Henry Forwood’s Account of Discovering Lapis Lazuli
Henry Forwood explains:
“I first came across Lapis Lazuli when I went to the Tutankhamen exhibition in 1972. It featured heavily as many artefacts boasted pieces of Lapis Lazuli inlaid into them. The most dramatic artefact and the one which I will always remember is the famous death mask.
Later in life, my father brought my mother a beautiful Lapis bracelet made by Navajo Indians. This American tribe has been making jewellery from this stone for generations. Being able to inspect the bracelet up close allowed me to see the range of deep blues flecked with gold. I began to understand why this stone has been sought after as a luxury and exotic material”.
A Brief History of Lapis Lazuli
Lapis lazuli or ‘Lapis’ for short has caught man’s attention for millennium. It was mined in Afghanistan in about 7500 BC and has always been highly valued. Artefacts from the Indus Valley civilisation have even been found, which is one of the oldest sites of settlement. The Neolithic people treasured Lapis beads and samples have been found as far away as the Caucasus. Furthermore, the Ancient Egyptians were particularly fond of it. Many pieces are displayed in their museums such as Lapis scarab beetles and amulets. The most famous example of all is probably the inlay in the death mask of Tutankhamun.
At the end of the Middle Ages, Lapis began to make its way to Europe. Artists then used to grind it into a fine powder to be used as a pigment in paint, creating the colour Ultramarine. The artists Titian, Vermeer and Masaccio were amongst those who began to use it. However, because of the cost, it was only the most important figures who wore the blue clothes in paintings. In this period of religious painting, this normally meant the Virgin Mary. Consequently, this is why she is often portrayed in rich blue robes.
About Lapis Lazuli
Lapis Lazuli is a deep blue metamorphic rock used as a semi-precious stone. The primary source of the stone is in Afghanistan, but there is a substantial mine west of Lake Baikal in Russia. Other mines are in Chile, Italy, The USA, Mongolia and Canada.
The colour of the stone has many variations and is called by a variety of names including Royal Blue, Midnight blue, Marine blue or Indigo to name just a few. The best quality is plain blue, but if it is evenly sprinkled with gold coloured pyrite, the value is still maintained. On the other hand, white streaks of calcite degrade its value.
Because of its colour, deep blue flecked with gold – the sky and the sun- the early Christians linked it with the heavens, and it became known as the Virgin Mary’s stone.
Faux Lapis Lazuli by Forwood Design
Craftsmen have been creating faux Lapis for hundreds of years, trying to imitate the rich blues and gold of the real stone. It was created with indigo paint and sometimes flecked with gold. It can be seen on trinket boxes and mirror frames.
“Because of its rich luxurious colour, I wanted to recreate the look in my designs, albeit with a modern twist. I was determined that what I created must look real and not fake as some of the polymer clay versions look. I finally achieved my Lapis dreams by developing a film of ink depicting a sheet of Lapis which I could float on water. When products or panels are lowered into the water, the ink wraps around the item, adhering to it. The results, I think, speak for themselves”.
Lapis Lazuli in Interior Design
“With my interior design hat on, I love the intense blue of Lapis. I think it evokes a sense of rich luxury. Having said that, because the colour is so strong and vibrant, it should be used with constraint.
I believe a single statement piece works best. A Lapis Lazuli mirror – or a pair of them – in a neutrally painted hallway or living room can focus a space. It can also be used as a focal point in an area within a room, such as a box or sculpture. I use the stone on my dining table in the form of placemats and coasters, injecting a touch of exotic luxury into my table settings”.
Frequently asked questions about Lapis Lazuli
Q. What is the spiritual meaning of Lapis Lazuli?
A. The Sumerians loved Lapis and believed that the spirit of their gods lived within the stone. Whereas the ancient Egyptians, because of its deep blue colour, saw it as a symbol of the night sky. Lapis Lazuli is associated with strength, courage, royalty, wisdom, intellect and truth.
Q. Does Lapis Lazuli need to be cleansed?
A. Lapis is quite a soft stone, which means it should not be soaked in water for long periods. After cleaning, dry the stone immediately and thoroughly.