The beautiful blues in paintings from the Renaissance are thanks to the blue of lapis
lazuli, the opaque blue gem material that was the secret ingredient in ultramarine, the
valuable pigment that all the old masters used to capture the rich blues of the sea
and sky and the robes of the Virgin Mary. The color wasn’t duplicated by any other
substance until 1834 but even now, some argue there is no substitute: unlike other
pigments ultramarine centuries old still glows with rich color today.
As befits a gem that has been international currency for millennia, the name lapis
lazuli is mélange of languages. From the Latin, lapis means stone. From the Arabic,
azul means blue.
Lapis lazuli is still mined at the deposits of the ancient world in Afghanistan. Today
lapis lazuli is also mined in Chile. Small quantities are also produced in Siberia, in
Colorado in the United States, and in Myanmar.
Lapis lazuli is somewhat porous and should be protected from chemicals and solvents. Lapis is not very hard, and should be protected from other jewelry when stored to avoid scratches. Clean with mild dish soap: use a toothbrush to scrub behind the stone where dust can collect.