Lapis lazuli

Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan in its natural state
Lapis lazuli seen through a microscope (x240 magnification)
Ancient Egyptian cult image of Ptah; 945–600 BC; lapis lazuli; height of the figure: 5.2 cm, height of the dais: 0.4 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)
Crystals of lazurite (the main mineral in lapis lazuli) from the Sar-i Sang mine in Afghanistan, where lapis lazuli has been mined since the 7th Millennium BC
A polished block of lapis lazuli
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
19th-century lapis lazuli and diamond pendant
Sumerian bald clean-shaven male worshipper head; 2600-2500 BC; gypsum, shell, lapis lazuli and bitumen; from Nippur (Iraq); Museum of the Oriental Institute (Chicago)
Sumerian necklace beads; 2600–2500 BC; gold and lapis lazuli; length: 54 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)
Sumerian necklace; 2600–2500 BC; gold and lapis lazuli; length: 22.5 cm; from the Royal Cemetery at Ur (Iraq); Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ancient Egyptian scarab finger ring; 1850–1750 BC; lapis lazuli scarab set in gold plate and on a gold wire ring lapis-lazuli; diameter: 2.5 cm, the scarab: 1.8 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Neo-Babylonian conical seal; 7th–6th century BC; lapis lazuli; height: 2.7 cm, diameter: 2.1 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ancient Egyptian plaque with an Eye of Horus; 664–332 BC; lapis lazuli; length: 1.8 cm, width: 1.6 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Greek or Roman ring stone; lapis lazuli; 2.1 x 1.6 x 0.3 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Roman bead ornament; gold and lapis lazuli; 3 × 1.8 × 0.5 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
20th century silver ring with polished lapis oval; 2 x 2.4 x 1 cm
Elephant carved from lapis lazuli. Length 7 cm.
Large lapis lazuli specimen from Afghanistan's Hindu Kush mountains. National Museum of Natural History (Washington, D.C.)

Deep-blue metamorphic rock used as a semi-precious stone that has been prized since antiquity for its intense color.

- Lapis lazuli

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Colored material that is completely or nearly insoluble in water.

Pigments for sale at a market stall in Goa, India.
A wide variety of wavelengths (colors) encounter a pigment. This pigment absorbs red and green light, but reflects blue—giving the substance a blue-colored appearance.
Sunlight encounters Rosco R80 "Primary Blue" pigment. The product of the source spectrum and the reflectance spectrum of the pigment results in the final spectrum, and the appearance of blue.
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer (c. 1665).
Natural ultramarine pigment in powdered form
Synthetic ultramarine pigment is chemically identical to natural ultramarine
Phthalo Blue
The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer (c. 1658). Vermeer was lavish in his choice of expensive pigments, including lead-tin-yellow, natural ultramarine, and madder lake, as shown in the vibrant painting.<ref>Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid {{webarchive|url= |date=14 April 2015 }}, ColourLex</ref>
Titian used the historic pigment Vermilion to create the reds in the oil painting of Assunta, completed c. 1518.
Miracle of the Slave by Tintoretto (c. 1548). The son of a master dyer, Tintoretto used Carmine Red Lake pigment, derived from the cochineal insect, to achieve dramatic color effects.
Self Portrait by Paul Cézanne. Working in the late 19th century, Cézanne had a much broader palette of colors than his predecessors.

Pigments of prehistoric and historic value include ochre, charcoal, and lapis lazuli.


Ultramarine pigment
Lapis lazuli specimen (rough), Afghanistan
Natural ultramarine
Synthetic ultramarine violet
The Wilton Diptych (1395–1399) is an example of the use of ultramarine in 14th century England
The blue robes of the Virgin Mary by Masaccio (1426) were painted with ultramarine.
Pietro Perugino economized on this painting of the Virgin Mary (about 1500) by using azurite for the underpainting of the robe, then adding a layer of ultramarine on top.
Titian made dramatic use of ultramarine in the sky and draperies of Bacchus and Ariadne (1520–23).
Sassoferrato's depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary, c. 1654. Her blue cloak is painted in ultramarine.<ref>{{cite web|url=|title=assoferrato-the-virgin-in-prayer||access-date=2014}}</ref>
Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer (c. 1665)
Lady Standing at a Virginal, by Johannes Vermeer (c. 1675)

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


Historical region comprising parts of modern-day north-eastern Afghanistan, eastern Tajikistan, and the Tashkurgan county in China.

Map of Badakhshan, divided between Flag of Tajikistan.svg Tajikistan-Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region in the north, Flag of Afghanistan.svg Afghanistan-Badakhshan Province in the south, with a smaller part in Flag of China.svg China-Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County in the east
Flag of Tajikistan.svg Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, Tajikistan
Flag of Afghanistan.svg Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan
Badakshan patera, "Triumph of Bacchus", British Museum. (1st-4th century CE).
Sultan Muḥammad Vays offers Babur a healthy horse to replace his ailing one
In 1756 Badakhshan emir made the Chinese Qing dynasty to recognize the Elder of Badakhshan (the "gray bearded") at Alti as sovereign in Kashgar and levied taxes on the city and parts of the province of Xinjiang
Friendship Bridge between Tajikistan, and Afghanistan, over the Panj river in Khwahan and Shuro-obod.

