A Colored Past (2): Depths of Sky and Sea

It is the color that human beings likely have seen the most of throughout history. Between the expanses of the sky and the oceans, blue is the pervading backdrop of our world. As a species, we crawled out of this color, as did everything else, finding our roots in the primordial sea which covered everything. As spiritual beings, many of us imagine a next life to which we ascribe the symbolism of ascending past the clouds and into the blue. It is a wide and persistent color, embracing humanity throughout cycles of our births and deaths.
As enormous as blue is in our cosmologies as people, it has a quiet presence in the history of dyes and pigmentation. It is absent from the cave paintings of pre-history, likely because it was difficult to produce blue dyes and pigments of quality. Plants such as woad and indigo were early sources of textile dyes, while pigments generally came from semi-precious minerals, notably ground lapis lazuli.
In the ancient world, Egypt became a major center for the production of blue — they developed what is known as Egyptian blue, the earliest synthetic pigment in recorded history, from a mixture of heated minerals and metals, featuring copper as a key colorant.
In the Middle Ages, blue was a color worn by the working poor, usually obtained through low-quality dyeing with the woad plant. The red- and purple- clad nobility and religious thought little of the hue, until cobalt was used in stained glass windows in the mid-12th century in Paris. The ethereal blue light which suddenly filled high holy spaces, such as the Saint Denis Basilica and the Chartres Cathedral, became renowned and popularized. From this point, blue began to attract the attention of aesthetes and elites.
No coincidence, then, that King Louis IX (1214) became the first French head of state to wear blue; soon after, he was copied by nobles and the wealthy across Europe. Centuries layer during the Renaissance, as painters sought to create increasingly realistic depictions in their tableaus, ultramarine came into vogue as a pigment which could provide a wide range of subtle shades, capturing the breadth and nuance of the blues of the natural world. It thus became precious, and its high-quality formulations were worth more than their weight in gold.
From this history of filling the air of large churches and expressing natural nuances, blue still remains a color linked to atmosphere and expansion. Today, each paragraph you read on the internet is laden with hyperlinks, whose standard color is blue, gently suggesting the wide and interconnected world of unseen information that we live amidst.
Illust.: Coronation of Louis VIII and Blanche of Castille, 1223