental turban, through to paler silver blue hues created mixing lead white with ultramarine, depicting the light reflecting off the silk fabric. He used Ultramarine for his underpainting as an undercoat, in his layers of paint to alter the tone of other hues and in his top glazes to make his paintings shimmer. This is how he attained his sparkling jewel like highlights and atmospheric light.

Girl with a Pearl Earring. c. 1665. Oil on canvas. Dutch Golden Age painting. Dimensions 44.5 cm × 39 cm (17.5 in × 15 in).
(Image source - Wikipedia)

The distance travelled, rarity and the time consuming methods of converting the Lapis Lazuli rock to the natural Ultramarine pigment was the reason this was so expensive. Creating the pigment wasn't a single process of grinding the rock down containing Lazurite; the dark blue of the Lazurite had to be extracted from the Lapis Lazuli in a very time consuming manner, separating it from the other minerals present. This method of extraction came into being in the 12th century in Europe. The blue pigment known as the Lazulite could then be bought in various grades of pigment. The purest most intense blue was the most expensive. Ultramarine Ash was the lowest grade pigment and was usually added to oil to create glazes.

Professional artists can still buy the natural Ultramarine pigment today in either Oil or Watercolour paint, below are two of the well known brands available.

Michael Harding Lapis Lazuli Afghan Oil Paint.
Daniel Smith Lapis Lazuli Genuine Watercolour.

Synthetic Ultramarine 

It wasn’t until 1806 that two French chemists could analyse and were able to study the characteristics and mineral properties of Ultramarine. Twenty years later somewhere between 1824 and 1826 a French society offered the sum of 6000 francs to anyone who could develop an affordable synthetic alternative. This is when French Ultramarine was born by the French chemist Jean-Baptiste Guimet. He developed an almost identical alternative to the natural Ultramarine pigment.

The new synthetic version proved to be even more vivid than the natural Ultramarine, more consistent and much, much cheaper! some purists accused the new synthetic version 'French Ultramarine' of lacking depth due to the particles all being the same size, thus reflecting light in the same way. However by the 1870s French Ultramarine had become the standard paint to use and was soon adopted by the French Impressionists and many artists up to the present day. As chemistry advanced many synthetic substitutes can now be found for most of the expensive or historic colours used by artists today, making it affordable for both the professional and student of Art.

Ultramarine blue like many other synthetic pigments come in many variations of the hue. Some brands offer a slightly greener Ultramarine or a more warmer or cooler Ultramarine! the only way is to paint out your Ultramarines and look at the colour shift once dry on different substrates. What could be more satisfying than testing all the beautiful blue shades now on offer! The more professional paints will be more pigmented, so this will be reflected in the price. However student grade paints are now reliable, have a strong pigment coverage and are very affordable.

ARTdiscount stock Synthetic Ultramarine paint for every artistic endeavour

Ultramarine Watercolour paints, sticks, pans, half pans and tubes

  • W&N PROFESSIONAL WATER COLOUR STICKS SERIES 2
  • INDIVIDUAL STUDIO QUALITY WATERCOLOUR HALF PANS
  • WINSOR & NEWTON COTMAN WATERCOLOUR HALF PANS
  • WINSOR & NEWTON PROFESSIONAL WATERCOLOUR HALF PANS (SINGLES) SERIES 2
  • SENNELIER EXTRA-FINE WATERCOLOURS HALF PANS
  • WINSOR & NEWTON PROFESSIONAL WATERCOLOUR 14ML TUBES - SERIES 2
  • SENNELIER L’AQUARELLE ARTISTS WATERCOLOUR 10ML TUBES
  • DALER ROWNEY ARTISTS WATERCOLOUR 15ML TUBES - SERIES A & B

