A deep blue semi-precious stone, often with tiny specs of sparkling pyrite. Polished lapis lazuli survives in artefacts from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and we know Cleopatra used it as eye shadow. It is best known as the ground pigment that supplied the precious and distinctive ultramarine colour used in European Middle Ages and renaissance paintings and murals. It is one of the nine colours in our simplified paint wheel.
It’s rarity has led to strong associations with authority and holiness (the Virgin Mary was depicted in lapis blue in renaissance art) and it being an indicator of social status. The rock, made of around 35% lazurite, has been mined in the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan, since 3,000 BC. Although of lesser quality, lapis lazuli is also mined in Chile, Russia’s lake Baikal, Siberia, Angola, Burma, Canada, Pakistan, California, Colorado and India.
It remains an expensive rock that loses none of its original glory.