Lapis Lazuli - The Most Beautiful Blue

 If you follow us on Instagram you might have seen our new capsule collection already - With Love For Others. With this collection we wanted to give something back, beyond beauty. The situation in Afghanistan upset us deeply and so we were asking ourselves what we could do to help. As a brand from woman to woman, created by girls to bring love and beauty into the world, nothing is more close to us than the safety and welfare of all girls and women. Therefore we want to use this new capsule collection for a greater purpose. Our brand new midnight blue lapis pieces need to help spread love in a part of the world where this word has lost its meaning. For each unit sold, we will donate 1000,- NOK (100 €) to a charity for women and children in Afghanistan. At night we are all looking up to the same deep blue evening sky, some falling asleep quietly and peacefully, some without knowing what reality tomorrow will bring.

The collection consists of three different pieces of jewelry, all embedded with the beautiful blue Lapis lazuli - a pair of earrings, a bracelet, and a necklace. We love the combination of the gold and the blue and wanted to share a more in depth introduction to the interesting history of this beautiful blue stone.

What is it with the color blue that appeals to so many people? I do not think it is too wild of an assumption to say that blue is the color most people are the most fond of. And as the story goes, there is nothing new to this. Blue, and more specifically ultramarine made from the stone of Lapis Lazuli, is perhaps the color that is the most associated with beauty of them all. The Italian Renaissance painter Cennino Cennini even called it «illustrous, beautiful and most perfect, beyond all other colors.» But the story of the blue stone dates further back in time.

From ancient times Lapis Lazuli was linked to sacred and ceremonial usages, and it gained its high status thousand of years before Europeans got introduzed to it. It was discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun, as the eyes in his death mask. And the earthly Afrodite herself, Cleopatra, was rumoured to have used dust of the stone as her eyeshadow.

Today, the Lapis lazuli is mined from countries including China and Chile, but the story of the blue stone can be traced to the Sar-e-Sang mines in Afghanistan. The mines were famous already back then, and when Marco Polo visited in 1271, he wrote of the mountain «out of which the best and finest blue is mined.»

At the end of the Middle Ages, the small stones were transported by donkeys and camels along the Silk Road, before reaching the Mediterranean coast in Syria, where it was loaded on ships and sent to Europe. The first stop was Venice, from were it was further traded throughout the rest of Europe. Once in Europe, the stones were ground into powder and then made into the most exquisite, exclusive and expensive of blue pigments, called ultramarine. The ultramarine was a true blue, and an extraordinarily long-lasting one at that.

Its ability to almost shine on canvas made it a sought after material amongst artists, and it was such a noble good that oftentimes it was even prized over gold. It became especially popular during the Renaissance, much due to the period’s preoccupation with the Virgin Mary. From the 1400s it became the custom to depict her wearing blue cloaks or gowns, to symbolize her divinity. Due to the excessive use of the pigment, some of the depictions are as much a tribute to the color as to the Madonna herself, the most glorious example being Sassoferratos The Virgin in Prayer (1640-50).

The Virgin Mary in Prayer, Sassoferrato, National Gallery, London


One of the first Renaissance paintings showing off the beauty of the blue is Ariadne and Bacchus by the Venetian Titian (1485-1576), from the early 1520s. The Venetians were naturally the first ones to get their hands on the ultramarine pigment, litereally meaning beyond the sea. The further it was exported the more the price increased, but that didn’t stop it from becoming popular also among the Dutch painters further North. Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) is perhaps the prime example. As many other artists of his time, he died in debt. Not all because of, but perhaps contributing to, was his vast use of the costly material.

In Vermeer’s paintings, ultramarine was not only reserved for sacred women, but also used as if to highlight the divine in ordinary women and everyday life. Most known is a painting as beautiful today as ever, the Girl with a Pearl Earring. The young girl stares at us with mysterious eyes, her light skin in strong contrast to the dark background, her hair concealed by a headpiece. The surface of the painting is crackled with time, but the ultramarine remains radiant.

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer, Mauritshuis, The Hague


But precisely why have human beings, through cenuries and across continents, found ourselves so drawn to this particular hue of blue? Apart from its exclusivity and divinity, and its obvious glorious beauty, is there something else that seduces us?

In his (rather philosophical) Theory of Colors, from 1810, Joahnn Wolfgang von Goethe does indeed present some interesting ideas about colors, and how we react to them. For example, he compares the effect red and blue have, respectively, when used in a painting. Where the color red seemingly comes out of the canvas and towards the viewer, blue has the opposite effect. The blue draws the viewer in to painting, as if it was a continous space within. While the red can be taken as aggressive or even demanding, the blue has a harmonious, nearly soothing effect. Perhaps it reminds us of laying on the grass as small children, looking up at the never ending blue skies.

An affordable and synthetic ultramarine was created by a Frenchman already in the first half of the 19th century, and thus given the name French ultramarine. By the 1870s the French ultramarine was the standard for artisanal use, and not anymore the exclusive Lapis Lazuli ground pigments. However, artists did not think it lived up to the grandeur of its predecessor. Another French decided to do something about it. His name was Yves Klein and he patented the iconic International Klein Blue in 1960. He made almost two hundred monochrome paintings with his own color blue, known today as the IKB series (posthumously titled). Just as iconic was his Anthropometries serie, where nude females were used as brushes, as strategic places on their bodies were covered in paint, before they pressed their bodies on large canvases.

Although Yves Klein did not use the precious stone of Lapis lazuli himself, perhaps the bright new color he created can indeed remind us of what a sensation the original ultramarine must have looked like to the people of Renaissance Europe.

Untitled Anthropometry (ANT 132), Yves Klein



Oda Victoria Reitan

Co-founder of Afrodite by MG, artist, and art historian. Oda Victoria makes art and writes about it. She is constantly looking for The Great Beauty, in art and in life. She is inspired by unexpected color harmonies, the way the light hits, and greatly carved marble asses.