Maya blue

Jump to navigation Jump to search
Maya vase
MFA# 1988.1176


An greenish-blue pigment used from 8th Century CE to the 16th Century in Central and South America the Mayans, Toltecs, Mixtecs and Aztecs for wall paintings, decorating ceramics, and on textile and documents. 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). Identification using Raman Spectroscopy is straightforward as the clay-dye complex produces double peaks, specifically at 1578–1595 cm-1.

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

  • Ruth Siddall, 'Mineral Pigments in Archaeology: Their Analysis and the Range of Available Materials' Minerals Vol 8, p. 201 (2018). Link
  • 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
  • Art and Architecture Thesaurus Online,, J. Paul Getty Trust, Los Angeles, 2000