Alabaster: Wikis

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An uplighter lamp made from Italian alabaster (white and brown types). The base is 5 inches (13 cm) in diameter
Alabaster vase of Tutankhamun

Alabaster is a name applied to varieties of two distinct minerals: gypsum (a hydrous sulfate of calcium) and calcite (a carbonate of calcium). The former is the alabaster of the present day; the latter is generally the alabaster of the ancients.

The two kinds are readily distinguished from one another by their relative hardness. The gypsum kind is so soft as to be readily scratched by a fingernail (Mohs hardness 1.5 to 2), while the calcite kind is too hard to be scratched in this way (Mohs hardness 3), though it does yield readily to a knife. Moreover, the calcite alabaster, being a carbonate, effervesces on being touched with hydrochloric acid, whereas the gypsum alabaster, when thus treated, remains practically unaffected.

Due to the characteristic color of white alabaster, the term has entered the vernacular as a metonym for white things, particularly "alabaster skin". The usage as whiteness also occurs in a line from the poem and song, America the Beautiful.

Contents

Etymology

The origin of alabaster is in Middle English, through Old French alabastre, in turn derived from Latin alabaster and that from Greek ἀλάβαστρος (alabastros) or ἀλάβαστος (alabastos), the latter being the word for a vase made of alabaster.[1] This may further derive from the ancient Egyptian word a-labaste (vessel of the Egyptian goddess Bast).[2][3] It has been suggested that the name was derived from the town of Alabastron in Egypt, while an Arabic etymological origin has also been suggested.[4]

Types

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Calcite alabaster

This substance, the "alabaster" of the Bible, is often termed Oriental alabaster, since the early examples came from the Far East. The Greek name alabastrites is said to be derived from the town of Alabastron, in Egypt, where the stone was quarried, but the locality probably owed its name to the mineral; the origin of the mineral name is obscure. This "Oriental" alabaster was highly esteemed for making small perfume bottles or ointment vases called alabastra, and this has been conjectured to be a possible source of the name. Alabaster was also employed in Egypt for canopic jars and various other sacred and sepulchral objects. A sarcophagus, sculptured in a single block of translucent calcite alabaster from Alabastron, is in the Sir John Soane's Museum, London. This was discovered by Giovanni Belzoni in 1817 in the tomb of Seti I near Thebes. It was purchased by Sir John Soane, having previously been offered to the British Museum.

When cut in thin sheets, alabaster is translucent enough to be used for small windows, and has been used so in medieval churches, especially in Italy. Large alabaster sheets are used extensively in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (dedicated 2002) of the Los Angeles (California) Archdiocese. The cathedral incorporates special cooling to prevent the panes from overheating and turning opaque.

Calcite alabaster is either a stalagmitic deposit, from the floor and walls of limestone caverns, or a kind of travertine, similarly deposited in springs of calcareous water. Its deposition in successive layers gives rise to the banded appearance that the marble often shows on cross-section, whence it is known as onyx-marble or alabaster-onyx, or sometimes simply as onyx — a term which should, however, be restricted to siliceous minerals. Egyptian alabaster has been extensively worked near Suez and near Assiut; there are many ancient quarries in the hills overlooking the plain of Tell el Amarna. The Algerian onyx-marble has been largely quarried in the province of Oran. In Mexico, there are famous deposits of a delicate green variety at La Pedrara, in the district of Tecali, near Puebla. Onyx-marble occurs also in the district of Tehuacán and at several localities in California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Virginia.

