The origin of the name alabaster is uncertain. In Greek and
Latin, alabaster is a name given to a vase, probably
referring to vases originally made in alabaster. The
origin is, however, undoubtedly found in Egypt where
the earliest vases in alabaster were first created.
It seems that there once existed a city named Alabastron
which was famous for the manufactures of small vases
and amphorae used as perfume holders. If it is true
then the name probably derives from Alabastron giving
the name to both the recipient and the stone. There
are two distinct types of alabaster. One is hydrate
calcium sulphate (CaSO4 •2H2O) and the other calcium
carbonate (Ca CO3). This is formed in various shapes,
depending on the phase of crystallization, and can be
calcite or aragonite. The alabaster from Volterra, a
chalky alabaster, belongs to the first category where
as the second category is a calcareous alabaster often
known as Oriental alabaster
ALABASTER FROM VOLTERRA
In Italy this type of alabaster is predominantly found
in Volterra surrounding territory. The alabaster from
Volterra is considered to be the highest quality alabaster
in Europe especially for its distinctive features. A
compact, translucent, veined and velvety alabaster.
The alabaster was formed in Miocene (the Miocene period
dates back to 26-7 million years, the same period in
which the Italian peninsula and Apennines were formed).
The varieties of alabaster are practically numberless,
for its look always changes whenever the ground composition
varies. The less veined ones are white, transparent
like the Translucent alabaster or opaque. In the types
of various colours, heterogeneous matters – especially
clay – and metal oxides are united with calcium sulphate.
The dominant colour is the grey, with clay inclusions.
The yellow, the reddish and other colours, due to metal
oxides and hydroxides – iron above all – follow.
Many classifications (up to 52) of chalky alabaster
|ALABASTER FROM VOLTERRA
||various type of alabaster
||Alabastro Bianco Venato
Not very translucent stones, their colourings go from
the light grey to the black. Their veins are due to
the clay or to iron oxides. Bardiglio is uneasily describable
because it appears with very different intensities,
veining and colourings; it may be marbled, that is why
sometimes it is also called Bianco venato o “pietra
a marmo” (stone similar to marble) and the name of Bardiglio
remains only for the typologies in which the variegation
and colouring intensity is bigger. The block weight
varies from 15 to 250/300 kg.
is a much veined alabaster; it is very dark and it may be either brown or black or reddish. Its weight ranges 20/30 – 400/500 kg.
is a grey stone, its colour is similar to the clay and
its mixture and colouring are more or less variegated
and decidedly opaque. The intensively coloured Cenerino
- that is a rare stone – looks like a light slate. It
is found in plates that weigh 150 kg. at most.
The colourings of this alabaster have many tonalities of yellow and are practically not to be found.
Its tonality varies from light amber colour to brown
and may be more or less transparent. It is very highly
valued. Block weight ranges from 20 to 300 kg.
Calcarifero - Fossilifero
Very rare and very highly valued. It is rich yellow
tinged with brown beautifully veined in black-grey and
rust. Block weight ranges from 40 to 600 kg.
This type of alabaster is formed by
deposits of calcareous water and has a translucent,
crystalline, often granular structure.
Calcareous alabaster is made up of calcite (trygonal
crystallization) or aragonite (rhombic crystallization).
The hardness of this stone is 3 – 4 on the Mohs scale.
In Volterra there is a vein of calcareous alabaster
near Iano so that there are also some firms that work
this stone. This type of alabaster was mostly used in
antiquity. The Egyptians not only produced perfume holders
but also columns and friezes and decorated the palaces
and temples in this stone. In Greece it was used for
Calcareous or Oriental alabaster was imported to Rome
from Middle East at the same time that the chalky alabaster
was being carved in Volterra by the Etruscans, and was
substantially used for architectural decoration including
column and animal sculptures.