Azurite has a long historical record that stretches back into antiquity. For the most part, people thought of it as a source for copper ore and blue pigment, rather than as a talisman with healing properties. Its name comes from the Persian lazhaward, or “blue”, the same word from which Lapis Lazuli derives.
In antiquity, significant deposits were located in Egypt and Armenia. The primary use of Azurite was as a source for blue paint, as well as for jewelry and various ornamental purposes. 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 dates back to the Fourth Dynasty (2613-2494 BCE) in a pyramid complex in lower Egypt. Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis, described Azurite in his book on paintings and colors, referring to it as “Armenium,” meaning a stone from Armenia.
The ancient Egyptians were the first to grind Azurite into a powder and mix it with various liquids to make blue, green and grey paints, dyes and glazes. The practice soon spread north to Rome and then the rest of Europe. Azurite deposits in Germany made it a cheap source of blue pigment and so painters frequently used it during the medieval period, the Renaissance and as late as the 17th century. For example, in this portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, the background uses Azurite.