Gypsum alabaster

Statue made of Alabaster,Yemen
Danse du ventre (Belly Dancing) by Achiam

When the term "alabaster" is used without any qualification, it invariably means a fine-grained variety of gypsum. This mineral, or alabaster proper, occurs in England. However, thousands of gypsum alabaster artifacts dating to the late 4th millennium BC have been found in Tell Brak (present day Nagar), in Syria.[5] And in Mesopotamia, a gypsum alabaster sculpture, believed to represent the god Abu, dates to the first half of the 3rd millennium BC.[6]

Mineral alabaster occurs in England in the Keuper marls of the Midlands, especially at Chellaston in Derbyshire, at Fauld in Staffordshire and near Newark in Nottinghamshire. All these localities have been extensively worked. In the 15th century its carving into icons and altarpieces was a valuable local industry in Nottingham, as well as a major English export. Besides examples of these still in Britain (especially at the Nottingham Castle Museum, British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum), that trade in itself (rather than just the antiques trade) has scattered examples as far afield as the Musée de Cluny, Spain and Scandinavia.

Alabaster is also found, though in subordinate quantity, at Watchet in Somerset, near Penarth in Glamorganshire, and elsewhere. In Cumbria it occurs largely in the New Red rocks, but at a lower geological horizon. The alabaster of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire is found in thick nodular beds or "floors" in spheroidal masses known as "balls" or "bowls," and in smaller lenticular masses termed "cakes." At Chellaston, where the alabaster is known as "Patrick," it has been worked into ornaments under the name of "Derbyshire spar" — a term more properly applied to fluorspar.

Black alabaster

Black Alabaster is a rare form of the gypsum-based mineral found in only three veins in the world, one each in Oklahoma (USA), Italy, and the People's Republic of China.

Alabaster Caverns State Park, near Freedom, Oklahoma is home to a natural gypsum cave in which much of the gypsum is in the form of alabaster. There are several types of alabaster found at the site, including pink, white, and the rare black alabaster.

Uses

This alabaster sculpture is untreated: its translucency and satin lustre are preserved. Its base is of marble.

The finer kinds of alabaster are largely employed as an ornamental stone, especially for ecclesiastical decoration and for the rails of staircases and halls. Its softness enables it to be readily carved into elaborate forms, but its solubility in water renders it unsuitable for outdoor work. The purest alabaster is a snow-white material of fine tiniforni grain, but it is often associated with an oxide of iron, which produces brown clouding and veining in the stone. The coarser varieties of alabaster are converted by calcination into plaster of Paris, whence they are sometimes known as "plaster stone."

On the continent of Europe, the centre of the alabaster trade is Florence, Italy. Tuscan alabaster occurs in nodular masses embedded in limestone, interstratified with marls of Miocene and Pliocene age. The mineral is largely worked by means of underground galleries, in the district of Volterra. Several varieties are recognized — veined, spotted, clouded, agatiform, and others. The finest kind, obtained principally from Castellina, is sent to Florence for figure-sculpture, while the common kinds are carved at a very cheap rate locally into vases, clock-cases and various ornamental objects, in which a large trade is carried on, especially in Florence, Pisa and Livorno.

In order to diminish the translucency of the alabaster and to produce an opacity suggestive of true marble, the statues are immersed in a bath of water and gradually heated nearly to the boiling-point — an operation requiring great care, for if the temperature is not carefully regulated, the stone acquires a dead-white, chalky appearance. The effect of heating appears to be a partial dehydration of the gypsum. If properly treated, it very closely resembles true marble and is known as marmo di Castellina. Sulphate of lime (gypsum) was used also by the ancients, and was employed, for instance, in Assyrian sculpture, so that some of the ancient alabaster is identical with the modern stone.

Alabaster may be stained by digesting it, after being heated in various pigmentary solutions. In this way a good imitation of coral has been produced (alabaster coral).

References

  1. ^ Alabastos, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus
  2. ^ alabaster - definition at YourDictionary
  3. ^ alabaster - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  4. ^ Alabaster, Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition
  5. ^ http://www.metmuseum.org/Works_of_Art/viewOne.asp?dep=3&item=1988.323.8&viewmode=0&isHighlight=1
  6. ^ http://www.metmuseum.org/Works_of_Art/viewOne.asp?dep=3&viewmode=0&item=40%2E156

Further reading

J. A. Harrell, "Misuse of the term 'alabaster' in Egyptology," Göttinger Miszellen, v. 119, 1990, pp. 37–42.

Tim Mackintosh-Smith, "Moonglow from Underground". Aramco World May-June 1999.[1]

