Lapis Lazuli


New building of the Tübingen University ear-,
nose- and throat-clinic
Uncut lapis lazuli ca. 300 kg

New building of the Tübingen University ear-, nose- and throat-clinic. Uncut lapis lazuli ca. 300 kg
An uncut lapis lazuli stone costing the budget made available for this project – approximately 100 x 100 x 100 cm or weighing 300 kg – is placed in the entrance hall of the central patients’ section in the Tübingen University ear-, nose- and throat-clinic. Lapis lazuli is reputed to help cure the kind of diseases treated here. It plays an important role in the history of European medicine and art. A precondition for the stone’s medicinal efficacy has always been its purity. Today there exists a flourishing trade in very pure lapis lazuli, which clearly a growing number of people believe will cure them of all kinds of illnesses.

Lapis lazuli owes its name to its deep blue colour – the name is derived from the Latin, Persian and Arabic for “blue stone”. It was used for jewellery in antiquity and has been found in the graves of Egyptian pharaohs. It also used to be honoured as the “stone of heaven”. Pulverised lapis lazuli was used to make ultramarine, a pigment with a long tradition in European art. The stone’s rarity and the long distances that it had to be transported from the Middle East made it extremely expensive. In the Middle Ages the pigment was used to represent only the most sacred religious themes, and in the Renaissance its use was contractually regulated between artist and patron. It was employed to colour only certain very special parts of a picture, such as the cloak of the Virgin Mary (see Michael Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy, Oxford, London, New York 1972, pp.11–23).

In the cult of the Virgin Mary, which grew steadily from the 12th century onwards, ultramarine made from lapis lazuli came to represent purity itself. The size and beauty of this lapis lazuli stone attracts the gaze of patients and visitors alike. Its intensive colour radiates a positive aura. A plaque close by informs patients and visitors of the healing qualities attributed to the stone, especially as regards the illnesses treated in the clinic.

Karin Sander