Skip to comments.Egyptian blue found in Romanesque altarpiece (ESPAŅA)
Posted on 05/05/2010 11:14:00 AM PDT by decimon
A team of researchers from the University of Barcelona (UB) has discovered remains of Egyptian blue in a Romanesque altarpiece in the church of Sant Pere de Terrassa (Barcelona). This blue pigment was used from the days of ancient Egypt until the end of the Roman Empire, but was not made after this time. So how could it turn up in a 12th Century church?
Egyptian blue or Pompeian blue was a pigment frequently used by the ancient Egyptians and Romans to decorate objects and murals. Following the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 AD), this pigment fell out of use and was no longer made. But a team of Catalan scientists has now found it in the altarpiece of the 12th Century Romanesque church of Sant Pere de Terrassa (Barcelona). The results of this research have just been published in the journal Archaeometry.
"We carried out a systematic study of the pigments used in the altarpiece during restoration work on the church, and we could show that most of them were fairly local and 'poor' earth, whites from lime, blacks from smoke and we were completely unprepared for Egyptian blue to turn up", Mario Vendrell, co-author of the study and a geologist from the UB's Grup Patrimoni research group, told SINC.
The researcher says the preliminary chemical and microscopic study made them suspect that the samples taken were of Egyptian blue. To confirm their suspicions, they analysed them at the Daresbury SRS Laboratory in the United Kingdom, where they used X-ray diffraction techniques with synchrotron radiation. It will be possible to carry out these tests in Spain once the ALBA Synchrotron Light Facility at Cerdanyola del Vallés (Barcelona) comes into operation.
"The results show without any shadow of a doubt that the pigment is Egyptian blue", says Vendrell, who says it could not be any other kind of blue pigment used in Romanesque murals, such as azurite, lapis lazuli or aerinite, "which in any case came from far-off lands and were difficult to get hold of for a frontier economy, as the Kingdom Aragon was between the 11th and 15th Centuries".
A possible solution to the mystery
The geologist also says there is no evidence that people in Medieval times had knowledge of how to manufacture this pigment, which is made of copper silicate and calcium: "In fact it has never been found in any mural from the era".
"The most likely hypothesis is that the builders of the church happened upon a 'ball' of Egyptian blue from the Roman period and decided to use it in the paintings on the stone altarpiece", Vendrell explains.
The set of monuments made up by the churches of Sant Pere, Sant Miquel and Santa María de Terrassa are built upon ancient Iberian and Roman settlements, and the much-prized blue pigment could have remained hidden underground for many centuries. "But only a little of it, because this substance couldn't be replaced once the ball was all used up the blue was gone", concludes Vendrell.
Lluveras, A. Torrents, P. Giráldez y M. Vendrell-Saz. "Evidence for the use of egyptian blue in an 11th century mural altarpiece by SEMEDS, FTIR y SR XRD (Church of Sant Pere, Terrassa, Spain)". Archaeometry 52 (2): 308-319, abril de 2010.
Caption: The altarpiece of the Church of Sant Pere contains Egyptian blue, archaeologists have found.
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Gone blue ping.
Sort of an art ping.
Have you heard of this pigment? Is there anything equivalent in use now?
It’s a nice shade of blue.
Thanks decimon.This blue pigment was used from the days of ancient Egypt until the end of the Roman Empire, but was not made after this time... The set of monuments made up by the churches of Sant Pere, Sant Miquel and Santa María de Terrassa are built upon ancient Iberian and Roman settlements, and the much-prized blue pigment could have remained hidden underground for many centuries.To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.
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She wore bluuue vel-vet...
Blue on blue, heartache on heartache...
He made a career on blue.
It would take me hours to pick a site to recommend, dealing with ancient pigments; there are so many excellent ones. Google “woad” and “egyptian blue” and have a blast. :)
Your idea of having a blast is Googling 'woad.' Uh-huh. And I see you live in New York. Uh-huh. ;-)
Well, I was going to guess that a family of artists had kept the precious pigment for hundreds of years and passed it down.
Could be. More possibilities than I can imagine.
The significance of this is that it corroborates what every student of iconography knows intuitively: that medieval iconographic tradition, — in this case, Romanesque but also of course Byzantine,— has it roots in patristic times, when memory of how Christ, His Blessed Mother and the apostles looked was alive.
O decimon, my fellow keyboardist!
Here are three factoids which I assure you are not powerfully bonded together:
I’ve always been interested in ancient trade and technology. Civ’s ping list is likely to contain others of my kind. I do not live in NYC anymore.
Link just for you:
I’ve heard of it. We prob have many shades that are the equivalent but the importance of it is the fact that the Egyptians had found a way to make such a color, that lasted so long, over 1000 years, and retain it’s luminescence.
I tried to find a picture of the alter, but this one doesn’t seem to want to enlarge.
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