Lapis lazuli

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
Lapis lazuli
polished specimen of Lapis lazuli
Category Rock
Chemical formula mixture of minerals
Color Blue, mottled with white calcite and brassy pyrite
Crystal habit Compact, massive
Crystal system None, as lapis is a rock. Lazurite, the main constituent, frequently occurs as dodecahedra
Cleavage None
Fracture Uneven-Conchoidal
Mohs Scale hardness 5 - 5.5
Luster dull
Refractive index 1.5
Streak light blue
Specific gravity 2.7 - 2.9
Other Characteristics The variations in composition cause a wide variation in the above values.

Lapis lazuli (pronounced /ˈlæpɪs ˈlæzjəlaiː or -li/) (SimplePronounciation | lap-is-la-zyoo-lie or lee[1]) (sometimes abbreviated to lapis) is a semi-precious stone prized since antiquity for its intense blue color.

Lapis lazuli has been mined in the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan for 6,500 years, and trade in the stone is ancient enough for lapis jewelry to have been found at Predynastic Egyptian sites, and lapis beads at neolithic burials in Mehrgarh, the Caucasus, and even as far from Afghanistan as Mauritania.[2]


[edit] Description

Rough and polished Lapis lazuli.

Lapis lazuli is a rock, not a mineral: whereas a mineral has only one constituent, lapis lazuli is formed from more than one mineral.[3]

The main component of lapis lazuli is lazurite (25% to 40%), a feldspathoid silicate mineral composed of sodium, aluminium, silicon, oxygen, sulfur, and chloride. Its formula is (Na,Ca)8(AlSiO4)6(S,SO4,Cl)1-2.[4] Most lapis lazuli also contains calcite (white), sodalite (blue) and pyrite (metallic yellow). Other possible constituents are augite, diopside, enstatite, mica, hauynite, hornblende and nosean. Some contain trace amounts of the sulfur rich lollingite variety geyerite.

Lapis lazuli usually occurs in crystalline marble as a result of contact metamorphism.

The finest color is intense blue, lightly dusted with small flecks of golden pyrite. Stones with no white calcite veins and only small pyrite inclusions are more prized. Patches of pyrite are an important help in identifying the stone as genuine and do not detract from its value. Often, inferior lapis is dyed to improve its color, producing a very dark blue with a noticeable grey cast which may also appear as a milky shade.

[edit] Uses

Lapis takes an excellent polish and can be made into jewelry, carvings, boxes, mosaics, ornaments and vases. In architecture it has been used for cladding the walls and columns of palaces and churches.

It was also ground and processed to make the pigment ultramarine for tempera paint and, more rarely, oil paint. Its usage as a pigment in oil paint ended in the early 19th century as a chemically identical synthetic variety, often called French Ultramarine, became available.

[edit] Etymology

Lapis is the Latin for 'stone' and lazuli the genitive form of the Medieval Latin lazulum, which is from the Arabic lāzaward, which is ultimately from the Persian لاژورد lāzhvard, the name of a place where lapis lazuli was mined.[5][6] The name of the place came to be associated with the stone mined there and, eventually, with its color. The English word azure, the Spanish and Portuguese azul, and the Italian azzurro are cognates. Taken as a whole, lapis lazuli means 'stone of Lāzhvard'.

[edit] Sources

The best lapis lazuli is found in limestone in the Kokcha River valley of Badakhshan province in northeastern Afghanistan, and these deposits in the mines of Sar-e-Sang have been worked for more than 6,000 years.[7] Afghanistan was the source of lapis for the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations, as well as the later Greek and Roman; during the height of the Indus valley civilization about 2000 B.C., the Harappan colony now known as Shortugai was established near the lapis mines.[2]

More recently, during the 1980s conflict with the USSR, Afghanistan resistance fighters disassembled unexploded Soviet landmines and ordnance and used the scavenged explosive to help mine lapis to further fund their resistance efforts.[citation needed]

In addition to the Afghan deposits, lapis has been extracted for years in the Andes near Ovalle, Chile, where the deep blue stones compete in quality with those from Afghanistan. Other less important sources include the Lake Baikal region of Russia, Siberia, Angola, Burma, Pakistan, USA (California and Colorado), Canada and India. A major new source of lazurite has recently been found in Mundelein, Illinois, and is proving a boon for that region's economy.

