If, to you, those words ring out like a magic incantation, then you’re quite right! Lapis lazuli is the name of a blue rock found in parts of Afghanistan, which is responsible for a very electrifying, and very coveted shade of blue. The Venetians called it “ultramarine” (Italian for ‘a place beyond the sea’). During the Renaissance, Lapis lazuli was used only to paint the cloak of the Virgin Mary, and at the time it cost more than its weight in gold.
Ever since I started painting, I have been mind-boggled by this color. I see it used around the world – on Frida Kahlo’s house in Coyoacán, Mexico, in Majorelle Gardens in Marrakesh, Morocco, on Yves Klein’s blue abstracts, Matisse’s friendly nudes, and in my absolute favorite painting of all time, Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne (above), which hangs in the National Gallery in London.
I have decided to kick up my heels and plan a research journey to chase this lapis lazuli around the world. I’m heading to Venice in October– to the city where it was first processed and traded its way into Europe.
There’s a pigment shop on Calle delle Rasse, where I hope to find out more about it! If anything, I should make some new friends and hopefully have a bit of gelato!