Lapis lazuli was traded exclusively from there as early as the second half of the 4th millennium BC.


Piece of mineral crystal which, in cut and polished form, is used to make jewelry or other adornments.

Group of precious and semiprecious stones—both uncut and faceted—including (clockwise from top left) diamond, uncut synthetic sapphire, ruby, uncut emerald, and amethyst crystal cluster.
A collection of gemstone pebbles made by tumbling the rough stones, except the ruby and tourmaline, with abrasive grit inside a rotating barrel. The largest pebble here is 40 mm long.
Spanish emerald and gold pendant at Victoria and Albert Museum
Enamelled gold, amethyst, and pearl pendant, about 1880, Pasquale Novissimo (1844–1914), V&A Museum number M.36-1928
Raw sapphire stones stored in a rural commercial cutting plant in Thailand.
A diamond cutter in Amsterdam in the Netherlands in 2012
Nearly 300 variations of diamond color exhibited at the Aurora display at the Natural History Museum in London.
A variety of semiprecious stones

However, certain rocks (such as lapis lazuli and opal) and occasionally organic materials that are not minerals (such as amber, jet, and pearl) are also used for jewelry and are therefore often considered to be gemstones as well.

Johannes Vermeer

Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life.

Detail of the painting The Procuress (c. 1656), believed to be a self portrait by Vermeer
Delft in 1649, by cartographer Willem Blaeu
The Jesuit Church on the Oude Langendijk in Delft, circa 1730, brush in gray ink, by Abraham Rademaker, coll. Stadsarchief Delft
Replica of the St. Luke Guildhouse on Voldersgracht in Delft
A View of Delft after the Explosion of 1654, by Egbert van der Poel
View of Delft (1660–61): "He took a turbulent reality, and made it look like Heaven on earth."
The Little Street (1657–58)
Memorial (2007) of Johannes Vermeer in Oude Kerk. Delft, Netherlands
The Milkmaid (c. 1658), Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam
Théophile Thoré-Bürger
The Girl with the Wine Glass (c. 1659), Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum in Brunswick, Germany
The Music Lesson or A Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman (c. 1662–1665), Royal Collection in London
Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665), considered a Vermeer masterpiece, Mauritshuis in Den Haag
Girl with the Red Hat (c. 1665-1666), National Gallery of Art
Mistress and Maid (1666–67)
The Art of Painting or The Allegory of Painting (c. 1666–1668), Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna
The Astronomer (c. 1668), Musée du Louvre in Paris
The Geographer (1669), Städel Museum in Frankfurt am Main
Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid (c. 1670–71), National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, Ireland
The Allegory of Faith (1670 - 1672), Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Lady Seated at a Virginal (c. 1670–72), National Gallery in London

There is no other 17th-century artist who employed the exorbitantly expensive pigment lapis lazuli (natural ultramarine) either so lavishly or so early in his career.


Neolithic archaeological site situated on the Kacchi Plain of Balochistan in Pakistan.

Ruins of houses at Mehrgarh, Balochistan
Site location of Mehrgarh.
Female figure from Mehrgarh; c.3000 BCE; terracotta; height: 9.5 cm (33⁄4 in). Part of the Neolithic ‘Venus figurines’ tradition, this figure's abundant breasts and hips suggest links to fertility and procreation. Her hair was probably painted black; brown ochre would have covered the body, and her necklace was probably yellow. Her seated posture, with arms crossed under the breasts, is common throughout the region, as is her extravagant hairstyle
Seated Mother Goddess ,3000–2500 BC. Mehrgarh.
Mehrgarh painted pottery. 3000-2500 BC.

Ornaments of sea shell, limestone, turquoise, lapis lazuli and sandstone have been found, along with simple figurines of women and animals.


Technique of mural painting executed upon freshly laid ("wet") lime plaster.

