Where does the word “ultramarine” (lapis lazuli) come from and What does ultramarine mean?

The pigment that we know as ultramarine was formerly obtained only by extracting it from the mineral lapis lazuli, or “azure stone”, from Latin lapis, stone, and Arabic lazward, azure.

The pigment was known in the eleventh century A.D., at least, and may have been used at an even earlier date.

It was then very costly, literally worth its weight in gold, for only a small amount of pigment was obtainable from the mineral and the mineral was itself imported, probably from Persia.

It was to the fact that the mineral came from a foreign country that the pigment received the name ultramarine. That is, for many years after importation was begun, it was simply referred to by the Latin phrase, azurrum ultramarinum.

The meaning is “azure from over the sea.” The English translation reduced it to ultramarine, literally meaning, “over the sea.”

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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