1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Marble

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MARBLE (from Lat. marmor, Gr. μάρμαρος, shining stone), a term applied to any limestone or dolomite which is sufficiently close in texture to admit of being polished. Many other ornamental stones—such as serpentine, alabaster and even granite—are sometimes loosely designated marble, but by accurate writers the term is invariably restricted to those crystalline and compact varieties of carbonate of lime (occasionally with carbonate of magnesia) which, when polished, are applicable to purposes of decoration. The crystalline structure is typically shown in statuary marble. A fractured surface of this stone displays a multitude of sparkling facets, which are the rhombohedral cleavage-planes of the component grains. The beautiful lustre of polished statuary marble is due to the light penetrating for a short distance into the rock and then suffering reflection at the surfaces of the deeper-lying crystals. The durability of marble in a dry atmosphere or when protected from rain renders it a valuable building stone (q.v.); on the other hand, when exposed to the weather or the acid atmosphere of large cities, its surface readily crumbles.

Statuary and Economic Marbles.—Among statuary marbles the first place may be assigned to the famous Pentelic marble, the material in which Pheidias, Praxiteles, and other Greek sculptors executed their principal works. The characteristics of this stone are well seen in the Elgin marbles, which were removed from the Parthenon at Athens, and are now at the British Museum. The marble was derived from the quarries of Mount Pentelicus in Attica. Several large buildings have recently been constructed with this marble in London. The neighbouring mountain of Hymettus likewise yielded marbles, but these were neither so pure in colour nor so fine in texture as those of Pentelicus. Parian marble, another stone much used by Greek sculptors and architects, was quarried in the isle of Paros, chiefly at Mount Marpessa. It is called by ancient writers lychnites (from the Gr. λύχνος, a lamp) in allusion to the fact that the quarries were worked by the light of lamps. The Venus de Medici is a notable example of work in this material. Carrara marble is better known than any of the Greek marbles, inasmuch as it constitutes the stone invariably employed by the best sculptors of the present day. This marble occurs abundantly in the Apuan Alps, an offshoot of the Apennines, and is largely worked in the neighbourhood of Carrara, Massa and Serravezza. Stone from this district was employed in Rome for architectural purposes in the time of Augustus, but the finer varieties, adapted to the needs of the sculptor, were not discovered until some time later. It is in Carrara marble that the finest works of Michelangelo and of Canova are executed. The purest varieties of this stone are of snow-white colour and of fine saccharoidal texture. Silica is disseminated through some of the marble, becoming a source of annoyance to the workman; while occasionally it separates as beautifully pellucid crystals of quartz known as “Carrara diamonds.” The geological age of the marbles of the Apuan Alps has been a subject of much dispute, some geologists regarding them as metamorphosed Triassic, Liassic or Rhaetic rocks. Much of the common marble is of a bluish colour, and therefore unfit for statuary purposes; when streaked with blue and grey veins the stone is known as bardiglio. Curiously enough, the common white marble of Tuscany comes to England as Sicilian marble—a name probably due to its having been formerly re-shipped from some port in Sicily.

Although crystalline marbles fit for statuary work are not found to any extent in Great Britain, the limestones of the Palaeozoic formations yield a great variety of marbles well suited for architectural purposes. The Devonian rocks of south Devon are rich in handsome marbles, presenting great diversity of tint and pattern. Plymouth, Torquay, Ipplepen, Babbacombe and Chudleigh may be named as the principal localities. Many of these limestones owe their beauty to the fossil corals which they contain, and are hence known as “madrepore marbles.”

Of far greater importance than the marbles of the Devonian system are those of Carboniferous age. It is from the Carboniferous or Mountain Limestone that British marbles are mainly derived. Marbles of this age are worked in Derbyshire and Yorkshire, in the neighbourhood of Bristol, in North Wales, in the Isle of Man, and in various parts of Ireland. One of the most beautiful of these stones is the “encrinital marble,” a material which owes its peculiarities to the presence of numerous encrinites, or stone-lilies. These fossils, when cut in various directions, give a characteristic pattern to the stone. The joints of the stems and arms are known from their shape as “wheel-stones,” and the rock itself has been called “ entrochal marble.” The most beautiful varieties are those in which the calcareous fossils appear as white markings on a ground of grey limestone. In Belgium a black marble with small sections of crinoid stems is known as petit granit, while in Derbyshire a similar rock, crowded with fragments of minute encrinites, is termed “bird's-eye marble.”

