I recently completed an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help or Our Lady of the Passion, as she is known in the Byzantine world.
I painted her in blue as she will be viewed mostly by Western Christians.
In icons Mary usually wears red or red ochre for her outer garment. This is the colour of the earth, her humanity.
Christ is usually depicted wearing a blue outer garment and red under garment.
However, the trouble with assigning definite symbolism to colour choice is that it is not consistent.
The pigment used for Mary’s outer robe in this most recent icon, was ground Lapis Lazuli. Even after grinding a little, it was still gritty and very tactile as I applied consecutive layers over the underpainting.
I used a lot of this pigment, which set me to researching its origins and how it came into use in painting.
The most famous Lapis Lazuli mines are in Afghanistan, but there are also deposits in Chile, Siberia and Zambia.
The first use of it in painting is said to have been on the Bamiyan Buddha statues in the sixth century.
These were destroyed by the Taliban in 2000.
The ancient Egyptians used Lapis Lazuli as stones but a ground blue glass for pigment in painting and not Lapis.
When this pigment first arrived in Italy in the thirteenth century is was the most expensive, so was used to honour the Mother of God, but only if the artist had a wealthy patron who could afford to pay for it!
In Europe, Lapis Lazuli was known as Ultramarine from an Italian word that means “from across the sea.”
It is the colour of the sky; of the heavens. Good to be working with so much of it in this icon.
I did read that it can be ground for 20 minutes with the egg yolk to achieve a smoother paint!!
My impatience, meant I had a grainier paint to use!