Lapis lazuli (/ˈlæpɪs ˈlæzjuːli, -laɪ/), or lapis for short, is
a deep blue metamorphic rock used as a semi-precious stone that has
been prized since antiquity for its intense color. As early as the 7th
millennium BC, lapis lazuli was mined in the
Sar-i Sang mines, in
Shortugai, and in other mines in
Badakhshan province in northeast
Afghanistan. Lapis was highly valued by the Indus Valley
Civilisation (3300–1900 BC). Lapis beads have been found at
Neolithic burials in Mehrgarh, the Caucasus, and even as far from
Afghanistan as Mauritania. It was used in the funeral mask of
Tutankhamun (1341–1323 BC).
At the end of the Middle Ages, lapis lazuli began to be exported to
Europe, where it was ground into powder and made into ultramarine, the
finest and most expensive of all blue pigments. It was used by some of
the most important artists of the
Renaissance and Baroque, including
Titian and Vermeer, and was often reserved for the
clothing of the central figures of their paintings, especially the
Today, mines in northeast
Afghanistan and Pakistan are still the major
source of lapis lazuli. Important amounts are also produced from mines
Lake Baikal in Russia, and in the
Andes mountains in Chile.
Smaller quantities are mined in Italy, Mongolia, the United States,
2 Science and uses
2.4 Uses and substitutes
3 History and art
3.1 In the ancient world
4 See also
5.1 Notes and citations
6 External links
Lapis is the
Latin word for "stone" and lazuli is the genitive form of
Latin lazulum, which is taken from the Arabic
لاجورد lājaward, itself from the Persian لاجورد
lājevard, which is the name of the stone in Persian and also of a
place where lapis lazuli was mined.
The English word azure, French azur, Italian azzurro, Polish lazur,
Romanian azur and azuriu, Portuguese and Spanish azul, and Hungarian
azúr all come from the name and color of lapis lazuli.[dubious –
Science and uses
A sample from the
Sar-i Sang mine in Afghanistan, where lapis lazuli
has been mined since the 7th Millennium BC
A polished block of lapis lazuli
Natural ultramarine pigment made from ground lapis lazuli. The most
expensive blue pigment during the Renaissance, often reserved for
depicting the robes of
Angels or the Virgin Mary
19th Century lapis lazuli and diamond pendant
The most important mineral component of lapis lazuli is lazurite
(25% to 40%), a feldspathoid silicate mineral with the formula
(Na,Ca)8(AlSiO4)6(S,SO4,Cl)1-2. Most lapis lazuli also contains
calcite (white), sodalite (blue), and pyrite (metallic yellow). Some
samples of lapis lazuli contain augite; diopside; enstatite; mica;
hauynite; hornblende, nosean, and sulfur-rich löllingite geyerite.
Lapis lazuli usually occurs in crystalline marble as a result of
The intense blue color is due to the presence of the trisulfur (S
3) radical anion in the crystal. An electronic excitation of one
electron from the highest doubly filled molecular orbital (No. 24)
into the lowest singly occupied orbital (No. 25) results in a very
intense absorption line at λmax ~617 nm.
Lapis lazuli is found in limestone in the
Kokcha River valley of
Badakhshan province in northeastern Afghanistan, where the Sar-e-Sang
mine deposits have been worked for more than 6,000 years.
Afghanistan was the source of lapis for the ancient Egyptian and
Mesopotamian civilizations, as well as the later Greeks and Romans.
Ancient Egyptians obtained this material through trade from
Afghanistan with the Aryans. During the height of the Indus Valley
Civilisation about 2000 BC, the Harappan colony now known as Shortugai
was established near the lapis mines.
According to the Sorbonne's mineralogist Pierre Bariand's leading work
on the sources of lapis lazuli in modern times, and to references in
Blue Treasure: Lapis Lazuli (2011) by Lailee McNair
Bakhtiar, the lapis lazuli is found in "caves" not traditionally
considered "mines" and the stone lapis lazuli is from the primary
source of the Hindu Kush Mountains in Afghanistan's Kochka River
Valley and not in Pakistan.
In addition to the Afghan deposits, lapis is also extracted in the
Andes (near Ovalle, Chile); and to the west of
Lake Baikal in Siberia,
Russia, at the Tultui
Lazurite deposit. It is mined in smaller amounts
in Angola; Argentina; Burma; Pakistan; Canada; Italy, India; and in
the United States in
California and Colorado.