Ultramarine Acrylic paints

  • ARTDISCOUNT STUDIO HEAVY BODY ACRYLIC PAINTS - 200MLS TUBES
  • ARTDISCOUNT ACRYLIC PAINT IN 500ML - SINGLE BOTTLES
  • SYSTEM 3 ACRYLIC PAINT - 59ML
  • SYSTEM 3 ACRYLIC PAINT - 500MLS
  • SYSTEM 3 ACRYLIC PAINT - 2.25 LITRE
  • SYSTEM 3 HEAVY BODY PAINT - 59ML
  • WINSOR & NEWTON GALERIA ACRYLIC TUBES 60ML
  • WINSOR & NEWTON GALERIA ACRYLIC 500ML BOTTLES
  • WINSOR & NEWTON PROFESSIONAL ACRYLIC 60ML SERIES 2
  • GOLDEN HEAVY BODY ACRYLICS - 59ML TUBES - SERIES 2
  • GOLDEN HIGH FLOW ACRYLICS 30ML
  • DALER ROWNEY GRADUATE ACRYLIC PAINT 120ML
  • CRYLA ACRYLIC HEAVY BODY 75ML TUBES - SERIES A
  • LIQUITEX HEAVY BODY - 59ML TUBES
  • LIQUITEX BASICS ACRYLIC - 118ML TUBES
  • LIQUITEX PROFESSIONAL SOFT BODY ACRYLIC - 59ML
  • SENNELIER ABSTRACT ACRYLIC 120ML
View our Acrylic collection

Ultramarine Oil Paint

  • MICHAEL HARDING HANDMADE ARTISTS OIL COLOUR - 40ML TUBES
  • WINTON OIL COLOUR TUBES - 200ML
  • DALER ROWNEY ARTISTS OIL COLOUR 38ML TUBES - SERIES AB
  • DALER ROWNEY GRADUATE OIL COLOUR 200ML TUBE
  • DALER ROWNEY GEORGIAN OIL COLOUR TUBES - 38ML
  • WINSOR & NEWTON ARTISTS' OIL COLOUR 37ML SERIES 2
  • WINSOR & NEWTON ARTISTS' OIL COLOUR 37ML SERIES 1
  • ARTISAN WATER MIXABLE OIL COLOUR TUBES 37ML SERIES 1
  • ARTISAN WATER MIXABLE OIL COLOUR TUBES 200ML SERIES 1
  • GEORGIAN WATER MIXABLE OIL COLOURS - 200ML
  • BOB ROSS FLORAL SOFT OIL COLOURS - 37ML
View our Oil Paint collection

Ultramarine Inks for paper

  • FW ARTISTS INK INDIVIDUAL COLOURS - 29.5ML BOTTLES
  • SYSTEM 3 INK INDIVIDUAL COLOURS - 29.5ML BOTTLES
  • WINSOR & NEWTON DRAWING INKS INDIVIDUAL COLOURS - 14ML BOTTLES
View our Inks collection

Ultramarine Printing Inks

  • PERMASET AQUA STANDARD SCREEN PRINTING INK - 300ML
  • BRIAN CLEGG 300ML BLOCK/LINO PRINTING INKS
  • SYSTEM 3 TEXTILE SCREEN PRINTING ACRYLIC COLOUR - 250ML
  • SYSTEM 3 SCREEN PRINTING ACRYLIC COLOUR - 250ML
View our Printing Inks collection

Ultramarine pens, pastels, pencils and watercolour pencils

  • DERWENT INDIVIDUAL PASTEL PENCILS
  • DERWENT LIGHTFAST PENCILS - INDIVIDUALS
  • DERWENT COLOURSOFT PENCILS INDIVIDUALS
  • DERWENT WATERCOLOUR PENCILS INDIVIDUALS
  • DERWENT STUDIO PENCILS INDIVIDUALS
  • DERWENT PROCOLOUR PENCILS
  • COPIC CIAO MARKER TWIN TIPPED MARKERS (0 - C7)
  • FABER-CASTELL PITT ARTISTS PENS - BRUSH PEN
  • FABER - CASTELL PITT ARTISTS PENS - S/0.3MM COLOURED FIBERTIP PENS
  • FABER - CASTELL PITT ARTISTS PENS - S/0.3MM COLOURED FIBERTIP PENS
View our Drawing collection

Ultramarine Pigment

  • BRUSHO CRYSTAL COLOURS 15G POTS
  • SENNELIER ARTISTS QUALITY PIGMENTS
View our Pigments collection

A group shot of many ultramarine products we sell here at ARTdiscount.

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