Perhaps the most generally useful marbles yielded by the Carboniferous system are the black varieties, which are largely employed for chimney-pieces, vases, and other ornamental objects. The colour of most black limestone is due to the presence of bituminous matter. Such limestone commonly emits a fetid odour when struck; and the colour, being of organic origin, is discharged on calcination. Black marbles, more or less dense in colour, are quarried in various parts of Ireland, especially at Kilkenny and near Galway, but the finest kind is obtained from near Ashford in Derbyshire. From Ashford is also derived a very beautiful stone known as “rosewood marble.” This is a dense brown laminated limestone, displaying when polished a handsome pattern somewhat resembling the grain of rosewood; it occurs in very limited quantity, and is used chiefly for inlaid work. The black marble of Frosterley, Yorkshire, is another Carboniferous example which owes its “figure” or pattern to the presence of large corals.

With the rosewood marble may be compared the well-known “landscape marble” or Cotham stone, an argillaceous limestone with peculiar dendritic markings, due probably to the infiltration of water containing oxide of manganese. This limestone occurs in irregular masses near the base of the White Lias, or uppermost division of the Rhaetic series. It is found principally in the neighbourhood of Bristol. The arborescent forms depicted in bluish-grey upon this landscape marble form a marked contrast to the angular markings of warm brown colour which are seen on slabs of “ruin marble” from Florence—a stone occasionally known also as landscape stone, or pieta paesina.

British limestones of Secondary and Tertiary age are not generally compact enough to be used as marbles, but some of the shelly beds are employed to a limited extent for decorative purposes. “Ammonite marble” is a dark brown limestone from the Lower Lias of Somersetshire, crowded with ammonites, principally A. planicostata. Under the name of Forest marble, geologists recognize a local division of the Lower Oolitic series, so named by W. Smith from Wychwood Forest in Oxfordshire, where shelly limestones occur; and these, though of little economic value, are capable of being used as rough marbles. But the most important marbles of the Secondary series are the shelly limestones of the Purbeck formation. Purbeck marble was a favourite material with medieval architects, who used it freely for slender clustered columns and for sepulchral monuments. It consists of a mass of the shells of a fresh-water snail, Paludina carinifera, embedded in a blue, grey or greenish limestone, and is found in the Upper Purbeck beds of Swanage in Dorsetshire. Excellent examples of its use may be seen in Westminster Abbey and in the Temple Church, as well as in the cathedrals of Salisbury, Winchester, Worcester and Lincoln. Sussex marble is a very similar stone, occurring in thin beds in the Weald clay, and consisting largely of the shells of Paludina, principally P. sussexiensis and P. fluviorum. The altar stones and the episcopal chair in Canterbury Cathedral are of this material.

Certain calcareous metamorphic rocks frequently form stones which are sufficiently beautiful to be used for ornamental purposes, and are generally classed as marbles. Such serpentinous limestones are included by petrologists under the term “ophicalcite.” The famous verde antico is a rock of this character. Mona marble is an ophicalcite from the metamorphic series of the Isle of Anglesey, while the “Irish green” of architects is a similar rock from Connemara in western Galway. It is notable that some of the “white marble” of Connemara has been found by W. King and T. H. Rowney to consist almost wholly of malacolite, silicate of calcium and magnesium.

A beautiful marble has been worked to a limited extent in the island of Tiree, one of the Hebrides, but the quarry appears to be now exhausted. This Tiree marble is a limestone having a delicate carnelian colour diffused through it in irregular patches, and containing rounded crystals of sahlite, a green augitic mineral resembling malacolite in composition.

Many marbles which are prized for the variegated patterns they display owe these patterns to their formation in concentric zones—such marbles being in fact stalagmitic deposits of carbonate of lime, sometimes consisting of aragonite. One of the most beautiful stalagmitic rocks is the so-called onyx marble of Algeria. This stone was largely used in the buildings of Carthage and Rome, but the quarries which yielded it were not known to modern sculptors until 1849, when it was rediscovered near Oued-Abdallah. The stone is a beautifully translucent material, delicately clouded with yellow and brown, and is greatly prized by French workmen. Large deposits of a very fine onyx-like marble, similar to the Algerian stone, have been worked at Técali, about 35 miles from the city of Mexico. Among other stalagmitic marbles, mention may be made of the well-known Gibraltar stone, which is often worked into models of cannon and other ornamental objects. This stalagmite is much deeper in colour and less translucent than the onyx marbles of Algeria and Mexico. A richly tinted stalagmitic stone worked in California is known as Californian marble. It is worth noting that the “alabaster” of the ancients was stalagmitic carbonate of lime, and that this stone is therefore called by mineralogists “Oriental alabaster” in order to distinguish it from our modern “alabaster,” which is a sulphate, and not a carbonate, of lime. Gypsum capable of taking a polish is found at Fauld in Staffordshire and in Italy and Spain.

