Maya blue

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Maya vase
MFA# 1988.1176


A greenish-blue pigment found on wall paintings and painted objects from several Maya sites. After many years of study, it was determined in 1967 that Maya blue is composed of Indigo absorbed on a clay substrate (Kleber et al., 1967). Palygorskite (Attapulgite), Montmorillonite and Sepiolite clays were used (Torres 1988).

Synonyms and Related Terms

Mayan blue (sp); bleu maya (Fr.); Mayablau (Deut.); azul maya (Esp.); azul de Maya (Esp., Mex.); mple ton Magia (Gr.); blu Maya (It.); Maya blauw (Ned.); azul Maia (Port.)

Possible synonyms: Canutillow blue; Tekax blue; texotli (Mex.)




No significant hazards.

Physical and Chemical Properties

Fibrous or platy particles are pleochroic (turquoise blue to yellow-green). Weak birefringence under crossed polars.

Unaffected by alkalies. Soluble in hot concentrated acids.

Refractive Index = 1.522-1.548


Characteristics of Common Blue Pigments

Resources and Citations

  • R.Kleber, L.Masschelein-Kleiner, J.Thissen, "Etude et Identification du Bleu Maya" Studies in Conservation, 33: p.41-56, 1967.
  • L.Torres, "Maya Blue: How the Mayas Could have Made the Pigment" Materials Research Society Symposium Proceedings, 123: p. 123-129, 1988.
  • Nicholas Eastaugh, Valentine Walsh, Tracey Chaplin, Ruth Siddall, Pigment Compendium, Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford, 2004
  • Artists' Pigments: A Handbook of their History and Characteristics, Elisabeth West FitzHugh, Oxford University Press, Oxford, Vol. 3, 1997 Comment: H.Schweppe, "Indigo and Woad"
  • R. J. Gettens, G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)
  • Random House, Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Grammercy Book, New York, 1997
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998

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