[edit] Cultural and historical/mythical usage

A Mesopotamian lapis lazuli pendant circa 2900 BCE.
A 11 cm (4.3 in) long lapis lazuli dove studded with gold pegs. Elamite. Dated 1200BCE from Susa, Iran.
An Elephant carving in high quality lapis lazuli, showing gold-colored inclusions of pyrite. The carving is 8 cm (3.1 in) long.
Carved lapis lazuli of a mountain scene, from the Chinese Qing Dynasty (1644–1912).

In ancient Egypt lapis lazuli was a favorite stone for amulets and ornaments such as scarabs; it was also used by the Assyrians and Babylonians for seals. Lapis jewelry has been found at excavations of the Predynastic Egyptian site Naqada (3300–3100 BC), and powdered lapis was used as eyeshadow by Cleopatra.[2]

As inscribed in the 140th chapter of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, lapis lazuli, in the shape of an eye set in gold, was considered an amulet of great power. On the last day of the month, an offering was made before this symbolic eye, for it was believed that, on that day, the supreme being placed such an image on his head.

The ancient royal Sumerian tombs of Ur, located near the Euphrates River in lower Iraq, contained more than 6000 beautifully executed lapis lazuli statuettes of birds, deer, and rodents as well as dishes, beads, and cylinder seals. These carved artifacts undoubtedly came from material mined in Badakhshan in northern Afghanistan. Much Sumerian and Akkadian poetry makes reference to lapis lazuli as a gem befitting royal splendor.

In ancient times, lapis lazuli was known as sapphire,[8] which is the name that is used today for the blue corundum variety sapphire. It appears to have been the sapphire of ancient writers because Pliny refers to sapphirus as a stone sprinkled with specks of gold. A similar reference can be found in the Hebrew Bible in Job 28:6.

The Romans believed that lapis was a powerful aphrodisiac. In the Middle Ages, it was thought to keep the limbs healthy, and free the soul from error, envy and fear.

It was once believed that lapis had medicinal properties. It was ground down, mixed with milk and applied as a dressing for boils and ulcers.

Many of the blues in painting from medieval Illuminated manuscripts to Renaissance panels were derived from lapis lazuli. Ground to a powder and processed to remove impurities and isolate the component lazurite, it forms the pigment ultramarine. This clear, bright blue, which was one of the few available to painters before the 19th century, cost a princely sum. As tempera painting was superseded by the advent of oil paint in the Renaissance, painters found that the brilliance of ultramarine was greatly diminished when it was ground in oil and this, along with its cost, led to a steady decline in usage. Since the synthetic version of ultramarine was discovered in the 19th century (along with other 19th century blues, such as cobalt blue), production and use of the natural variety has almost ceased, though several pigment companies still produce it and some painters are still attracted to its brilliance and its romantic history.

[edit] Poetry/literature

Lapis lazuli is repeatedly mentioned in the Sumerian and Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh. For instance, the Bull of Heaven's horns are composed of lapis lazuli. One version, at least, also suggests that the tale of Gilgamesh was recorded on a lapis lazuli tablet [1].

Lapis Lazuli is a poem written by William Butler Yeats. Text available at It is also mentioned in Yeats' poem Oil and Blood.

Lapis Lazuli is also mentioned in Robert Browning's The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church as the egotistical Bishop wished to have the rarest stone available to him for his soon to be tomb, ironically contradicting a Bishop's vow of simplicity.

Lapis lazuli also makes an appearance in Marianne Moore's poem, "A Talisman" - which is quoted by T. S. Eliot in his "Introduction to Selected Poems [of Marianne Moore]." The stanza of Moore's poem reads: "Of lapis-lazuli,/A scarab of the sea,/With wings spread-". Eliot, in the next paragraph, raises the question: "I cannot see what a bird carved of lapis-lazuli should be doing with coral feet; but even here the cadence, the use of rhyme, and a certain authoritativeness of manner distinguish the poem."

