Blue – date two : Chemistry dating Art ..

lapis watercolour painting

I always wanted to do a research  and find out how the pigments of the colours were made through history.  I am sharing here this research and after covering the Red colour in the previous post here is the most interesting things I have found out about the origination of “blue colours”.

Resources for the post were mainly Wikipedia,, and there are links for those who would like further information.

So come along to share the “blue” stories:

Blue  pigments were made from minerals, especially lapis lazuliand azurite.

Today, azurite is found in Australia, southwest United States, Mexico, Morocco, and Zaire.

The blue color, known as “azure,” is like the deep blue evening skies often seen above deserts and winter landscapes

These minerals were crushed, ground into powder, and then mixed with a quick-drying binding agent, such as egg yolk (tempera painting). When used for oil painting were mixed with a slow-drying oil, such as linseed oil.

Other Common blue pigments made from minerals are ultramarine, cerulean blue, and Prussian blue.

In Ancient Egypt, Blue was one of the most popular colors.

Commonly referred  as “Egyptian Blue,” made from COOPER and IRON OXIDES with SILICA and CALCIUM. Blue in Egypt symbolised fertility, birth, rebirth and life.

Egyptian blue (calcium copper silicate) is believed to have been discovered accidentally (3000B.C.). During experimental trials they were looking to replace the rare and expensive lapis lazuli.

Egyptian glassmakers tried to color the glass blue with copper salts.

From this, it was created the unique blue dye that archaeologists found in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Crete, and Santorini.


blue pigment in ancient Greece
Akrotiri_Santorini_Blue Monkey room


Natural dyes to colour cloth and tapestries were made from plants. 

Woad and true indigo were used to produce indigo dye used to colour fabrics blue or indigo.

pompeii, fresco, discovered, blue pigment
A Roman wall painting of Venus and her son Eros, from Pompeii (about 30 BC)


During the Middle Ages 

As read in Wikipedia, in the art and life of Europe during the early Middle Ages, blue as a colour had no important role.

The nobility wore purple or red, while only the poor wore blue clothing, coloured with poor-quality dyes made from the woad plant.

Blue played no significant role in  the costumes of the wealthy people, the priests or the decoration of churches.

This changed dramatically between 1130 and 1140 in Paris, when the Abbe Suger rebuilt the Saint Denis Basilica.

medieval church with painted blue glass windows
Apse and northern facade, lithography by Felix Benoist. –  Saint Denis Basilica -situated in a northern suburb of Paris.


He installed stained glass windows coloured with cobalt .  Those combined with the light from the red glass, filled the church with a bluish violet light.

The church became the marvel of the Christian world, and the colour became known as the “bleu de Saint-Denis”.

In the years that followed even more elegant blue stained glass windows were installed in other churches, including at Chartres Cathedral and Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.

glass window of medieval years
13th-century window from Chartres showing extensive use of the cobalt blue with green and purple-brown glass.


From the mineral lapis lazuli, it was received the ultramarine blue. 

Lapis Lazuli was present only in Persia.

First noted use of lapis lazuli as a pigment can be seen in the 6th and 7th-century AD cave paintings in Afghanistani Zoroastrian. Also in  Buddhist temples, near the most famous source of the mineral.

Lapis lazuli has also been identified in Chinese paintings from the 10th and 11th centuries.

Ultramarine is a deep blue color and a pigment which was originally made by grinding lapis lazuli into a powder.

blue made of lapis lazuli
Lapis lazuli is the core ingredient for ultramarine blue colour


Organic Ultramarine has been used for the last 6,000 years from when they first began mining its base mineral, lapis lazuli.

 The name comes from the Latin ultramarinus, literally “beyond the sea”.

That because the pigment was imported into Europe from mines in Afghanistan. Italian traders during the 14th and 15th centuries were bringing  Lapis into Europe.

Ever since the Medieval era, painters have painted the Virgin Mary in a bright blue robe. The colour  was choosen not for its religious symbolism, but rather for its tremendous price tag.

The high price of the pigment, sourced in Afghanistan, meant that its use was appropriate for such a noble subject such as the mother of Christ.


Virgin Mary in ultramarine blue robe made from lapis lazuli
Mary’s iconic hue—called ultramarine blue—comes from lapis lazuli, the  gemstone that for centuries could only be found in a single mountain range in Afghanistan.

During the Renaissance, ultramarine was the finest and most expensive blue that could be used by painters.

Natural ultramarine is the most difficult pigment to grind by hand.

European artists used the pigment slightly, reserving their highest quality blues, as it has been said, for the robes of Mary and the Christ child.

This precious material achieved global popularity, adorning Egyptian funerary portraits,

mask blue pigment

Iranian Qur’ans (Korans),

koran , blue paintings from lapis lazuli
Islamic art


and later the headdress in Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665).

girl with pearl earring- J.Vermeer
Johannes Vermeer used natural ultramarine in his paintings, as in his Girl with a Pearl Earring.  The expense was probably borne by his wealthy patron Pieter van Ruijven (1665


As a result of the high price, artists sometimes were conserved by using a cheaper blue, azurite, for under painting.

Due to a shortage of azurite in the late 16th – 17th century the price for the already-expensive ultramarine increased .

 For hundreds of years, the cost of lapis lazuli competed even the price of gold.

Synthetic ultramarine has been made since the 19th century (it was discovered in 1828).


Another famous blue is the Cobalt  blue, which is a mixed oxide of cobalt and aluminum.

As a colour is very stable and as a pigment is practically unaffected by light. Cobalt blue is toxic when inhaled or consumed!

A paintings made with the use of the cobalt blue pigment is the famous painting of Renoir, the Umbrellas.

renoir, Umbrellas, Blue colour pigment
Renoir painted The Umbrellas in two stages. The first in 1880 and the second in 1885.


The pigment analysis of the painting confirms that the painting was made in two stages.

The blue of the dresses on the right were made with cobalt blue. But the woman on the right was made in about 1885.

The painter has changed his pallet and at the second stage he started to employ artificial ultramarine instead of cobalt  blue as his primary blue paint.

Other famous blues are :

Prussian  blue is the oldest modern synthetic pigment which has been in use since its discovery in 1704 until the present day.

prussian blue
Prussian blue
hokusai-Prussian blue
Hokusai- The Great Wave – 1832 –


Cerulean blue which can be prepared by heating a mixture of cobalt-chloride and potassium stannate.

cerulean blue
the swatch of Cerulean Blue


Indigo is an organic compound of very dark blue colour.

Indigo blue
Blue -indigo plant
Indigofera tinctorial                                          The starting material for the preparation of this pigment is a multitude of plants. The indigo plant (Indigofera anil) grows mainly in India and woad (Isatis tinctoria) develops in Europe.


The YinMn blue was first synthesized in 2009 at the University of Oregon and patented in 2012. It is now commercially available as an artists’ pigment.

YinMn blue
YInMn blue can be prepared by heating three oxides. Yttrium, indium, and manganese heated  in air to a temperature of 1200 – 1300 °C










I guess chemistry takes the hand and moves forward in the pigments of tomorrow. This synthetic pigment (YinMn) is exceedingly stable and lightfast.

The  YInMn blue has high reflectivity of the IR region of the solar spectrum. Surfaces painted with this pigment remain cooler than other surfaces. Thus helping to reduce cooling costs.

You can find a magnificent time line of Blue Colour at the site of here.






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