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A warrior with Azul Maya on the background

Maya Blue ( ) is a unique bright blue to greenish-blue pigment manufactured by cultures of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, such as the Maya and Aztec.


The Maya blue pigment is a composite of organic and inorganic constituents, primarily indigo dyes derived from the leaves of añil (Indigofera suffruticosa) plants combined with palygorskite, a natural clay. Smaller trace amounts of other mineral additives have also been identified.

Historical use

"Maya blue" first appeared around the 800 A.D. and it was still used in the 16th century in several Convents of Colonial Mexico, notably in the paintings of the Indian Juan Gerson in Tecamachalco. These paintings are a clear example of the combination of Indian and European techniques sometimes known as Arte Indocristiano. After that, the techniques for its production were lost in Mexico but in Cuba there are examples from 1830.

Resistance to weathering

Despite time and the harsh weathering conditions, paintings colored by Maya Blue have not faded over time. What is even more remarkable is that the color has resisted chemical solvents and acids such as nitric acid. Recently, its resistance against chemical aggression (acids, alkalis, solvents, etc.) and biodegradation was tested, and it was shown that Maya blue is an extremely resistant pigment, but it can be destroyed using very intense acid treatment under reflux.

Research on chemical composition

Microscopic image of a mural in Bonampak
Microscopic image of a mural in Teotihuacan
Mexican Colonial Painting by Juan Gerson where Maya Blue was used.
The technique disappeared in the early colonial period.

The chemical composition of the compound was determined by powder diffraction in the 1950s and was found to be a composite of palygorskite and Indigo, most likely derived from the use of the leaves of the añil. The actual recipe to reproduce Maya Blue pigment was published in 1993 by a Mexican Historian and Chemist, Constantino Reyes-Valerio. The combination of different of clays: palygorskite, montmorillonite, together with the use of the leaves of the añil and the actual process is described in Reyes-Valerio (1993). Reyes-Valerio's contributions were possible due to his combined background of History and Chemistry, through a thorough revision of primary texts (Sahagun, Hernandez. Jimenez and others), microscopic analysis of the mural paintings and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy.

After the formula for the production was published in the book "De Bonampak al Templo Mayor: Historia del Azul Maya en Mesoamerica" there were many developments in the chemical analysis of the pigment in collaborations between Reyes-Valerio with European Scientists.

Uses in cultural contexts

Pre-Columbian American Culture

See also


  1. Arnold (2005); Haude (1997).
  2. Haude (1997); Reyes-Valerio (1993).
  3. Chiari(2000)
  4. Sanchez del Rio(2006)
  5. Gettens, R. J. Am. Antiq. 1962, 27, 557-564
  6. Reyes-Valerio, De Bonampak al Templo Mayor, La historia del Azul Maya en Mesoamerica, Siglo XXI Editores, 1993.
  7. notably, Giaccomo Chiari [1] from the University of Torino, David Ajò from C.N.R. of Padua and Manuel Sanchez del Rio [2] from ESRF [3] in France
  8. Greg Borzo's press release, 26-Feb-2008 [4] (update when the actual study comes out)


External links

  • Azul Maya, descriptive site by Reyes-Valerio

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