An uplighter lamp made from Italian
alabaster (white and brown types).
Alabaster vase of Tutankhamun
is a name applied to varieties of two
(a hydrous sulfate
of calcium). The former is the alabaster
of the present day; the latter is generally the alabaster of the
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
though it does yield readily to a knife. Moreover, the calcite
alabaster, being a carbonate
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
things, particularly "alabaster skin".
The usage as whiteness also occurs in a line from the poem and
song, America the
The origin of alabaster is in Middle English, through Old French
, in turn derived from Latin
and that from Greek ἀλάβαστρος
) or ἀλάβαστος
the latter being the word for a vase made of alabaster. This may
further derive from the ancient Egyptian word a-labaste
(vessel of the Egyptian goddess Bast
). 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.
This substance, the "alabaster" of the Bible
is often termed Oriental alabaster
, since the early
examples came from the Far East
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.
"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.
was discovered by Giovanni Belzoni
in 1817 in the tomb of Seti I
. It was purchased by Sir John Soane, having previously been offered to the
in thin sheets, alabaster is translucent enough to be used for
small windows, and has been used so in medieval churches, especially in Italy.
alabaster sheets are used extensively in the Cathedral of Our
Lady of the Angels (dedicated 2002) of the Los Angeles
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
, 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.
TheAlgerian onyx-marble has been largely quarried in the
province of Oran.
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.
When the term "alabaster" is used without any qualification, it
invariably means a fine-grained
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.
, a gypsum alabaster
, believed to represent the god
, dates to the first half of the
3rd millennium BC
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
valuable local industry in
, 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
Cluny, Spain and Scandinavia.
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 inthick 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
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
Republic of China.
Caverns State Park, near Freedom, Oklahoma is home to a natural gypsum
cave in which much of the gypsum is in the form of
There are several types of alabaster found at the
site, including pink, white, and the rare black alabaster.
This alabaster sculpture is untreated:
its translucency and satin lustre are preserved.
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
, whence they are sometimes known as "plaster
continent of Europe, the centre of the
alabaster trade is Florence, Italy. Tuscan
occurs in nodular masses embedded in limestone, interstratified
age. The mineral is
largely worked by means of underground galleries, in the district
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
In order to diminish the translucency
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
has been produced (alabaster
J. A. Harrell, "Misuse of the term 'alabaster' in Egyptology
," Göttinger Miszellen
119, 1990, pp. 37–42.
Tim Mackintosh-Smith, "Moonglow from Underground". Aramco World