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Blue is the Colour

The History of Blue - Manufacture, Symbolism & Popularity

It’s hard to imagine that the colour blue has not always existed when we are surrounded by it every day. However, there was no word for blue until ancient Egyptians had discovered the semi-precious Lapis Lazuli stone in Afghanistan – around 6000 years ago. Blue was a colour of privilege, reserved only for those rich enough to obtain what was a very scarce stone. The appearance of Lapis Lazuli on the tombs of pharaohs gave the colour a further sense of importance. Here at Museum Selection, we have found out about the history of this primary colour and where it first originated. Read on to find how this pigment was made and the symbolic meaning behind it.

The history of Blue museum image

Reproduction of the Blue Pigment

With the expense of mining Lapis Lazuli and the increasing desire to use it in decoration, the Egyptians made attempts to reproduce it, moving to invent the world’s first artificial pigment. Lapis was combined with ingredients such as calcium and limestone to create an unnatural source of this pigment. While the dyes were still expensive, ‘blue’ became a widely-known term throughout ancient Egypt.

Egyptian Lapis Pendant

The Symbolic Meaning of Blue

Throughout history, blue continued to evolve into an everyday colour. In 431 AD, the Catholic Church decided that the Virgin Mary should be depicted wearing blue, which triggered increased interest – particularly in dark blues, ultramarine and navy blue. With the Virgin Mary embodying traits of innocence and trustworthiness, the colour blue gained positive opinion. This same shade was adopted by the police in the 18th and 19th Century, extending the portrayal of trust and later, authority. As a result of navy blue becoming such an authoritative colour, lighter shades were also created in attempt to bring it back to its original meaning.

Creating the Colour Blue

In ancient China, shades of blue were created by blending copper and mercury – ironically attributed healing qualities while actually becoming poisonous concoctions. Heinz Burch claims that ‘40% of the Chinese emperors suffered from heavy-element poisoning.’

Despite still being expensive and mostly adorned by the rich, the industrial age brought the creation of a cheap fabric dye made from a plant called ‘Workaday Woad’. By drying and crushing the leaves and mixing with manure, a much less intense colour blue was created. This was not only a smelly process, but limited to the poor.

Blue Pigment image

Blue Representing Mood

As well as growing as a pigment, blue became a representation of mood too. Famously, Picasso’s ‘blue period’ represents a period of four years, in which his paintings adopted blue and blue-green colours, reflecting the negative experiences he had in Barcelona in 1901. Subjects included beggars, the old, the blind and street urchins.

After the Second World War, blue became known as a colour for boys. This originated from manufacturers who discovered that they could sell more if they distinguished the gender to which they marketed clothes.

Blue as a Fashion Statement

Finally, the 1950s brought distinct blue fashion developments – namely the famous Levi Strauss denim jeans. Since this time, it has only increased in popularity, costing far less than it did when it was first discovered.

Here at Museum Selection we celebrate the colour in all its various tones and the history behind this luxurious pigment. Why not browse our collection of Spring Blues and step out in history’s costliest colour?

Renaissance Alpaca Cardigan

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