“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.”
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
We look to the soaring blue of the heavens to experience a moment of respite, even imagining that we have wings to dance with the clouds. Traditionally worn by the Virgin Mary in Renaissance paintings, the colour blue has come to mean truth, wisdom, loyalty, peace, piety, spirituality and eternity. Blue sets a high standard, resting serenely between violet and green on the visible spectrum, embracing the many shades and tints that come under its umbrella.
Blue dyes, exceedingly difficult to produce, were not used in art and decoration until long after the introduction of colours such as red, ochre, pink and purple. The most primitive dyes came from plants, Woad and Indigo. Europe relied on Woad, which became a staple in their dyeing industry. Indigo from Asia and Africa, was supplied via India, believed to be the oldest centre of indigo dying in ancient times. Blue pigments come from the minerals Lapis Lazuli or Azurite.
Afghanistan was the mining and exporting power for Lapis Lazuli. The exorbitant costs associated with caravan transport throughout the ancient world did not weaken demand, but it did prompt enterprising Egyptians to produce the first synthetic pigment, and change the dynamics of trade. “Egyptian Blue” combined silica, lime, copper and alkali, heating the mixture to 800 or 900 degrees. This was good news for the Egyptians who believed that blue protected them from evil. The Greeks chose Egyptian blue for the wall painting of Knossos. Romans, on the other hand, considered blue the colour of mourning and the symbol for barbarians.
From Pablo Picasso’s “Blue Period,” to the creation of “The Blues” music, to the discovery of blue jeans, our love affair with blue throughout the centuries has not diminished. We search the heavens and depths of our oceans to understand infinity. Perhaps all we need to do it reach for it…
“The sky, I thought, is not so grand;
I ‘most could touch it with my hand!
And reaching up my hand to try,
I screamed to feel it touch the sky.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Selected Poetry