A Dictionary of Arts: Alabaster

A Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines; containing A Clear Exposition of Their Principles and Practice

by Andrew Ure, M. D.;
F. R. S. M. G. S. Lond.: M. Acad. M. S. Philad.; S. PH. DOC. N. GERM. Ranow.; Mulh. Etc. Etc.

Illustrated with nearly fifteen hundred engravings on wood
Eleventh American, From The Last London Edition.
To which is appended, a Supplement of Recent Improvements to The Present Time.

New York: D Appleton & company, 200 Broadway. Philadelphia: George S. Appleton, 148 Chestnut St.


ALABASTER, is a stone usually white, and soft enough to be scratched by iron. There are two kinds of it: the gyoseiysm which is merely a natural semi-crystalline sulphate of lime; and the calcareous alabaster, whish is a carbonate of lime.

The finesse of the grain of alabaster, the uniformity of its texture, the beauty of its polished surface, and its semi-transparency, are the qualities which render it valuable to the sculptor and to the manufacturer of ornamental toys.

The limestone alabaster is frequently found as a yellowish-white deposite in certain fountaines. The most celebrated spring of this kind is that of the baths of San Filippo, in Tuscany. The water, almost boiling hot, runs over an enormous mass of stalactites, which it has formed, and holds the carbonate of lime in solution by means of sulphureted hydrogen (according to M. Alexandra Bronguiard), which espaces by contact of the atmosphere. Advantage has been taken of this property to make basso relievos of considerable hardness, by placing moulds of sulphur very obliquely, or almost upright, in wooden tubs open at the bottom. These tubs are surmounted at the top with a large wooden cross. The water of the spring, after having deposited in an external conduit or cistern the coarser sediment, is made to flow upon this wooden cross, where it is scattered into little streamlets, and thence lets fall, upon the sulphur casts, a precipitate to much the finer the more nearly vertical the mould. From one to four months are required for this operation, according to the thickness of the deposited crust. By analogous processes, the artists have succeeded in moulding vases, figures of animals, and other objects, in relief, of every different form, which require only to be trimmed a little, and afterwards polished.

The common alabaster is composed of sulphuric acid and lime, though some kinds of it effercesce with acids, and therefore contain some carbonate of line. This alabaster occurs in many different colors, and of very different degrees of hardness, but is is always softer than marble. it forms, usually, the lowerst beds of the gypdum quarries. The sculptors prefer the hardest, the whitest, and those of a granular texture, like Carrara marble, and so like that they can only be distinguished by the hardness.

The alabaster is worked with the same tools as marble; and as it is many degrees softer, it is so much the more easily cut; but it is more difficult to polish, from its little solidity. After it has been fashioned nto the desired form, and smoothed down with pumice stone, it is polished with a pap-like mixture of chalk, soap, and milk; and last of all, finished by friction with flannel. It is apt to acquire a yellowish tinge.

Besides the harder kinds, employed for the sculpture of large figures, there is a softer alabaster, pure white and semi-transparent, from which small ornamental objects are made, such as boxes, vases, lamps, stands of time-pieces, &c. This branch of business is much prosecuted in Florence, Leghorn, Milan, &c., and employs a great many turning lathes. Of all the alabasters, the Florentine merits the preference, on account of its beauty and uniformity, so that it may be fashioned into figures of considerable size: for which purpose there are lagre work-shops where it is cut with steel saws into blocks and masses of various shapes. Other sorts of gypsum, such as that of Salzburg and Austria, contain sand veins, and hard modules, and require to be quarried by cleaving and blasting operations, which are apt to crack it, and unfit it for all delicate objects of sculpture. It is, besides, of a gray shade, and often stained with darker colors.

The alabaster best adapted for the fine arts is pretty white when newly broken, and becomes whiter on the surface by drying. It may be easily cut with the knife or chisel, and formed into many pleasing shapes by suitable steel tools. It is worked either by the hand alone, or with the aid of a turning lathe. The turning tools should not be too thin or sharp-edged; but such as are employed for ivory and brass are most suitable for alabaster, and are chiefly used to shave and to scratch the surface. The objects which cannot be turned may be fashioned by the rasping tools, or with minute files, such as variegated foliage. Fine chisels and graving tools are also used for the better pieces of statuary.

For polishing such works, a peculiar process is required: pumice stone, in fine powder, serves to smooth down the surfaces very well, but it soild the whiteness of the alabaster. To take away the uneveanesses and roughnesses dried shave-grass (equisetum) answers best. Frictions with this plant and water polish down the asperities left by the chisel: the fine streaks left by the grass may be removed by rubbing the pieces with slakes lime, finely pulverized and sifted, made into a paste, or putty, with water. The polish and satin-lusttre of the surface are comunicated by friction, first with soap-water and lime, and finally with powdered and clutriated tale or French chalk.

Such articles as consist of several pieces are joined by a cement composed of quicklime and white of egg, or of well-calcined and well-sifted Paris plaster, mixed with the least possible quantity of water.

Alabaster objects are liable to become yellow by keeping, and are especially injured by smoke, dust, &c. They may be in some measure restored by washing with soap and water, then with clear water, and again polished with shave-grass. Grease spots may be removed either by rubbing with talc powder, or with oil fo turpentine.

The surface of alabaster may be etched by covering over the parts that are not to be touched with a solution of wax in oil of turpentine, thickened with white lead, and immersing the articles in pure water after the varnish has set. The action of the water is continued from 20 to 50 hours, more or less, according to the depth tho which the etching is to be cut. After remocing the varnish with oil of turpentine, the etched places, which are necessarily deprived of their polish, should be rubbed with a brush dipped in finely-powdered gyosum, which gives a kind of opacity, contrasting well with the rest of the surface.

Alabaster may be stained wither with metallic solutions, with spirituous tinctures of dyeing plants, or with colored oils, in the same way as marbles.

This substance has been hardened, it is said, by exposing it to the heat of a baker's oven for 10 or 20 hours, after taking it our of the quarry, and giving it the figure, roughly, which it is intended to have. After this exposure, it must be dipped for two minutes in running water; when it is cold, it must be dipped a second time for the same period. On being exposed to the air for a few days, alabaster so treated acquires a marble-like hardness. I doubt the truth of this statement.

Ei kommentteja :