See also

External links

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ALABASTER, a name applied to two distinct mineral substances, the one a hydrous sulphate of lime and the other a carbonate of lime. The former is the alabaster of the present day, the latter is generally the alabaster of the ancients. The two kinds are readily distinguished from each other by their relative hardness. The modern alabaster is so soft as to be readily scratched even by the finger-nail (hardness = 1.5 to 2), whilst the stone called alabaster by the ancients is too hard to be scratched in this way (hardness = 3), though it yields readily to a knife. Moreover, the ancient alabaster, being a carbonate, effervesces on being touched with hydrochloric acid, whereas the modern alabaster when so treated remains practically unaffected.

Ancient Alabaster

This substance, the "alabaster" of scripture, is often termed Oriental alabaster, since the early examples came from the East. The Greek name alabastrites is said to be derived from the town of Alabastron, in Egypt, where the stone was quarried, but the locality probably owed its name to the mineral; the origin of the mineral-name is obscure, and it has been suggested that it may have had an Arabic origin. The Oriental alabaster was highly esteemed for making small perfume-bottles or ointment vases called alabastra; and this has been conjectured to be a possible source of the name. Alabaster was also employed in Egypt for Canopic jars and various other sacred and sepulchral objects. A splendid sarcophagus, sculptured in a single block of translucent Oriental alabaster from Alabastron, is in the Soane Museum, London. This was discovered by Giovanni Belzoni, in 1817, in the tomb of Seti I., near Thebes, and was purchased by Sir John Soane, having previously been offered to the British Museum for £2000.

Oriental alabaster is either a stalagmitic deposit, from the floor and walls of limestone-caverns, or a kind of travertine, deposited from springs of calcareous water. Its deposition in successive layers gives rise to the banded appearance which the marble often shows on cross-section, whence it is known as onyx-marble or alabaster-onyx, or sometimes simply as onyx - a term which should, however, be restricted to a siliceous mineral. The Egyptian alabaster has been extensively worked near Suez and near Assiut; there are many ancient quarries in the hills overlooking the plain of Tell el Amarna. The Algerian onyxmarble has been largely quarried in the province of Oran. In Mexico there are famous deposits of a delicate green variety at La Pedrara, in the district of Tecali, near Puebla. Onyx-marble occurs also in the district of Tehuacan and at several localities in California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Virginia.

Modern Alabaster

When the term "alabaster" is used without any qualification it invariably means, at the present day, a finely granular variety of gypsum. This mineral, or alabaster proper, occurs in England in the Keuper marls of the Midlands, especially at Chellaston in Derbyshire, at Fauld in Staffordshire and near Newark in Nottinghamshire. At all these localities it has been extensively worked. It is also found, though in subordinate quantity, at Watchet in Somersetshire, near Penarth in Glamorganshire, and elsewhere. In Cumberland and Westmorland it occurs largely in the New Red rocks, but at a lower geological horizon. The alabaster of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire is found in thick nodular beds or "floors," in spheroidal masses known as "balls" or "bowls," and in smaller lenticular masses termed "cakes." At Chellaston, where the alabaster is known as "Patrick," it has been worked into ornaments under the name of "Derbyshire spar" - a term applied also to fluor-spar. The finer kinds of alabaster are largely employed as an ornamental stone, especially for ecclesiastical decoration, and for the walls of staircases and halls. Its softness enables it to be readily carved into elaborate forms, but its solubility in water renders it inapplicable to outdoor work. The purest alabaster is a snow-white material of fine uniform grain, but it is often associated with oxide of iron, which produces brown clouding and veining in the stone. The coarser varieties of alabaster are converted by calcination into plaster of Paris, whence they are sometimes known as "plaster stone." On the continent of Europe the centre of the alabaster trade is Florence. The Tuscan alabaster occurs in nodular masses, embedded in limestone, interstratified with marls of Miocene and Pliocene age. The mineral is largely worked, by means of underground galleries, in the district of Volterra. Several varieties are recognized - veined, spotted, clouded, agatiform, &c. The finest kind, obtained principally from Castellina, is sent to Florence for figure-sculpture, whilst the common kinds are carved locally, at a very cheap rate, into vases, clock-cases and various ornamental objects, in which a large trade is carried on, especially in Florence, Pisa and Leghorn. In order to diminish the translucency of the alabaster and to produce an opacity suggestive of true marble, the statues are immersed in a bath of water and gradually heated nearly to the boilingpoint - an operation requiring great care, for if the temperature be not carefully regulated, the stone acquires a dead-white chalky appearance. The effect of heating appears to be a partial dehydration of the gypsum. If properly treated, it very closely resembles true marble, and is known as marmo di Castellina. It should be noted that sulphate of lime (gypsum) was used also by the ancients, and was employed, for instance, in Assyrian sculpture, so that some of the ancient alabaster is identical with the modern stone.

