BLUE - Color History
BLUE - Color History

Piece: The Virgin in Prayer, 1640-1650
The National Gallery, London

Adjacent Piece (not pictured): IKB 49, 1960, Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin

Ever since the Medieval era
, painters have depicted the Virgin Mary in a bright blue robe, choosing the color not for its religious symbolism, but rather for its hefty price tag. Mary’s iconic hue—called ultramarine blue—comes from lapis lazuli, a gemstone that for centuries could only be found in a single mountain range in Afghanistan. This precious material achieved global popularity, adorning Egyptian funerary portraits, Iranian Qur’ans, and later the headdress in Vermeer
’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665). For hundreds of years, the cost of lapis lazuli rivaled even the price of gold. In the 1950s, Yves Klein
collaborated with a Parisian paint supplier to invent a synthetic version of ultramarine blue, and this color became the French artist’s signature. Explaining the appeal of this historic hue, Klein said, “Blue has no dimensions. It is beyond dimensions.”

Nicole Fricke

Source: A Brief History of Color in Art - Artsy