The origin of…Blue

“Picasso had his pink period and his blue period. I am in my blonde period right now.” Hugh Hefner

Post 59 Blue

Since the color blue cannot be readily found in nature, early cave paintings lack blue. Only when mining came into play, the first stable color blue colorant was used and came from lapis lazuli, a semiprecious stone mined in Afghanistan beginning about 6,000 years ago.
The Egyptians used the color blue to adorn the tombs of the pharaohs, as it was believed that blue would protect the dead against evil in the afterlife. But the high price and scarcity of the mineral made them start producing their own blue pigment as of 2,500 BC. Sand, limestone and copper were mixed and heated into the chemical compound calcium copper silicate, which was a royal-turquoise pigment called Egyptian Blue.
In China from around 800 BC, blue pigments were created by mixing copper with heavy elements like lead, mercury and barium. The color blue that was created is known as Han Blue. The chemical composition of Egyptian Blue and Han Blue are essentially the same, with the exception that the Egyptians used calcium and the Chinese barium, leading some scientists to wonder if there has been any exchange between them about the recipe for creating blue pigments.
In pre-Colombian Mesoamerica another type of blue was created around 800 AD by combining indigo dyes from the leaves of añil plants (organic) with palygorskite (inorganic), a natural clay. There must have been a third ingredient to bind the two, which might have been dehydroindigo, the oxidized form of indigo.

The Ancient Greeks didn´t have a word for blue. Kyaneos was used to describe dark blue, dark green, black, brown and violet and glaukos for light blue, light green, grey or yellow. These words are more like expressions of relative light intensity than descriptions of color, because Ancient Greeks described objects based on other qualities, such as the fluidness or freshness of an object.
During Roman times blue was the color of working class clothing and the low status of blue remained so for several centuries in Europe. This changed in the 12th century with the introduction of the new pigment ultramarine from Asia, made from lapis lazuli. The color blue was associated with purity and ultramarine was used to show the importance of the Virgin Mary in paintings, in which she was always painted wearing an ultramarine robe. It was an extremely expensive pigment until a synthetic ultramarine was invented in 1826.

For many centuries, babies were dressed in neutral white colors and pastel baby clothes were introduced in the mid-19th century, but they were not like they are today:
a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said: “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/when-did-girls-start-wearing-pink-1370097/?no-ist). Then in the 1940´s retailers and manufacturers decided on blue for boys and pink for girls, the colors that we still use today.

Blue:

  1. having the color of the clear sky
  2. sad or unhappy (source: Merriam Webster)

The English word blue, Dutch blauw and Italian blu come from Old High German blao, from Proto-Germanic *blæwaz, from Proto Indo European *bhlewas, light-colored/blue/blond/yellow, from the Proto Indo European root bhel-, to shine/flash.
Spanish azul comes from Arabic lāzaward, lapis luazuli, from Persian laǧvard/ lažvard, from Sanskrit rājāvarta, king´s rice.

Blue in other languages:
Dutch: blauw
Spanish: azul
Italian: blu

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