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the Journey of the Blue Pigment


Today, if we decide to paint something, it is not hard to find the colors we need. But in the past, it was so hard to get some of the pigments. People used sea creatures for purple, some insect shells for red, plants and minerals for green and flowers for yellow. But getting the blue pigment was a real challenge in the past. The color blue was everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Therefore, humans struggled a lot to obtain the pigment blue and that’s why it was used in the paintings a lot later than most of the colors. Here is the journey of achieving the blue pigment.

Egyptian Blue

The Egyptian blue is considered the first synthetic paint in history. It is considered it was found near in B.C. 2200. The Egyptians were so mesmerized by the blue of the Nile and the sky that they became very ambitious about achieving the blue pigment. At that time, lapis lazuli was the only source of blue. But since it was coming from Afghanistan, it was so expensive for them and they didn’t succeed to invent a blue pigment from it.

After many efforts, Egyptians made a pigment really close to lapis lazuli’s blue. The oldest recipe of the Egyptian blue we know was prepared by a Roman named Vitruvius. The recipe says you should mix sand, limestone and mineral including copper. But his recipe has something missing. You should add calcium to achieve the color blue. However, some researchers say that at that time, sand included calcium as well so that’s the reason Vitruvius didn’t include calcium in his recipe.


For centuries, lapis lazuli was only found in Afghanistan. Many people tried to obtain a blue pigment from it, but they didn’t succeed until 6th century. After almost 700 years of its discovery, ultramarine became the worlds most rare and precious color. Its price was equal to gold for centuries and that’s why it was only used by rich people. Some painters like Johannes Vermeer became poor after buying too much blue color. Some say Michelangelo didn’t complete his “The Entombment” painting because he couldn’t afford buying this color.

Prussian Blue

In 1703, Johann Jacob was working on red pigments, he was using animal blood. According to his calculations, animal blood was supposed to make the red pigments stronger. But because of some unexpected chemical reactions, he invented a new tone of blue called “Prussian blue”.

It includes cyanide which is dangerous for humans, however thanks to chemical bonds it does not affect human life unlike some paints in the past. Many painters used this color including Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Van Gogh and more. Another fact about Prussian blue is that people also used it as an antidote for metal poisoning.


Prussian blue is not the only blue color that was found by accident. The latest pigment of blue was found in 2009. A chemist named Mas Subramanian found this amazing vibrant tone of blue by accident at Oregon University. I know the name of it looks like random letters but it has a meaning. To make this pigment, you need the elements Yttrium, Indium and Manganese. That’s why it’s named Y+In+Mn=YInMn.


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