The Mining Museum Treasures. Lazurite
Lapis lazuli is a mineral that very rarely takes the form of individual crystals but rather often forms dense granular masses. As per colour, the mineral can be turquoise, aquamarine, purple, at times also blue or green.
The highest quality deposits of this mineral, which would be able to produce semi-precious or gem stones, are scarce. The oldest one known to mankind is located in Afghanistan. The visual appearance, technological properties of the samples extracted in this area are exceptional.
In Russia, the original use of lazurite was mainly limited to making ultramarine colour, a very expensive one back then. However, from the start of the eighteenth century, people started using the stone for mosaics paving.
In the Mining Museum’s collection, there are samples of lapis lazuli taken from the three main regions rich in lazurite. The notable examples are two Medici vases, both decorated with lazurite from the Sayan Mountains and covered with ornaments from bronze. It is believed that they were once used as a decoration in one of the rooms of the Empress Maria Feodorovna in the Anichkov Palace. The exhibit items were made in the traditional technique of Russian mosaic: polished pieces of the mineral were glued to the metal base, which had to exactly match the workpiece, and then the entire surface of the object got smoothed and polished.
In the same way, the four-folded dressing screen was created - designed specifically for the Empress and made with different varieties of lapis lazuli from the Badakhshan region. The item is also decorated with four oval medallions with Florentine mosaic.
In the second half of the 19th century, masters from Peterhof could already make high-quality lazurite mosaic, but lazurite carvings were still unusual. Despite that, a miniature figure of an owl, fully carved from lapis lazuli, is housed in the collection of the Mining Museum. The figure’s height is only three centimetres. The origin story is not yet well-known, but it assumed that the owl was made by the masters of the jewellery firm of Carl Faberge.
Lazurite mosaic was also traditionally a part of the European art. An illustrative example is the table carved by Florentine masters. The tabletop is made of carefully selected shades of marble, the ornament includes decorative elements from kahalong and lapis lazuli.