The brown and yellow colours which stalagmitic marbles usually present are due to the presence of oxide of iron. This colouring matter gives special characters to certain stones, such as the giallo antico, or antique yellow marble of the Italian antiquaries. Siena marble is a reddish mottled stone obtained from the neighbourhood of Siena in Tuscany; and a somewhat similar stone is found in King's County, Ireland. True red marble is by no means common, but it does occur, of bright and uniform colour, though in very small quantity, in the Carboniferous limestone of Derbyshire and north-east Staffordshire. The red marble called rosso antico is often confounded with the porfiro rosso antico, which is really a mica-hornblende porphyrite owing its red colour to the mineral withamite.

Fire marble is the name given to a brown shelly limestone containing ammonites and other fossil shells, which present a brilliant display of iridescent colours, like those of precious opal. It occurs in rocks of Liassic age at the lead-mines of Bleiberg in Carinthia, and is worked into snuff-boxes and other small objects. By mineralogists it is often termed lumachella, an Italian name which may, however, be appropriately applied to any marble which contains small shells.

The quarries of France, Belgium, Italy and Spain, not to mention less important localities, yield a great diversity of marbles, and almost each stone bears a distinctive name, often of trivial meaning; but in this article it is impossible to enumerate the local names used by marble-workers indifferent countries to distinguish the various stones which pass under their hands.

America possesses some valuable deposits of marble, which in the eastern States have been extensively worked. The crystalline limestones of western New England furnish an abundance of white and grey marble, while a beautiful material fit for statuary work has been quarried near Rutland in Vermont. A grey bird's-eye marble is obtained from central New York, and the greyish clouded limestones of Thomaston in Maine have been extensively quarried. Of the variegated and coloured marbles, perhaps the most beautiful are those from the northern part of Vermont, in the neighbourhood of Lake Champlain. A fine brecciated marble is found on the Maryland side of the Potomac, below Point of Rocks. Among the principal localities for black marble may be mentioned Shoreham in Vermont and Glen Falls in New York. In 1908 the American States producing marble were, in order of value, Vermont, Georgia, Tennessee, New York, Massachusetts, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Maryland, California, Colorado, Alaska, N. Carolina, Kentucky, New Mexico, Utah, Missouri and Idaho. In Canada the crystalline limestones of the pre-Cambrian series yield beautiful marbles.

In India we find important quarries at Makrana in Rajputana,—a locality which is said to have yielded the marble for the famous Taj Mahal at Agra. In the valley of the Nerbudda, near Jabalpur, there is a large development of marble. The white marble which is used for the delicately pierced screens called jalee work is obtained from near Raialo, in Ulwar.  (F. W. R.*) 

Petrography.—Marbles are uniformly crystalline, and hence have no bedding or schistosity which would tend to make them fissile, but are entirely massive and free from grain. The microstructure of pure marble is comparatively simple. In thin sections they are seen to be built up of somewhat rounded grains of calcite, fitting closely together in a mosaic; very rarely do any grains show traces of crystalline form. They are colourless and transparent, and are usually traversed by a lattice-work of sharply defined cleavage cracks, which correspond to the rhombohedral faces. In polarized light the colours are pinkish or greenish white, or in very thin sections iridescent because the mineral has a very strong double refraction. They may also be crossed by bars or stripes, each of which indicates a twin plate, for the crystals are usually polysynthetic. This twinning may be produced by pressure acting either during the crystallization of the rock or at a later period.

The purest marbles generally contain some accessory minerals, and in many of these rocks they form a considerable proportion of the whole mass. The commonest are quartz in small rounded grains, scales of colourless or pale yellow mica (muscovite and phlogopite), dark shining flakes of graphite and small crystals of pyrites or iron oxides. Even fine Carrara marble leaves a residue of this sort when dissolved in acid. Many marbles contain other minerals which are usually silicates of lime or magnesia. The list of these accessories is a very large one. Augite is very frequent and may be white (malacolite) or pale green (coccolite, sahlite, diopside); hornblende occurs as white bladed tremolite or pale green actinolite; feldspar's may be present also, such as orthoclase, or more frequently some plagioclase such as albite, labradorite and anorthite; scapolite (or wernerite); various kinds of garnet; vesuvianite, spinel, forsterite, periclase, brucite, talc, zoisite and epidote, chondrodite, biotite, datolite, sphene and apatite may be mentioned as typical accessory minerals. The presence of metalliferous minerals such as galena, grey or red silver ores, zinc blende, antimonite, chalcopyrite, molybdenite, cassiterite, usually indicates impregnation by ore-bearing solutions, especially if these substances occur in workable quantities. The rubies of Burma are found in crystalline limestones and are constantly accompanied by precious spinel (or balas-ruby).

