The History of Lapis Lazuli

What is Lapis Lazuli and where does it come from?

Lapis Lazuli miners

Lapis Lazuli derives its name from the Persian word 'Lazur', which translates to blue. These crystals stand out from the crowd with their vivid azure blue from the mineral Lazurite, inclusions of Pyrite and white Calcite crystals. Lapis Lazuli rates as a 5-6 on the Mohs scale of hardness, with the best Lapis Lazuli in the world being found in Afghanistan. There are however, other deposits found in Chile, Russia and Myanmar (aka Burma). Lapis Lazuli has been a significant crystal throughout history and is the national stone of Chile.

Lapis Lazuli and the Bible

Lapis Lazuli Raw Crystal

You will find Lapis Lazuli crystals mentioned in the Bible as it was a stone that adorned the second row of the breastplate of Aaron, the High Priest. In the Book of Exodus it was referred to as Sapir, however it is believed that this was most likely Lapis Lazuli due to the stone being described as being dark blue with specks of gold. In addition, the geology of the area would suggest that the stone was Lapis Lazuli and not Sapphire. Combine this with the fact that Lapis Lazuli only became known by its name in the Middle Ages, long after the Bible was written.

Lapis Lazuli in ancient history

Original Gold Mask with Lapis Lazuli of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen

In ancient times, Lapis Lazuli was so valuable that only royalty were permitted to wear it. This blue crystal was so precious that it was used to adorn the funeral mask of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen of Egypt and Lapis Lazuli tablets were used to carve two chapters of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Meanwhile, the Ancient Romans used it as an aphrodisiac!

Lapis Lazuli in Medieval Ages & The Renaissance

Van Gogh's The Starry Night with Lapis Lazuli Crystals

If you are ever fortunate enough to cast your eye over paintings from the Medieval Ages or The Renaissance period, you will likely see Lapis Lazuli in the great art works from this time. Lapis Lazuli was made into a blue dye by grounding it up, it was considered so valuable that it was only used in religious paintings or paintings of significant people. For example, Michelangelo used Lapis Lazuli for his work at the Sistine Chapel, Da Vinci used it in his masterpiece Salvator Mundi and Van Gogh used Lapis Lazuli in his painting The Starry Night.

Lastly, and most fascinating, is an article I read where blue pigment was discovered in the teeth of a woman from 1000 years ago. Back in the Medieval Ages books were painstakingly reproduced by hand. It was not believed that women were talented enough to work with the ultramarine dye which was made from Lapis Lazuli. The discovery of these 1000 year old teeth put that theory to bed! Check out the article here.

Lapis Lazuli in architecture

St Isaac's Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, Russia

Lapis Lazuli has been found in many Egyptian archaeological sites and decorates many significant buildings. For instance, St Isaac's Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, Russia has 2 Lapis Lazuli columns (as well as Malachite columns). You can also see a Lapis Lazuli tiled roof at The Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China.

The Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China with Lapis Lazuli roof

Lastly, if you have enjoyed reading about Lapis Lazuli, take a look at our other blog The History of Malachite, as they have lots in common.

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