MissPres Architectural Word of the Week: Scagliola

Its time for another MissPres Architectural Word of the Week! Our word this week is one spicy meatball of a word that comes all the way from Italy. It is is brought to you by the letter S as defined by Cyril M Harris’s Dictionary of Architecture and Construction

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Scagliola: (skal-ˈyō-lə) Plaster work imitating stone, in which mixtures of marble dust, sizing and various pigments are laid in decorative figures; designs may be routed into a surface.

New Capitol Architect Theodore Link was fond of Scagliola as he used it in several projects including the New Capitol in Jackson and the National Historic Landmark St. Louis’ Union Station in St. Louis Missouri.  The fun fact I learned while writing this post is that not all that imitates marble is Scagliola. According to Pamela Simpson’s Cheap Quick and Easy our State’s capitol contains Marezzo (Marezzo: (muh-ret-soh) A cast imitation marble produced with Keene’s cement) but I won’t let that spoil a good AWotW.

The difference between Scagliola and Marezzo is in the materials used to create them and in their method of construction. Scagliola is made starting with a clay-like mixture of lime plaster, glue, pigment and marble dust that is balled up and applied to a wall in place (click link to video of the process of creating Scagliola). Marezzo is made with a milkshake like mixture of gypsum plaster, pigment, keene’s cement, and colored silk. It is made in a mold face down. After it’s set up a bit it can be rolled across a drum to give it a curve if it’s going on a column. Or it can be put up like paneling. (click link to video of the process of creating Marezzo)

I’ll be honest I have more experience creating Marezzo than I do identifying it out in the built environment. Marezzo is usually warmer to the touch than natural stone. Since Scagliola is created in place it often has a joint pattern that is visually different than the way stone would lay. Other than those two hints I am lost when it comes to determining if a material is Marble, Scagliola or Marezzo.

So MissPresers, I put this task to you, what are ways to identify Scagliola from Marezzo? Let us know and as always keep your eyes out for Scagliola, Marezzo and all our previous AWotW. You never know when it might come in handy, such as during a upcoming contest! If you want to check out any previous word you can do so here.

Categories: Cool Old Places, Historic Preservation, Jackson

6 replies

  1. I cannot help with the identification question posed, but I do love saying “Scagliola.”


  2. Tonight I am watching SEC football. Can you make your next word of the week “vomitory?”


    • Possibly! Thanks for the suggestion. Since our MissPres AWotW week is alphabetical we have a few more words to go before getting to the letter V. I’ll be on the look out for good Mississippi examples in the mean time.


  3. That was fascinating to watch the creation of scagliola, but that is clearly a tremendous amount of labor!


    • You are right! The amount of steps is staggering and detailed. But compared to the amount of labor to quarry and transport stone slabs of the equivalent size it becomes obvious why the scagliola technique was created.


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