Out of Ancient Egypt: The History of Blue


As one of the three primary colors, blue has been a prized hue for thousands of years. It makes up two of the largest elements in nature: the sky and the ocean. However, it's rarely seen in other organic forms like plants or animals. Lapis, a semiprecious blue stone mined in Afghanistan, was sacred in Ancient Egyptian culture. They loved it so much that they started using the stone in their jewelry, art, and headpieces. However, Lapis could not be used to make paint. Every time they tried, they ended up with a muddled shade of grey goo. They had to put their creative thinking caps on and come up with another way to make blue dye.

We can thank the Egyptians for many inventions including the manufacturing of the first blue pigments. Rare and very expensive to create, blue became the color of royalty. Selling as highly sought after dyes, the Egyptian-made pigments quickly made their way around the world from Persia to Rome to Mesoamerica.

FUN FACT: Prussian Blue can be used in a pill form as a cure for metal poisoning.

Ancient Arts & Crafts

Egyptian Blue, also known as cuprorivaite, was first invented around 2,200 B.C. Several formulas were used to create different shades. Ground limestone would be mixed with a copper-containing mineral and sand. Minerals like azurite or malachite were commonly used to enhance various hues. The mixture was then heated between 1470 and 1650°F. This process transformed the concoction into an opaque blue glass. This vibrant glass was then crushed and combined with egg whites or another thickening agents to create a glaze or paint. This long-lasting gloss was used to color ceramics, statues, and even the tombs of the pharaohs.

FUN FACT: Today there are 74 different shades of blue! Ranging from indigo to azure to navy to ultramarine, blue has become a staple in fashion, art, home decor, beauty, and so much more.

Color Blindness in the Ancient World

Scientists and archaeologists debate on whether or not our distant ancestor could even see the color blue. It's presence in cave paintings and other pre-historic works of art is nonexistent. In Homer's Odyssey, the Greek poet describes the color of the ocean as the "red-wine sea." Could they have been color-blind? Perhaps. Many reference to white, black, red, and yellow can be found in ancient literature. However, blue did not come into the spotlight until the Egyptians made it into a colorful trend. This might suggest a modern development in eyesight, or maybe the Greeks didn't care that much for this aquatic hue.

FUN FACT: In Middle Eastern superstitions, blue trinkets are used to ward off the Evil Eye, otherwise known as jealousy.

I could go on and on about how amazing the color blue is. It's history is vast. So vast that I may need to write a book about it! If you want to learn more about ancient and modern Egypt, check out Cleopatra's Beauty Secrets and Egyptian Beauty Unveiled.

Until next time...

-Fish

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