Alabaster may be stained by digesting it, after being heated, in various pigmentary solutions; and in this way a good imitation of coral has been produced (alabaster coral).

See M. Carmichael, Report on the Volterra Alabaster Industry, Foreign Office, Miscellaneous Series, No. 352 (London, 1895); A. T. Metcalfe, "The Gypsum Deposits of Nottingham and Derbyshire," Transactions of the Federated Institution, vol. xii. (1896), p. 107; J. G. Goodchild, "The Natural History of Gypsum,":'Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, vol. x. (1888), p. 425; George P. Merrill, "The Onyx Marbles," Report of the U. S. National Museum for 1893, P. 539. (F. W. R.*)


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Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

occurs only in the New Testament in connection with the box of "ointment of spikenard very precious," with the contents of which a woman anointed the head of Jesus as he sat at supper in the house of Simon the leper (Mt 26:7; Mk 14:3; Lk 7:37). These boxes were made from a stone found near Alabastron in Egypt, and from this circumstance the Greeks gave them the name of the city where they were made. The name was then given to the stone of which they were made; and finally to all perfume vessels, of whatever material they were formed. The woman "broke" the vessel; i.e., she broke off, as was usually done, the long and narrow neck so as to reach the contents. This stone resembles marble, but is softer in its texture, and hence very easily wrought into boxes. Mark says (14:5) that this box of ointment was worth more than 300 pence, i.e., denarii, each of the value of sevenpence halfpenny of our money, and therefore worth about 10 pounds. But if we take the denarius as the day's wage of a labourer (Mt 20:2), say two shillings of our money, then the whole would be worth about 30 pounds, so costly was Mary's offering.

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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(Greek alabastros, -on; Latin alabaster, -trum; of uncertain origin).


The substance commonly known as alabaster is a fine-grained variety of gypsum (calcium sulphate) much used for vases and other ornamental articles. Oriental alabaster, the alabastrites of the classical writers, is a translucent marble (calcium carbonate) obtained from stalagmitic deposits; because of its usually banded structure, which gives it some resemblance to onyx, it is also called onyx marble, or simply, though incorrectly, onyx. From remote times it was highly esteemed for decorative purposes. Among the ancients Oriental alabaster was frequently used for vases to hold unguents, in the belief that it preserved them; whence the vases were called alabasters, even when made of other materials. Such was the "alabastrum unguenti" (Matt., xxvi, 7; Mark, xiv, 3, Luke, vii, 37), with which the sinful woman anointed the Saviour. The vase, however, though probably of alabaster, was not necessarily of that material, as our English translation "alabaster box of ointments" seems to imply.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.
This article needs to be merged with ALABASTER (Jewish Encyclopedia).

Simple English

This article is about the mineral. For other uses, see Alabaster (disambiguation)

Alabaster is a name applied to varieties of two distinct minerals: gypsum (a hydrous sulfate of calcium) and calcite (a carbonate of calcium). The former is the alabaster of the present day; the latter is generally the alabaster of the ancients.



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