Monday Motivator: Just What Colour is ‘Sky Blue’?

“A serious pitfall when reading thousand-year-old Arabic texts is to assume that colour words then meant the same things then as they do now. This can completely throw off an investigation into art materials.

The most vivid example is ahmar, one of the first words anyone learns in Arabic, meaning red. It has always meant red, but the concept of red has not always been the same. In the 11th century, brown was seen as a shade of red … as for green, akhdar, beware of assuming it necessarily describes colour … because it’s equally likely to signify “fresh” …

“Sky blue” is not necessarily a light blue: in the clear dry air of the Middle-East, where sunlight is intense, the sky can look as dark as lapis lazuli, and the two are often equated. Today’s “blue”, azraq, which describes some ink recipes, may have simply meant they’re “shiny”, not blue at all.

Joumana Medlej, “Inks and Paints of the Middle East“, page 13

Jourmana Medlej is a London-based, Beirut-born artist who specializes in new and historical Kufic calligraphy (the origin of all Arabic calligraphy), and in preparing natural art materials. Her Twitter feed and Instagram are among my favourite reads; a guide into cultural styles, history, art and calligraphy I know so little about. And then there’s her treasure boxes…!

2 Replies to “Monday Motivator: Just What Colour is ‘Sky Blue’?”

    1. A quick “etymology of azure” search seemed to say that it does derive from a word meaning lapis lazuli

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