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Living In A World of Symbols With Adriano Bulla/ Part 4

NOTE: This feature first appeared on the Icons of Kemet Blogger blog on March 12, 2015

Adriano Bulla

The colour blue... If I think at both Christian icons and Egyptian Art, and compare them to yours, your use of blue is far more extensive than in both. I don't think it's just because lapis lazuli is cheaper, so why do you use so much blue?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

(laughs) Hmmm...I'm not sure where you heard lapis lazuli is cheaper, because it's actually a very expensive pigment to produce, due to the extensive extraction and preparation process, and it's one of the most expensive pigments I purchase for my work. That's precisely why I use so much of it in my icons, because of its preciousness, because of the sacrifices involved in its preparation and purchase.

A true icon or cult image, looking at this from a Kemetic or ancient Egyptian point of view, must be composed, either wholly or in part, from precious materials. It is these precious materials...the gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise, that link the deity image directly to the spiritual power of the netjer, the god; because natural stones and minerals, their coloration and appearance when struck by light, are the embodiments of specific aspects of the sacred world. The ancients recognized certain stones as being the repositories of divine power, therefore, it was important that cult images, images being used to drawn down the Gods and their vitality, were made from or adorned with the most potent materials available. For the Egyptians, these were gold, silver, lapis lazuli, carnelian, turquoise, and other gemstones too. An emphasis was placed on materials and refined craftsmanship, because something being handed over to a deity to use as a body simply must be crafted from the most superior resources known.

Lapis lazuli was one of the most valued stones used by the ancient Egyptians for jewelry and inlays, but strangely enough, they appear not to have used it as a pigment in wall painting. The most common form of blue is what's known today as Egyptian blue or frit, a synthetic composition of calcium oxide, copper carbonate, and alkali. But the use of this form of blue was still used in painted compositions to indicate the much more precious lapis lazuli, say, on the blue beaded patterns of ornamental necklaces or on cuff bracelets and jewelry that would naturally have been inlaid with lapis lazuli. In painting something to look like lapis, it would magically become lapis, in the language of magical symbolism always in play within Egyptian art work.

Blue for the Egyptians always embodied the divine, the gods and the celestial, and the primeval

King Seti I before the God Amun-Ra shown with blue skin by Tatiana Matveeva 2015

flood from which all things came into being. Of course, it was used extensively to indicate the sky or something whose origins were celestial, but also as a statement of divinity. Images of deities painted faces and hands or with bodies entirely blue, were used as representations of the celestial, the primeval origin of the gods. For example, the God Amun was often depicted with blue skin to indicate His presence as the hidden and aerial qualities in creation, and also because He was one of the primeval creator gods who existed in the flood or abyss of the beginning.

The God Ra was said to have skin of gold and hair of lapis lazuli, and these solar connotations were always omnipresent in the Egyptian use of lapis lazuli, and especially in the combined use of gold and lapis. The solid gold mask of Tutankhamun is a famous example of this. The nemes headdress has stripes composed of blue glass in imitation of lapis lazuli, representing the hair of the Sun-God, but the cosmetic markings around the eyes, and the eyebrows, are real lapis lazuli. The use of these precious materials was, once again, part of a spiritual technology, a magical process by which the dead king would become the newly born and indestructible Sun-God.

You're quite right, my use of blue, of lapis lazuli in particular, is extensive. But I'm striving to accomplish the same type of sacred construction the Egyptians engaged in as a way of attracting the power of the Gods. That kind of power was always seen by the Egyptians in the use of special colors, colors that were believed to be close to the Gods. It so goes, then, that if you want to create an object to attract the Gods, to attract their power or blessing, one must use the very materials the Gods are attracted to. Any ceremonial, ritual object produced by the ancient Egyptians would have made use of gold, lapis lazuli and other semi-precious stones as a way to not only honor the sacredness of the Gods, but also to attract the Gods, to draw them forth into our world. So, my extensive use of lapis lazuli serves all of these ideals. It honors the Gods through the use of a precious natural substance that is very close to them. It attracts the spiritual power of the Gods, their magic and blessing. But it also serves symbolic purposes on top of those.

In Sekhmet the Eye of Ra I used a large quantity of lapis...oh, I'd say probably the most lapis I've used in any icon to date...because the Goddess Sekhmet is the daughter of the Sun-God, Ra, and all solar images, images that reference Ra or draw on His mythos, inevitably include lapis lazuli, the sacred stone associated most with the Sun-God. As the Eye of Ra, the visible and terrible power of Ra, Sekhmet too is associated with gold and lapis lazuli. The tips of the feathers in Sekhmet's wings are all lapis...the falcon feathers in Her corset and kilt are lapis, together with the sporran and belt. All the jewelry has lapis in it, and of course the Wedjat Eye in the flaming sun on top of Her head. There's lapis all over the place in that icon! The border framing the inner panel of the Goddess is composed entirely of lapis lazuli, with some real amethyst mixed in to arrive at the darker shades.


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