These minerals represent impurities in the original limestone which crystallized at the time that the marble became crystalline. The silicates derive their silica mainly from sand or infiltrated siliceous deposits; the alumina represents an admixture of clay; the iron came from limonite or hematite in the original state of the rock. Where the silicates bulk largely because the original limestone was highly impure, all the carbonic acid may be driven out and replaced by silica during the process of recrystallization. The' rock is then a calc-silicate rock, hard, tough, flinty and no longer readily soluble in acids. They are sometimes fine-grained horn stones (known as calc-silicate hornfelses). Where white minerals predominate (wollastonite, tremolite, feldspar) these rocks may have a close resemblance to marbles, but often they are green from the abundance of green augites and amphiboles, or brown (when garnet and vesuvianite are present in quantity) or yellow (with epidote, chondrodite or sphene). Decomposition induces further changes in colour owing to the formation of green or yellow serpentine, pale green talc, red hematite, and brown limonite. Most of the coloured or variegated crystalline marbles have originated in this manner. Often bands of calc-silicate rock alternate with bands of marble, and they may be folded or bent; in other cases, nodules and patches of silicates occur in a matrix of pure marble. Earth movements may shatter the rocks, producing fissures afterwards filled with veins of calcite; in this way the beautiful brecciated or veined marbles are produced. Sometimes the broken fragments are rolled and rounded by the flow of the marble under pressure and pseudo-conglomerates or “ crush conglomerates ” result. In other cases the banding of the marble indicates the original bedding of the calcareous sediments. Crystalline limestones which contain much mica may be called cipollins; in them quartz, garnet and hornblende often also occur. The ophicalcites are marbles containing much serpentine, which has been formed by the decomposition of forsterite, olivine or augite. The much-discussed Eozoon, at one time supposed to be the earliest known fossil and found in Archaean limestones in Canada, is now known to be inorganic and to belong to the ophicalcites.

Many marbles, probably all of them, are metamorphosed limestones. The passage of limestones rich in fossils into true marbles as they approach great crystalline intrusions of granite is a phenomenon seen in many parts of the world; occasionally the recrystallization of the rock has not completely obliterated the organic structures (e.g. at Carrara and at Bergen in Norway). The agencies which have induced the metamorphism are heat and pressure, the heat arising from the granite and the pressure from overlying masses of rock, for these changes took place before the granite cooled and while it was still deeply buried beneath the surface. In 1806 Sir James Hall described a series of experiments proving this. He enclosed chalk in a gun-barrel securely plugged and heated it to a high temperature in a furnace. Carbonic acid was given off by the chalk and produced a great pressure in the interior of the tube. After slow cooling the mass was found to have become converted into granular crystalline marble; As rocks which have undergone changes of this kind are commonest in the oldest and deepest layers of the earth's crust, most marbles are Palaeozoic or pre-Cambrian. They occur very often with mica schists, phyllites, &c., which were beds of clay alternating with the original limestone. Formerly it was supposed that some of these marbles were crystalline sediments or even igneous rocks, but the tendency of modern geology is to assume that they were ordinary limestones, many of which may have been fossiliferous. In regions where the sedimentary rocks have been converted into schists, gneisses and granulates, the limestones are represented by calc schists, cipollins and marbles. Often no granite or other intrusive rock is present which may be regarded as the cause of the metamorphism. The marbles are often banded or schistose, and under the microscope show crushing and deformation of the component crystals, such as would have been produced by the earth pressures which accompany rock-folding. These crush structures have been obtained experimentally in marbles subjected to great pressures in steel cylinders. In the recrystallization of these limestones the direct heating action of igneous intrusions may have played no part, but the rise of temperature and increase of pressure due to the folding of great rock masses have probably been the operating causes. This type of metamorphism has been distinguished by the name marmarosis (Sir A. Geikie, Text Book of Geology, 1882).

For descriptions of ancient marbles see F. Corsi, Delle pietre antiche (Rome, 1845); M. W. Porter, What Rome was built with (Oxford, 1907), and for marbles in general consult E. Hull, Building and Ornamental Stones (1872); G. P. Merrill, Stones for Building and Decoration (3rd ed., 1905, New York).  (J. S. F.)