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Lapis lazuli appears as a mineral, but according to geological classification, it comes under the category of metamorphic rocks. It is a blue rock gemstone that has served many purposes throughout the history. The rock of lapis lazuli is composed of many different minerals and its color is the result of the presence of blue silicate mineral called lazurite. Some other minerals such as white calcite and crumbs of pyrite are also part of the mix of lapis lazuli.
Origin of the Name
The name of this rock gemstone has its origin in Latin and Persian languages. ‘Lapis’ is a word from Middle Latin which means ‘a stone’ and ‘Lazuli’ is a genitive of ‘lazulum’. ‘Lazulum’ has been derived from a Persian word ‘lazhward’ meaning ‘blue’.
History of the Rock Mineral
Egyptians’ Obsession with Lapis Lazuli
The history of lapis lazuli is very fascinating because it has its roots in the pre-BC era. In ancient Egypt, this stone was considered to be one of the most prized tributes and rewards. Some of the oldest mines in Egypt date back to 4000 BC and interestingly, are still active sites of lapis lazuli mining.
It is referenced as sapphire in the Old Testament and thought to be one of the twelve stones embedded in the breastplate of the High Priest. Clothes of royalty and pastors are dyed with this rock gemstone to distinguish them from those of ordinary people. The golden coffin of the Egyptian king, Tutankhamen, was ornamented with lapis lazuli. The stone — due to its ultramarine hue — is considered very important since it contrasts perfectly with the arid desert hues of the region.
In medieval Europe, lapis lazuli was considered a part of the heaven’s sky. It was used to repel evil spirits and considered sacred to get the blessings of the spirits of wisdom and light.
Geological Occurrence of Lapis Lazuli
Lapis Lazuli is formed when stones like marble and lime go through the process of metamorphism. During the process, the lazurite takes its place in the host rocks in the form of layers and stripes with other mineral additions to take the shape of lapis lazuli.
A rock must have a peculiar blue color and one-fourth of its part must be made of blue lazurite to be considered lapis lazuli. The addition of calcite and pyrite are responsible for white and gold layers in the stone.
How Lapis Lazuli Rocks get Refined?
Many of the specimens of mined lapis lazuli are dyed in the finishing process before going into the market as sculpture base, ornaments and gemstones. They are dyed with blue color to remove the white shade created by the presence of calcite.
Uses of Lapis Lazuli
Lapis lazuli is commonly used as an ornamental stone in pins, earrings and pendants. Lapis lazuli has a Mohs hardness of 5, which makes it unsuitable for jewelry items that face more abrasion such as rings and bracelets.
Lapis Lazuli: a Pigment
Lapis lazuli has been used as a high quality pigment for a long time. To make pure rich blue pigments, the rock is treated with soft acids to remove the minerals of calcite and dolomite that adulterate the blue color of the stone. The final product of lapis-rich pigment is then mixed with oils and other mediums to be used as high quality paint.
The Starry Night: A gift of Lapis Lazuli Pigment
For more than 100 years, the art and culture all around the world have been fascinated and inspired from the master strokes of Van Gogh in his one of the best artwork “The Starry Night”. The painting has a distinctive vivid blue backdrop which is there because The Dutch maestro used ultramarine lapis lazuli pigment for this oil on canvas painting. Some other historical paintings of medieval times are also based on the pigment of lapis lazuli.
In alternative medicines, lapis lazuli is still used as the stone for its benefits of different healing energies.