ALABASTER

ALABASTER

Post 275 ⇒   by Gautam Shah  →

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Alabaster has been used for decorative objects since 3500BC. It is believed that one of the sources for Alabaster was Alabastron, a town in Egypt. The Greek mineral name alabastrites is derived from that town. The word alabaster relates to Greek –alabastros or alabastos, and old French –alabastre. Alabaster also connects to ancient Egyptian word a-labaste that refers to vessels of the Egyptian Goddess Bast.

Alabaster cosmetic jar topped with a lioness, representing Bast, a 18th dynasty burial artefact from the tomb of Tutankhamen 1323 BC – Cairo Museum.

Alabaster is translucent whitish kind of gypsum. It is a soft and easy to work or carve material used for making vases, ornaments, bottles, jars, busts and ornamental objects. A three-foot vase with a relief from Warka, of 3500-3000 BC (in British Museum), busts from Sumer, of 3000 BC (Louvre), ornate triple lotus oil lamps found in the Tomb of Tutankhamen 1356 BC, and Sarcophagus of Seti I 1304 BC, are some ancient items made of alabaster. Decorative artefacts of Alabaster have been found in Sumer, Babylonia, Assyria and Roman empire. In later periods it was used in India from 6th to 13th C.

An alabaster perfume jar from Tutankhamen’s tomb.

Ancient Egypt alabaster vessels Florence

Alabasters are broadly two classes of minerals, a sulphate of lime or a pure variety of gypsum, and the other is a carbonate of lime, akin to a marble in composition. Due to the close resemblance of the two materials, in terms colour and grain, some ambiguity in distinct identification has persisted. The gypsum alabaster or the oriental alabaster is more softer, delicate and needs care in polishing. It soon tarnishes on atmospheric exposure, and affected by dust and smoke. The carbonate alabaster is little more firmer and so more suitable for larger items. This was sourced from caves where lime water drips to form natural deposits or moulded forms. It is also called onyx-marble or alabaster-onyx, or simply as onyx. There are several types of alabaster found, including pink, white, and black.

Pietà, 1440, Alabaster, Museum Frankfurt

Alabasters have been modified by various treatments. To make it opaque like a marble, its translucency is reduced by immersing the completed work in a bath of water, and gradually heating, so that stone does not become dead white or chalky. The treated material is called marmo-di-Castellina. Alabaster is also tinted to accentuate the natural veins or to add colour that matches the stone or wood in the surroundings. This is done to produce make-believe coral for decorative elements like rails of staircases, handles and trims.

Three Maries, alabaster sculpture by Master of the Rimini Crucifixion (1430 AD), National Museum, Warsaw

Amenhotep I’s reconstructed alabaster chapel at Karnak

Alabaster was used as translucent panels before the advent of glass, in openings of monasteries in Mediterranean countries, like Greece, France, Italy and Spain. Alabaster cut into thin sheets is translucent enough for dull interior illumination.

Alabaster windows in Santa Maria La Major church (Morella, Spain).

Large alabaster sheets have been used extensively in a Contemporary Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 2002 AD, The cathedral incorporates special cooling system to prevent the panes from overheating and turning opaque.

Inspired by dull glow of Alabaster panels, Thin Marble panels have been used as exterior wall units for Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Alabaster like effect from Marble panels –Interior side

Alabaster like effect from Marble panels –Interior side

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

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