Blue Alchemy: the world’s oldest artificial pigment rediscovered

The first artificial pigment in history, called Egyptian blue, is rediscovered after being lost for almost 1200 years by designer Siba Sahabi. She used the colour for a collection of seven vases inspired by Mesopotamian pottery made of felt strips, called Blue Alchemy.

In Ancient Egypt, the colour blue was held in high regard, as it symbolised life, fertility and rebirth. One type of blue was extracted from lapis lazuli, a semi precious stone from Afghanistan that is rare and extremely expensive. Because of this, craftsmen tried to imitate the hue. They were successful, as a mixture of silica, lime, copper, and alkali did the trick, heated by a temperature of between 850-950 degrees Celsius (1562-1742 degrees Fahrenheit). The discovery was made during the production of glazed ceramics, as they use the same raw materials.

Sahabi’s aim is to show through her work how different cultures can influence each other, a cross-cultural exchange through both in space and time. Her main focus lies on the influence of the Middle East on Europe. Looking for inspiration, she stumbled upon a story about Egyptian blue, which caught her interest. Sahabi used modern, industrially made pigments for her project, as the history of the colour is more important than making it according to traditional methods.

The association with rebirth is what appealed to Sahabi, in her case the rebirth of the colour itself. Egyptians used the colour for thousands of years, and its use spread from Ancient Egypt to Mesopotamia, Greece, and the Roman Empire. However, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the use of Egyptian blue declined rapidly and from around 800 AD, the colour was virtually not used anymore. Until now. After more than a millennium, we can once more enjoy the colour that was once held in high regard.

A next project of Sahabi might include the brilliant red colour vermillion.

Courtesy photos: Lisa Klappe