ON BEING BLUE


In the National Gallery in London is an unfinished painting showing Christ being carried to his tomb.

Michelangelo did not finish the painting which he called The Entombment”. This makes me feel so much better when I look at my painting of the herd of Alaskan moose who will be forever marching through the snow going who knows where. In my case, it’s a case of procrastination; Michelangelo, on the other hand, couldn’t afford the paint.

Though the rest of the work looks nearly finished, or at least drawn in, the large blank space in the right hand corner has not even been started. It was probably meant to be reserved for the Virgin Mary in her blue robe, but the twenty-five year old Michelangelo couldn’t afford the ultramarine blue it deserved. He must have cursed for awhile and wrung his hands while waiting for his patron to send the money or the paint. But in 1501 Michelangelo left both Rome and that canvas to carve his David in Florence, and he never returned with the blue paint to finish the Virgin’s robe.

Ultramarine, coming from mines in Afghanistan and other exotic places, is made from ground lapis lazuli, then mixed with oils, wax, or other carriers, so understandably, it is not a paint an ordinary dabbler like me would use a lot of. In 1824 a reward of a thousand francs was offered to someone who could come up with an alternative to the color. A Frenchman named Guimet won the prize for “French Ultramarine”, which to the untrained eye is a good substitute.

michelangelo

Vermeer was less parsimonious in his use of the color, and proceeded to put his family in debt.

johannes_vermeer_-_girl_with_a_pearl_earring_-_wga24666Girl With a Pearl Earring Vermeer

Ultramarine is a word that has always seemed to me to taste of the ocean. It has a smooth, salty sound, suggesting a bluer blue than even the Mediterranean can reflect on a sunny morning. Think of the Greek Islands in the sunshine.

We think of the sky as being blue, yet there are more tints and shades of blue than could be used in a lifetime. The sky can be azure, cobalt, cerulean, or a hundred other tints. The bluebells of Scotland once seen, remain to be captured in memory again and again.