Born in antiquity, lapis has been capturing the hearts and minds of artists and common men alike since centuries. Its mesmerising deep hue, with that intense shock of blue was used to adorn art through the years. Titian and Vermeer, we hear, had a particular affinity towards the purity that lapis evoked.
Text By Trishita Khanderia
The word lapis comes from 'lājevard'—the Persian name for the stone. The brilliant blue stone has been mined ever since the 7th century BCE in north-east Afghanistan and it also held great prominence during the Indus Valley Civilization. The Harappan colony of Shortugai was one of the earlier sources of this precious stone. A marker of wealth, lapis was used in the funeral mask of the Boy King, Tutankhamen, as was uncovered in the great Egyptian rush of the early 20th century. How did this happen? Through trade, of course—routes existed as far back as the 4th millennium BCE.
Eastern civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Assyria, Babylon and Egypt used the gem for seals and jewellery. In fact, one of the oldest pieces of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh mentions it several times. Earlier than that, lapis made it to the myth of Innana, the Sumerian goddess of love—it is said that when she entered the underworld, she bore the insignias of her rank which included a lapis lazuli necklace.
The stone's physical properties such as the intensity of colour and tiny gold specks infused it with godliness—one myth states that as the stone combined the blue of the heavens and the glitter of the sun, it was emblematic of success in early Jewish culture. Similarly, early Christian tradition considered it the stone for the Virgin Mary. Since time immemorial, lapis has been associated with the soul of deities—upon wearing the stone, the deities would smile on the owner with luck and fortune.
During the Renaissance, a new use for the stone emerged—it was ground into pigment to create that astonishing colour ultramarine. Michelangelo used this for his timeless frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, which continue to enthral us.
From a symbol of purity to a symbol of divinity, lapis has been interpreted in many ways. In recent times, the semi-precious gem has come to be associated with love and healing—fitting for a gem whose roots lay in purity and clarity of thought!