Sunday, November 11, 2007


I always wondered what that French oath meant; it sounds like it means "sacred blue". Turns out, that's just what it does mean. It's a reference to Mary, who's so often depicted wearing blue.

When I was confirmed my sponsor gave me a little icon of Mary and Jesus, very similar to this picture here, in which the Blessed Mother is dressed in royal scarlet red. That's how she was commonly shown in icons in the East in the early centuries of Christianity. So how did blue come to be her color? Apparently, it happened because in medieval times, the way to get a good rich blue pigment for paintings was to crush up the semiprecious gemstone lapis lazuli. Naturally that was very expensive, and so blue came to be associated with the most sacred subjects.

I illustrate with this miniature from a cool manuscript I found today. Eve on the right feeds the forbidden fruit the serpent gives her to her children, causing their death, while Mary on the left feeds them the Eucharist, the body of her Son, giving them eternal life. (Meanwhile, Adam just looks out of it.)

Addendum: I can't resist adding this picture too, since it's such a good example of the sparing use of blue except for Mary, and since it's just a rockin' awesome painting of Pentecost. This was painted by Jean Restout in France in 1732. It's fun to look at the different reactions of the disciples: some prayerful, some apprehensive, some terrified and doing their best to run. :) Mary is the calmest and happiest of all, but then, she's been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit before.

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