The Creation of Adam, a detail of the fresco Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo
Etruscan fresco. Detail of two dancers from the Tomb of the Triclinium in the Necropolis of Monterozzi 470 BC, Tarquinia, Lazio, Italy
A Roman fresco of a young man from the Villa di Arianna, Stabiae, 1st century AD.
Fresco by Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. Sky and blue mantle of Maria were painted a secco, and large part of the painting is now lost
The first known Egyptian fresco, Tomb 100, Hierakonpolis, Naqada II culture (c. 3500–3200 BCE)
Investiture of Zimri-Lim, Syria, fresco painted c. 1770 BCE
The Fisherman, Minoan Bronze Age fresco from Akrotiri, on the Aegean island of Santorini (classically Thera), dated to the Neo-Palatial period (c. 1640–1600 BC). The settlement of Akrotiri was buried in volcanic ash (dated by radiocarbon dating to c. 1627 BC) by the Minoan eruption on the island, which preserved many Minoan frescoes like this
Etruscan fresco of Velia Velcha from the Tomb of Orcus, Tarquinia
Fresco of "Sappho" from Pompeii, c. 50 CE
Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak frescoes, 4th century BC
View of a woman's face in the central chamber of the Ostrusha mound built in the 4th century BC in Bulgaria
Fresco from the Ajanta Caves built and painted during the Gupta Empire in the 6th century AD
Sigiriya Fresco, Sri Lanka. c. 477 – 495 AD
Frescos in the Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian, Syria
Interior view with the frescoes dating back to 1259, Boyana Church in Sofia, UNESCO World Heritage List landmark.
Pantocrator from Sant Climent de Taüll, in MNAC Barcelona
Myrrhbearers on Christ's Grave, c 1235 AD, Mileševa monastery in Serbian
Virgin and Unicorn (A Virgin with a Unicorn), Palazzo Farnese by Domenichino c. 1602
The Wounded Angel, Tampere Cathedral by Hugo Simberg (1873–1917)
Fernando Leal, Miracles of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Fresco Mexico City
Prometheus, Pomona College by José Clemente Orozco 1930
Chola Fresco of Dancing girls. Brihadisvara Temple c. 1100
The 18th-century BC fresco of the Investiture of Zimrilim discovered at the Royal Palace of ancient Mari in Syria
The Chapel of the Holy Cross in Wawel Cathedral in Kraków is decorated with Byzantine Frescoes.
Fresco by Dionisius representing Saint Nicholas in a Ferapontov Monastery
Dante in Domenico di Michelino's Divine Comedy in Duomo of Florence
Frescoes from the Byzantine and two distinct Bulgarian Periods under the Dome of the Church of St. George, Sofia

Blue was a particular problem, and skies and blue robes were often added a secco, because neither azurite blue nor lapis lazuli, the only two blue pigments then available, works well in wet fresco.

Cylinder seal

Small round cylinder, typically about one inch in length, engraved with written characters or figurative scenes or both, used in ancient times to roll an impression onto a two-dimensional surface, generally wet clay.

Cylinder-seal of the Uruk period and its impression, c.3100 BC. Louvre Museum.
Cylinder seal of First Dynasty of Ur Queen Puabi, found in her tomb, dated circa 2600 BC, with modern impression. Inscription 𒅤𒀀𒉿 𒊩𒌆Pu-A-Bi-Nin "Queen Puabi".
Old Babylonian cylinder seal, c.1800 BC, hematite. Linescan camera image (reversed to resemble an impression).
Size comparison of seals, with their impression strips (modern/current impressions)
This cylinder seal from Cyprus shows two nude female figures. Each holds a flower, a symbol of fertility. The Walters Art Museum.
This Neo-Assyrian cylinder seal shows a ritual with winged protective deities. Walters Art Museum.
A roll-out of the San Andres ceramic cylinder seal containing what has been proposed as evidence of the earliest writing system in Mesoamerica. This cylinder seal is dated to approximately 650 BC and is unrelated to the Mesopotamian cylinder seals.
Assyria. Seals showing method of mounting; Brooklyn Museum Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection

Many varieties of material such as hematite, obsidian, steatite, amethyst, lapis lazuli and carnelian were used to make cylinder seals.


Part of the excavations

Shortugai (Shortughai), in Darqad District of northern Afghanistan, was a trading colony of the Indus Valley Civilization (or Harappan Civilization) established around 2000 BC on the Oxus river (Amu Darya) near the lapis lazuli mines.


Important Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia, located at the site of modern "Tell el-Muqayyar" (تل ٱلْمُقَيَّر) in south Iraq's Dhi Qar Governorate.

Ziggurat of Ur
Sumer and Elam c. 2350 BC. Ur is located close to the coastline near the mouth of the Euphrates.
The name URIM5KI for "Country of Ur" on a seal of King Ur-Nammu
"Abraham's House" in Ur, photographed in 2016
Aerial photograph of Ur in 1927
Reconstructed Sumerian headgear and necklaces found in the tomb of Puabi in the "Royal tombs" of Ur.
U.S. soldiers ascend the reconstructed Ziggurat of Ur in May 2010
Wall plaque from Ur, 2500 BC; the British Museum
Empire of the Third Dynasty of Ur. West is at top, north at right.
Gold helmet of King of Ur I Meskalamdug, c. 2600–2500 BC
Mesopotamian female deity seated on a chair, Old-Babylonian fired clay plaque from Ur

Imports to Ur came from many parts of the world: precious metals such as gold and silver, and semi-precious stones, namely lapis lazuli and carnelian.