Gleaned from Bodleian Libraries Workshop on Ultramarine Blue

Did you know that the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford have a Tumblr micro blog? I didn’t until just recently. And oh my, it’s a treasure trove!

Bodleian Libraries Ultramarine Young Man Blue Rock Bodl MS Elliott 287 fol34a

A short post gives a few tantalising details on lapis lazuli, the mineral that was ground down to get bright blue pigment for example for illuminating Medieval manuscripts:

“In his travels Marco Polo vividly described the cold province of Badakhshan, a prosperous land where horses that descended from Alexander’s horse Bucephalus were once bred and where priceless rubies and the finest lapis lazuli were found.

“Since ancient times lapis lazuli has been sourced in this remote region, north-east of modern Afghanistan, and exported over vast distances. Its mines on the steep Hindu Kush Mountains, above the Valley of the Kokcha River, can only be reached through a tortuous and dangerous route.

“Lapis lazuli consists of a large number of minerals, including the blue mineral lazurite, the white mineral calcite and golden specks of iron pyrites.

“A laborious process transforms this composite mineral into the pigment ultramarine; various grades of ultramarine can be obtained, from the purest extremely expensive deep blue, composed mostly of lazurite particles to the pale grey so-called ultramarine ash.”

 

Tumblr Bodleian Libraries Ultramarine Workshop Screencap

The conservators at Bodleian (Anita Chowdry, David Margulies and Marinita Stiglitz) learned how to make pigment from scratch in a two-day workshop, and shared their notes in a longer post.

Bodleian Libraries Ultramarine Detail Bodl MS Arab d98 fol1b

Both the historical process and conservators’ efforts are fascinating! Did you know, for instance, that before explosives were developed, lapis lazuli was mined with the help of large fires and cold water?

Visit the Tumblr post for more photos, and read more in the Bodleian blog post “Exploring Ultramarine”.

Found via MedievalPOC on Tumblr.

Images via Bodleian Libraries: Young man picks a blue rock, Bodleian Library, MS. Elliott 287, fol. 34a. Workshop image collage screencapped from Tumblr. Detail of Bodleian Library, MS. Arab. d. 98, fol. 1B.

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.

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Ancient Clay Cup Animation

Oh, wow: quite possibly the oldest attempt at animation ever comes from some four thousand years ago. It’s a depiction of a goat jumping up a tree to eat the leaves:

The sequence laid flat looks like this:

Wikimedia Burnt City Iran Clay Cup Reproduction

And here’s a photo of the cup:

Wikimedia Burnt City Iran Clay Cup

Found via The Real Iran on Tumblr. My Tumblr source doesn’t unfortunately give any more info, but it sounds like the cup was found in the Bronze Age site of Shahr-e Sūkhté (or Shahr-e Sukhteh) in Sistan, southeastern Iran.

Just reading the Wikipedia page for Shahr-e Sūkhté makes my imagination run—a large trading route hub with connections to Mesopotamia, Central Asia, and India with rich material culture would make an excellent setting for historical or speculative fiction. (For example, among the archaeological finds from the Burnt City is apparently the world’s first artificial eyeball.)

Finding real-world inspiration like this is when I really wish I was a writer!

Images: Animation via Wikimedia. Reproduction via Wikimedia. Cup photo via Wikimedia (Shahr-e Sūkhté, Iran; late half of 3rd millennium BCE; clay).

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?


I Want an Iwan

Well, no I don’t actually want one. I don’t have room for one to begin with, and I don’t live in the right climate anyway. That doesn’t change the fact that iwans are cool. Literally.

An iwan is a large room with a vaulted ceiling that has walls on three sides and the fourth side open to the air. They were built in the heat of Mesopotamia to create large shady spaces that were still open to light and air. The earliest iwans are thought to have been constructed under the Parthian empire in the first or second centuries CE. One of the earliest examples to survive into modern times was at Ctesiphon on the Tigris River, built by the Sasanian empire in the sixth century CE. Unfortunately, the building fell into poor repair over time and was destroyed by wars in the twentieth century, but in these old photographs you can still see enormous vaulted space.

 

Photograph of a Sasanian iwan at Ctesiphon, photograph 1864, Wonders of the Past vol. 2
Sasanian iwan, from Wonders of the Past vol. 2 via Wikimedia (photograph 1864). Note the people standing on top of the roof vault for a sense of scale.
Photograph of the same iwan from half a century later showing ongoing decay, currently San Diego Air and Space Museum
Photograph of the same iwan from half a century later showing ongoing decay via Wikimedia (photograph currently San Diego Air and Space Museum)

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