We’ve seen Lapis Lazuli in all shapes and forms. Used in countless objects, jewelry, paintings and also for healing purposes. One incredible use of lapis that we have seen briefly is the Bible Writ on walls.
Lapis shines here and there in some remarkable wall paintings. For obvious reasons of expense (remember that in the old days, lapis was more expensive than gold) lapis lazuli pigment is used sparingly. Sometimes an undercoat of cheaper blue pigment such as the copper based azurite was used. Although in the eleventh and twelfth centuries we can find it occasionally even with great extravagance.
These wall paintings were an essential ingredient of a heavenly beauty designed to draw the eyes and feed the minds of a largely illiterate congregation as it circulates within the new church, highlighting the drama most usually of Old and New Testaments and also the lives of saints.
The only way of determine if lapis pigments was used on medieval wall paintings is with a proper analysis.
There were two methods of wall painting. One was used in the Renaissance Italy and involved plastering an area of wall that had to be decorated while the plaster was wet. The other was the traditional method used since at least the second millennium BC in India, Central Asia and in the Byzantine world. In this method the wall was painted when the plaster was virtually dry.
The plaster should be laid in two thick layers and the pigments applied when the second layer was virtually dry. Walls were covered first with enough rough mud plaster with straw or hemp. The second layer was polished smooth before drying.
Benedictine monk Theophilus (twelfth century), described this method on his On Divers Arts, “when figures or birds or representations of other objects are drawn on a dry wall, the wall must be immediately sprinkled with water until it is quite wet. And all the colors which are to be put on must be mixed with lime”. In this case, Theophilus was wrong. Lapis Lazuli would have been bleached if mixed with lime.
The two crucial blues, Lapis Lazuli and azurite, were mixed only with water and only painted on completely dry plaster. Lapis was used moderately and frequently over the cheaper azurite to give extra brilliancy.
Most of the wall paintings that have survived from the Byzantine world are in more out of the way places than in the great metropolitan centres, like the Balkans, in the Gartempe valley in France, Burgundy, and also in Canterbury.
Here are some examples of these paintings.
Located in the suburbs of Sofia below Mount Vitosha. It´s a tiny church that was founded in the eleventh century. It was enlarged in the mid-thirteenth century when the interior was decorated top to bottom with the most superb paintings.
It has around 240 scenes. There are the usual scenes of heaven and terrible hell as well as the life of Christ and his Mother, with her Dormition over the western door of the chapel. There is a Last Supper with Bulgarian staples, the lives of saints dressed in costumes of medieval Bulgaria, including the most popular St Nicholas. We can see fourteen scenes of his life including one of the most emblematic tales of his life, when he appears rescuing some sailors in the coast of Lycia. This storm scene allows for ample use of lapis pigment.
We can also see the Boyana patrons, Desislava and Sebastocrator Kaloyan.
In the tiny Church of the Nativity we can also find martyrdoms and monsters, Old Testaments prophets and medieval heroes.
Church of Ayios Demetrios
Just off the Via Egnatia, this church has incredible wall paintings, especially the early fourteenth century dedicated to St. Euthymius. Here we can surely appreciate Lapis Lazuli highlighting the folds of the saints’ robes.
Church Of Ayios Nikolaus Orphanos
It has superb wall paintings about the bishop Nicholas. We can once again appreciate Saint Nicholas saving the sailors.
Church Sant’ Angelo de Formis
Founded in the late eleventh century by Abbot Desiderius. Every interior space is covered with paintings. No expense was in its decoration. A magnificent Christ in Majesty. Images of the Old and New Testaments decorate the walls of the nave for the benefit of the illiterate. The images exhale an austere Byzantine grandeur. Blue is everywhere the dominant color, the blue of Lapis Lazuli.
Located in Cluny, France. We can find Christ seated in Majesty, depicted as a four-meter tall Byzantine emperor within an almond shape mandala, symbol of the universe. He is painted against a background of pure Lapis Lazuli. The hand of God holds a crown over the head of Christ. Here, no expense was spared, no limit to the expenditure of Lapis Lazuli. Modern analysis has highlighted its abundant use.
Here are the remains of a wall painting of a famous occasion in the Acts of the Apostols, in the life of St Paul.
St Paul was set against azure sky, the folds of his robe highlighted in ultramarine.
These are only a few of the places were you can encounter Lapis pigment in the most sublime sacred context, highlighting Christ and the Madonna in majesty, the terrifying apocalyptic world of revelation and the great consolation of Redemption.
Beautiful Lapis Lazuli that you can find in your favorite Nammu.com store.
Y hoped you enjoyed and learned as much as I did….