Uses and substitutes
Lapis takes an excellent polish and can be made into jewelry,
carvings, boxes, mosaics, ornaments, small statues, and vases. During
the Renaissance, Lapis was ground and processed to make the pigment
ultramarine for use in frescoes and oil painting. Its usage as a
pigment in oil paint largely ended in the early 19th century when a
chemically identical synthetic variety became available.
Lapis lazuli is commercially synthesized or simulated by the Gilson
process, which is used to make artificial ultramarine and hydrous zinc
phosphates. It may also be substituted by spinel or sodalite, or
by dyed jasper or howlite.
History and art
Mesopotamian lapis lazuli pendant circa 2900 BC
A lapis lazuli bowl from Iran (End of 3rd, beginning 2nd millennium
Close-up of the lapis lazuli inlays in the 25th-century BC Statue of
Tsarevich (Fabergé egg). The gold motifs cover the joints, making the
egg look as if it was carved from a single block of lapis lazuli
In the funeral mask of
Tutankhamun (1341-1323 BC), lapis lazuli was
used for the eyebrows of the young Pharaoh
A lapis lazuli urn two meters high from the State Hermitage Museum in
Saint Petersburg, Russia (19th century)
Carved lapis lazuli mountain scene, from the Chinese Qing Dynasty
Osiris on a lapis lazuli pillar in the middle, flanked by
Horus on the
Isis on the right, 22nd dynasty, Louvre
Girl with a Pearl Earring
Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) by Johannes
Vermeer is painted with
ultramarine, a natural pigment made from lapis lazuli
An elephant carving on high-quality lapis lazuli, which includes
gold-colored pyrite, is a rare example of Mughal inspired art.
(length: 8 cm (3.1 in))
In the ancient world
Naqada I (Egypt) female figure, circa 3700 BC. Bone with Lapis inlay
Lapis lazuli has been mined in
Afghanistan and exported to the
Mediterranean world and South Asia since the
Neolithic age. Lapis
lazuli beads have been found at Mehrgarh, a neolithic site near Quetta
in Pakistan, on the ancient trade route between
the Indus Valley, dating to the 7th millennium BC. Quantities of these
beads have also been found at 4th millennium BC settlements in
Northern Mesopotamia, and at the
Bronze Age site of
Shahr-e Sukhteh in
southeast Iran (3rd millennium BC). A dagger with a lapis handle, a
bowl inlaid with lapis, and amulets, beads, and inlays representing
eyebrows and beards, were found in the Royal Tombs of the Sumerian
city-state of Ur from the 3rd Millennium BC.
Lapis was also used in ancient
Mesopotamia by the Akkadians,
Babylonians for seals and jewelry. In the Mesopotamian
Epic of Gilgamesh
Epic of Gilgamesh (17th-18th Century BC), one of the oldest
known works of literature, lapis lazuli is mentioned several times.
The Statue of Ebih-Il, a 3rd millennium BC statue found in the ancient
city-state of Mari in modern-day Syria, now in the Louvre, uses lapis
lazuli inlays for the irises of the eyes.
In ancient Egypt, lapis lazuli was a favorite stone for amulets and
ornaments such as scarabs. Lapis jewelry has been found at excavations
of the Predynastic Egyptian site
Naqada (3300–3100 BC). At Karnak,
the relief carvings of
Thutmose III (1479-1429 BC) show fragments and
barrel-shaped pieces of lapis lazuli being delivered to him as
tribute. Powdered lapis was used as eyeshadow by Cleopatra.
Jewellery made of lapis lazuli has also been found at Mycenae
attesting to relations between the Myceneans and the developed
civilizations of Egypt and the East.
In late classical times and as late as the Middle Ages, lapis lazuli
was often called sapphire (sapphirus in Latin, sappir in Hebrew),
though it had little to do with the stone today known as the blue
corundum variety sapphire. In his book on stones, the Greek scientist
Theophrastus described "the sapphirus, which is speckled with gold," a
description which matches lapis lazuli.
There are many references to sapphires in the Old Testament, but most
scholars agree that, since sapphire was not known before the Roman
Empire, they most likely are references to lapis lazuli. For instance,
Exodus 24:10: "As they saw the God of Israel, and there was under his
feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone.." (KJV). The term
used in the
Latin Vulgate Bible in this citation is "lapidus
sapphiri," the term for lapis lazuli. Modern translations of the
Bible, such as the New Living Translation Second Edition, refer to
lapis lazuli in most instances instead of sapphire.
