Azurite has been known since antiquity, but primarily as a source for blue pigment rather than for any healing properties. As such, it was only rarely included in ancient lapidaries, texts describing gemstones and their powers. Azurite’s name comes from the Persian lazhaward, or “blue”, the same word from which Lapis Lazuli is derived.
In antiquity, significant Azurite deposits were located through Egypt, in the Sinai and Eastern Desert. The stone was mined as a copper ore and used for ornamental purposes. The primary use of Azurite was as a source for blue paint or dye. It was also occasionally carved into beads or other jewelry. However, Azurite is relatively soft compared to other gemstones and its color fades over time, so jewelers used it sparingly. The oldest known example of Azurite being used dates back to the Fourth Dynasty (2613-2494 BCE) and was found in a pyramid complex in lower Egypt.
Azurite can be easily ground up and mixed with various liquids to make blue, green and grey paints, dyes and glazes. Azurite was first used in this way by the ancient Egyptians and the practice quickly spread to other parts of the world. Azurite deposits in Europe made it a cheap source of blue pigment and so it was frequently used in paintings during the medieval period, the Renaissance and as late as the 17th century. The specific shade of blue depends on the purity of the Azurite, as well as how finely it is ground. Sometimes the paint can be a greenish hue, especially in the case of older Azurites that were in the process of turning into Malachite. Azurite was a relatively cheap source of blue dye, compared to paintings made from Ultrablue or Lapis Lazuli. But with its unstable color, paintings that used Azurite fade at a much higher rate than those painted with the more expensive blue pigments. This is especially true of Azurite that was used in fresco or mural paintings. For example, in this portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, the background blue was made from Azurite paint.