Illustrated Architecture Dictionary
(Prounced scale ee OH la)
The term scagliola (pronounced scălliōla, with a silent g) derives from the Italian ‘scaglia’, a local name used in the Italian Alps for limestone (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012). Scagliola is a form of plaster, traditionally gypsum, which imitates decorative stone and has been widely used for the decoration of walls, columns, floors, fireplaces and table tops.
Artificial forms of decorative stone based on gypsum or lime plaster have a long history and were widely used in the ancient world. Recipes for their production can even be found in the works of the great Roman architect, Vitruvius.
The technique was rediscovered in the Renaissance and flourished on the continent in the Baroque and Rococo periods as a medium for the imitation of exotic marble and precious stone inlays. First introduced to Britain during the 17th century, rare surviving examples include a fireplace in the Queen’s Closet at Ham House, Surrey.
In Britain, however, the use of scagliola is more commonly associated with the imitation of the finest marbles on a much larger scale, without any joints or defects, and for columns and pilasters in particular. This use reached its zenith in the Regency period, typified by the extravagant bright scarlet and imitation lapis lazuli columns ...
In the latter part of the 19th century marezzo scagliola was developed in the US. It advanced the traditional methods of making scagliola by using Keene’s cement, a gypsum-based cement patented in 1838, rather than plaster. Both marezzo scagliola and traditional scagliola in America was prolific in the 19th century, although their use was generally confined to public buildings, such as state capitols, courthouses, churches and railway stations.
- David Harrison, Scagliola (online March 2018)
Peacock Alley is a fitting name for the main hallway in The Hotel Lafayette. This long expanse is decorated with a marble-like material known as scagliola. The scagliola was uncovered as the crews ripped away plaster, paint and other material coating the walls. To most people, the walls look like marble. This is the beauty of scagliola.
Scagliola is a material cast in slabs and installed like marble. It has a cement backing and the top layer is a pigmented plaster. Patterns, veining and other details can be carved or painted into the surface. It is then polished and sealed.
The Scagliola technique came into fashion around the 17th century as an effective substitute for costly marble inlays. It was also used for tables, columns, sculptures and other architectural elements. In the 19th century it was used in many buildings throughout the United States including Belcourt Castle in Newport, RI and Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo, NY.
Scagliola is often thought to be marble because it looks like marble and is cold to the touch.
- Jackie Abarella's Hotel Lafayette Blog (online 2012)
Examples from Buffalo:
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