Shades of blue
List of minerals
Notes and citations
^ David Bomford and Ashok Roy, A Closer Look- Colour (2009), National
Gallery Company, London, (ISBN 978-1-85709-442-8)
^ Moorey, Peter Roger (1999). Ancient
Mesopotamian Materials and
Industries: the Archaeological Evidence. Eisenbrauns.
pp. 86–87. ISBN 978-1-57506-042-2.
^ a b c Bowersox & Chamberlin 1995
^ Alessandro Bongioanni & Maria Croce
^ a b "All about colored gemstones," the International Colored
^ Oxford English Dictionary
^ Senning, Alexander (2007). "lapis lazuli (lazurite)". Elsevier's
Dictionary of Chemoetymology. Amsterdam: Elsevier. p. 224.
^ Weekley, Ernest (1967). "azure". An Etymological Dictionary of
Modern English. New York: Dover Publications. p. 97.
^ Mindat entry relating to lapis lazuli
^ Mindat – Lazurite
^ Boros, E.; Earle, M. J.; Gilea, M. A.; Metlen, A.; Mudring, A.-V.;
Rieger, F.; Robertson, A. J.; Seddon, K. R.; Tomaszowska, A. A.;
Trusov, L.; Vyle, J. S. (2010). "On the dissolution of non-metallic
solid elements (sulfur, selenium, tellurium and phosphorus) in ionic
liquids". Chem. Comm. 46: 716–718. doi:10.1039/b910469k.
^ H. S. Rzepa, "Lapis lazuli: the Colour of Ultramarine." Accessed:
2011-03-06. (Archived by WebCite® at
^ Oldershaw 2003
^ Read, Peter (2005). Gemmology, Elsevier, p. 185.
^ Lapis lazuli,
^ a b Moorey, Peter Roger (1999). Ancient mesopotamian materials and
industries: the archaeological evidence. Eisenbrauns.
pp. 86–87. ISBN 978-1-57506-042-2.
Jewellery (2015-04-02). "A complete guide to Gemstones".
Jewellery news, jewellery fashion and
trends, jewellery designer reviews, jewellery education, opinions
Wrist watch reviews -
Jewellery Monthly. Retrieved 2017-08-28.
^ Claire, Iselin. "Ebih-Il, the Superintendent of Mari". Musée du
Louvre. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
^  Moment of Science site, Indiana Public Media
^ Alcestis Papademetriou, Mycenae, John S. Latsis Public Benefit
Foundation, 2015, p. 32.
^ Schumann, Walter (2006) . "Sapphire". Gemstones of the World.
trans. Annette Englander & Daniel Shea (newly revised &
expanded 3rd ed.). New York: Sterling. p. 102. In antiquity and
as late as the Middle Ages, the name sapphire was understood to mean
what is today described as lapis lazuli.
^ Theophrastus, On Stones (De Lapidibus) - IV-23, translated by D.E.
Eichholtz, Oxford University Press, 1965.
^ Pearlie Braswell-Tripp (2013), Real Diamonds and Precious Stones of
the Bible (ISBN 978-1-4797-9644-1)
^ "In His Image Devotional Bible" (IBN 978-1-4143-3763-0)
Bowersox, Gary W.; Chamberlin, Bonita E. (1995). "Gemstones of
Afghanistan". Tucson, AZ: Geoscience Press. .
Oldershaw, Cally (2003). "Firefly Guide to Gems". Toronto: Firefly
Bariand, Pierre, "Lapis Lazuli", Mineral Digest, Vol 4 Winter 1972.
Lapparent A.F., Bariand, P. et Blaise, J., "Une visite au gisement de
lapis lazuli de
Sar-e-Sang du Hindu Kouch, Afghanistan," C.R.
Somm.S.G.P.p. 30, 1964.
Wise, Richard W., Secrets Of The Gem Trade, The Connoisseur's Guide To
Precious Gemstones, 2016 ISBN 9780972822329
Wyart J. Bariand P, Filippi J., "Le Lapis Lazuli de Sar-e-SAng", Revue
de Geographie Physique et de Geologie Dynamique (2) Vol. XIV Pasc. 4
pp. 443–448, Paris, 1972.
Herrmann, Georgina, "Lapis Lazuli: The Early Phases of Its Trade",
Oxford University Dissertation, 1966.
Bakhtiar, Lailee McNair, Afghanistan's
Blue Treasure Lapis Lazuli,
Front Porch Publishing, 2011 ISBN 978-0615573700
Korzhinskij, D.S., "Gisements bimetasomatiques de philogophite et de
lazurite de l'Archen du pribajkale", Traduction par Mr. Jean
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lapis lazuli.
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"Lapis Lazuli". The New Student's Reference Work. 1914.
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