Magnificent Lapis Lazuli. I always wonder how someone can create such heavenly pieces of art. Here I will talk about the marvelous magical objects wonderful hands have made through time.. I will tell you about its use in the Persian and Roman Empire; the Renaissance and the Modern World. The magnificent works of the famous Pietra Dura. The artistic wonders of Lapis Lazuli (lapis for short). Enjoy!
Lapis Lazuli is a semi precious stone which appears in the most ancient civilizations known to man. Neolithic men were the first who created the first jewelry. They would bore a small hole through the Lapis Lazuli and string the pebbles of blue with a thread.
4,000 years ago, artists created objects like cylinder seals, necklaces. They also made amulets, animal statuettes and inlay on important statues, mostly in the eyes it absorbs all attention to the figure.
It had such an importance in life as well in the after life. Prove of that is that Lapis Lazuli was also found in Neolithic tombs in Mauritania and in the Caucasus. The wealthiest tombs of the first dynasties had lapis. The Egyptians listed it in their funeral items and also used it at the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen.
The first land vehicle is a queens sledge with lapis from 2100B.C., an interesting fact that made my day. The Sumerian of ancient times created necklaces, belts, headdress, as well as finery, combs and tiaras.
The Palace walls in the Cretan Palace of Knossos from 2000B.C showed how the pulverized stone was mixed to form a blue pigment for painting.
Priests bordered Ecclesiastic Manuscripts with crushed pigment. Artisan painters also used Lapis for religious shrines and decorative elements on the altars of churches.
The Persians controlled the flow of lapis from antiquity. Their art presented itself in the painting of miniatures like Layla and Majnun, Shirin and Khosrav painting and specially the manuscripts of the poet Nizani (1140-1202 A.D). Persian art, especially served two purposes; it inspired beauty and often provided a practical use in vases, containers and also in personal art. These artisans spent their lives grinding pigments by pulverizing minerals. There were various shades of Lapis Lazuli as pale blue, azure and greenish blue.
Roman artists also immortalized in 1 A.D., the wife of Roman Emperor Augustus, Livia, in a Lapis Lazuli figurine. Livia’s face was carved and affixed to a gold cross.
In the Salle du Tresors in Paris at the Louvre are fine examples of lapis like the manuscripts of Chantilly where the French also used it as pigment applied to the pages.
In the Renaissance it was more expensive than gold. Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Fra Angelico and other master artists also wanted the mineral for pigment. Michelangelo also used pulverized Lapis Lazuli for the Sistine Chapel (1475-1564) . I discovered that it is by far one of the most exquisite uses of Lapis Lazuli as pigment for the blues of heaven therefore the best stones were required.
Thankfully for us, the blue color on canvas or frescoes prior to 1826 was Lapis Lazuli. I say thankfully, because lapis gives a painting a magical aura. The genius Leonardo Da Vinci also used Lapis Lazuli in his work. Artisans and painters reserved lapis for the cloaks of Christ, angels and specially the Virgin Mary.
In the mid 1800s artists and chemists began developing synthetic blue pigments for use as alternatives to ultramarine blue made from Lapis Lazuli. In 1824, The Societe d’Encouragement offered a prize of six thousand francs to anyone who could produce synthetic variety. After four years they gave the prize to Jean Baptiste Guimet who submitted a process he had developed in 1826.The oldest mined gemstone on the planet is still sold throughout the world today Click To Tweet
Florence is the place where to find the majestic Pietra Dura. We can´t talk about Italian stone cutters without mentioning the Medici family. The first Medicis were doctors and apothecaries. Hence the family name.
The Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo de´Medici and his two sons were the ones in charge of spreading the techniques of hard stone carving in its various forms all over Europe.
The stones, Lapis Lazuli included, were used for free-standing vessels, for hard stone inlay as in commesso di pietre dure, for intarsio (the jigsaw like inlay techniques) for scagliola, pressing the powdered minerals into designs incised in slabs of marble or a hardened compound of powdered marble and glue.
Examples of Medici hard stone patronage are all over Florence in more secular settings. Massive cabinets set with panels of elaborate pietra dura were created to accommodate the Medici passion for collecting. Cupboards, drawers, secret drawers could be stuffed with precious stones ancient and modern, sometimes worked by Florentine craftsmen. In the panels the brilliant blue of Lapis Lazuli was used to re-create extravant wreaths of morning glory, bright-hued birds in branches, in borders and in frames. Cost was clearly irrelevant to these Medici patrons.
When Ferdinando, son of Cosimo, took over the family, he dispatched vessels of pietra dura all around Europe to reinforce major diplomatic moves including marriages. The prestige of the family was his main concern.
Opificio delle Pietre Dure
Laminated Lapis Lazuli cut with the finest of saws was used extensively in the strange landscapes favored by Ferdinando. The tool is an elegant bow-like artifact with six strands of fine horsehair to cut lamina from lumps of stone.
Flecked with calcite lapis is ideal for skies, seas or distant mountains. There is a “Tuscan landscape” in the Opificio Museum with an expanse of lapis sky. Another has distant lapis mountains and a lapis clothed angel coming to Elias who has a handsome lapis water jar at his feet.
Some of these laminated plaques were incorporated into pieces of furniture.
Nowadays, this workshop still uses the traditional tools for stone carvings. Today they are wielded by smart young women conserving, restoring or actually creating other works of art and craft.
It has a courtyard with a big pile of Lapis Lazuli…
The incredible workshops of Peter Carl Faberge in Russia also had access to Lapis Lazuli and fashioned one of the 58 grand Imperial Eggs for Czar Nicholas II in that material. It was a gift to his wife, the Czarina Alexandra Feodorovna on Easter Day 1912. The image of their eight year old son Alexis was the surprise inside the egg. The frame was on top of a Lapis Lazuli base. It’s on display at the Virginia Museum of Art in Richmond. The most recent sell of an Imperial Egg was in 2007 at Christies for 18.5 million dollars.
Salvador Dali also designed sculptured jewels in artistic forms with Lapis Lazuli.
Experts in Idar-Oberstein use lasers to cut beautiful pieces. Lapis is also used for cuff links, pendants, and earrings, rings. Lapis is also set into watch faces, and inlaid onto clocks or for marquetry on fine woods. Carvings can also be found in fine stones particularly in Hong Kong and mainland China where they are worked more exquisitely than anywhere in the world.
Incredible all the beautiful things people through history have made with Lapis. I can keep writing for days about this fabulous stone. Lapis, a great contribution to humankind through art. Thankfully we can also acquire and have in are hands beautiful jewelry of Lapis Lazuli in my favorite Nammu store.