In Lorna Crozier's poem "The Memorial Wall", "a young man who'd come from Montana to find his brother's name paints the side door lapis lazuli".

In D. H. Lawrence's novel Women in Love, a female character attempts to kill her lover after a quarrel by smashing his head with a lapis lazuli paperweight.

In Robert A. Heinlein's novel Time Enough for Love, the centuries old main character, Lazarus Long, names one of his two twin cloned daughters Lapis Lazuli.

David Foster Wallace's essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" makes repeated reference to what author Frank Conroy, in a brochure for Caribbean Cruise Lines, dubbed "the lapis lazuli dome of the sky." The more Wallace considers the phrase, the more disingenuous, inexpressive and manufactured it seems to him.

In Katherine Roberts' novel The Babylon Game (the second novel in the series The Seven Fabulous Wonders), the royal seal found by Tiamat in the Princess' Garden is made out of lapis lazuli - the material used for all royal seals.

In Gary Snyder's "The Blue Sky," one of the pieces from his makemono poem Mountains and Rivers Without End, "lapis lazuli" appears several times. The beginning lines from the poem, for example, read: "'Eastward from here, / beyond Buddha worlds ten times as / numerous as the sands of the Ganges / there is a world called / PURE AS LAPIS LAZULI / its Buddha is called Master of Healing, / AZURE RADIANCE TAHAGATA'" (40).

In Emily Rodda's children's series Deltora Quest, the lapis lazuli, or "Heavenly Stone", is one of the seven lost gems of Deltora.

A lapis lazuli inlaid spittoon forms the central theme of a part of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.

In Clive Cussler's "The Treasure of Khan," lapis lazuli is mentioned as the material for the paths surrounding Shang-tu, the summer home of Kublai Khan near Peking, China. (Page 41)

In The Vampire Diaries by L. J. Smith, vampires wear necklaces or rings that contain lapis lazuli, as protection against the sun.

In Unicorns of Balinor by Mary Stanton, The Scepter, the royal scepter of Balinor, that belongs to Arianna and is capable of speech and providing advice, has a shaft made of lapis lazuli.

In Raymond Chandler's hard boiled detective novels, Philip Marlowe would often describe the blue eyes of beautiful women as having the appearance of lapis lazuli.

In the song Moonshot by Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham, from the album L'Avventura, an angel is described: "his hair was light, his eyes were love, his words were true, his eyes were lapis lazuli."[9]

Throughout the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage, lapis lazuli is always associated with structures built by wizards.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ *The New Penguin English Dictionary, 2000
  2. ^ a b c Bowersox & Chamberlin 1995
  3. ^
  4. ^ Mindat - Lazurite
  5. ^ Senning, Alexander (2007). "lapis lazuli (lazurite)". Elsevier's Dictionary of Chemoetymology. Amsterdam: Elsevier. pp. 224. ISBN 9780444522399. 
  6. ^ Weekley, Ernest (1967). "azure". An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English. New York: Dover Publications. pp. 97. 
  7. ^ Oldershaw 2003
  8. ^ Schumann, Walter (2006) [2002]. "Sapphire". Gemstones of the World. Trans. Annette Englander & Daniel Shea (Newly Revised & Expanded 3rd ed.). New York: Sterling. pp. 102. "In antiquity and as late as the Middle Ages, the name sapphire was understood to mean what is today described as lapis lazuli." 
  9. ^ Moonshot lyrics at

[edit] References

  • Bowersox, Gary W.; Chamberlin, Bonita E. (1995), Gemstones of Afghanistan, Tucson, AZ: Geoscience Press .
  • Oldershaw, Cally (2003), "Lapis Lazuli", Firefly Guide to Gems, Toronto: Firefly Books .

[edit] External links

Personal tools