Three colours blue, 12 June

Blue was a new colour (apart from sea and sky), previously only earth colours (charcoal, ochres etc.) were used.


The ceiling of the hypostyle hall in Dendera’s temple of Hathor (god of love, beauty and music and motherhood) is blue. The wonder of the pigment was revealed after all the soot from lamps was removed. We visited in an armed convey, but well worth thr effort.

Ceiling, Hypostyle Hall of Hathor’s Temple, Dendera

It is beautiful, very impressive and in good condition being only 2,000 years old (recent for ancient Egypt). The ceiling represents the heavens, with the moon traveling across the heavens, and Ra travelling across the sky in his barge, providing sunlight for the world.

The Egyptians appreciated turquoise and lapis lazuli and wanted a blue pigment. They used two. Azurite is a soft, deep-blue copper mineral produced by weathering of copper ore deposits, but it was rare and hard to work. So they invented Egyptian blue (frit), a mixture of silica, lime, copper and an alkali, (the colour is due to calcium-copper tetrasilicate). The earliest known use is on an alabaster vase (3,250 BCE), excavated at Hierakonpolis.

Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua (Fresco, 1305)

Ceiling, heaven, Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel

Giotto used Lapis Lazuli on an enormous scale, which would have cost a fortune. In these frescoes, blue represents the divine, and the ceiling heaven. Though, the same deep blue is also used for the sky in the narrative wall scenes.

I visited the chapel in 1990 before restoration. You could just walk in and spend as log as you wanted. Following restoration, the chapel reopened in 2002 and is climate controlled. I visited again, this time I had to book tickets and wait in a sealed room before entering the chapel. You are given 15 minutes. I was tense, there is so much to see. I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much, even if the blue was astonishing

The mineral was dug out of Afghanistan’s Kokcha Valley, imported with great expense and worth more than gold. The raw mineral is resistant to light, but on surrendering to the vapour of acid becomes a passionate lover of light. The extraction process was complex and demanding


You don’t need lapis. Some years ago I was in London, wandering through the National Gallery and reached one of the Impressionist rooms. One work out-dazzled the Monets and Pissarros, Arthur Streeton’s ‘Blue Pacific’ from 1890 with the sandstone cliffs of Coogee and a deep blue Pacific.

Arthur Streeton, ‘Pacific Blue’

Streeton used cobalt blue, an alumina-based pigment invented at the end of the 18th century in Europe and used by Turner, Monet and Van Gogh among many others. Though as often is the case, it was invented in China and used in blue and white porcelain from the early 9th century. This painting was bought for over a million Australian dollars in 2005 by an Australian businessman who loaned it to the gallery in 2015. It was the first Australian painting to be hung in the gallery.

I was looking forward to coming home and Australia’s intense blue sky.

Valla Beach

Blue skies, sandstone cliffs and Casuarinas, Valla Beach, June 4, 2024
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