The Eternity of the Night Sky – Egyptian Blue and the World it Creates

A recent article in the Smithsonian online about Egyptian blue, considered the first artificial pigment, and used in Egypt until the end of the Roman period, got me thinking. In particular, it was the phrase that this particular pigment, called hsbd-iryt in Ancient Egyptian, was used to give colour to the night sky.

Like many cultures, the phases of the moon, and the regular progression of day to night, allegories of life and death, and the cycle of life in evidence throughout the alluvial plain of the Nile took on divine meaning for the people who lived there. As such, and as part of the paintings and text that adorned their tombs, the Ancient Eygptians’ choice of an artificial pigment – as opposed to the albeit expensive but naturally occurring lapis lazuli – to create the unique and changeable blue colour for the night sky is intriguing. Were the resources of the earthly world insufficient to display this intoxicating realm? Was the desire to recreate this world as carefully as possible what caused artists to strive for something more alchemical?

I was up in cottage country recently for a few glorious days of peaceful, not-city living, and one night my partner and I lay on our backs on the dock, staring up at the starry, starry night and listening to the calm of the lake all around us. The natural world was more than intoxicating; it was invigorating, live-giving. And the eternity of the night sky holds as much sway now as it did all those thousands of years ago, when artists found a way to illustrate it for all of time.

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