The colour blue – reserved for the robes of the holiest of mothers – was one of the rarest and most expensive pigments in use during the Renaissance. For the depiction of Virgin Mary, only ultramarine was used due to its price and elusiveness as it is was found only in Asia and is presently mined in only a handful of places around the world. The name ultramarine was derived from the Italian oltramarion meaning ‘from beyond the sea’ because it was imported from Asia. Made from ground lapis lazuli, the pigment yielded a brilliant hue verging on the violet side rather than the greenish tint commonly found in the substitute colour, azurite.
Pablo Picasso, Still-Life with Cheese, 1944
oil on canvas, Private collection