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What is Alabaster?

Alabaster bowl Alabaster is a stone. Alabaster is the common name for soft, smooth, fine-grained sedimentary gypsum rock. Generally white or delicately shaded and translucent, alabaster of substantial thickness (1-2 inches) allows light to pass through it.

Where does Alabaster come from?

Deposits of alabaster are found in many countries of the world such as England, Belgium, India, Turkey, Cyprus, United States of America, Italy and Spain. Quarried in open pits, veins of alabaster are found 12-20 feet below the surface. The rocks are normally 16"-20" in height and 2-3 feet in diameter. Very rarely do they exceed this size. Stones from the quarry are transported to a sawmill where the alabaster is sawed into flat round "pancakes" of various sizes for later turning, hand-carving or more detailed sawing.

Alabaster in Decorative Arts

Alabaster is popular because it is soft and easy to work or carve. The use of alabaster to create decorative objects and lamps with ornamental carving dates back to early civilization. A three foot vase with a relief from Warka, dating between 3500-3000 B.C., can be found in the British Museum. Fine alabaster busts from Sumer, 3000 B.C., are now in the Louvre. Alabaster was worked by the Egyptians as well. An ornate alabaster triple oil lamp in the form of three lotus flowers was found in the Tomb of Tutankhamun, (1356 B.C.). The sarcophagus of Seti I, (1304 B.C.) was made of alabaster. The use of Alabaster for decorative work is found through the history of Sumer, Babylonia and Assyria. The Romans made small ornamental objects and boxes while open work bas-reliefs was carved in India. From the 6th - 13th centuries, monasteries in Mediterranean countries, like Greece, France, Italy and Spain, used thin flat slabs of alabaster as windowpanes because of its translucency. Sometimes alabaster is tinted to accentuate the natural veining or to add color.

small alabaster bottom Brass Light Gallery's alabaster is quarried in Spain. We use the authentic stone for its unique qualities and natural characteristics. The translucency of alabaster diffuses light softly and evenly, which is why they make marvelous light fixtures. We have several different shapes and sizes for wall sconces and pendant lighting. Many of our alabaster bowls are intricately hand carved with classical motifs, alluding to the history within the stone for a modern use.

Sources:
Harris, Cyril M.  Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture, 1977.
Osbrone, Harold. An Illustrated Companion to the Decorative Arts, Wordsworth Edition, 1989.