The January blues. A feeling we know all too well. But take a second to think about it and it seems strange that the colour blue has become so indelibly wedded to that bleak, depressing feeling that seeps unwanted into the first month of the year. Blue is in fact one of the most rare, radiant, sacred and special of all the colours. Deriving from lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone, this pigment was first discovered 6000 years ago by the Egyptians in Afghanistan. Regarded as a defence against evil, and used by Cleopatra as eyeshadow, its scarcity made it one of the most highly prized pigments, more precious even than gold. Ultramarine, the pigment derived from the lapis lazuli stone, later became associated with depictions of the Virgin Mary, a symbol of virtue, truth and peace. Michelangelo couldn’t afford it, Titian lavished his painting with it, and Vermeer plunged his family into debt by buying this rare pigment for his art. In nature, the colour blue always remains tantalisingly beyond our reach: the sky, the illusionistic blue of the sea, or the untouchable blue of a flame. Cerulean, azure, Prussian, cobalt or indigo, it is a colour that above all embodies a sense of the infinite, of transcendence, possibility and renewal; strangely fitting for January after all.
Dive Into the Blue with Simon Schama’s brilliant article on this colour.
Words by Annabel Matterson. The Iris Letter January 2018.