The first known use of marbling was in the eighth century in Japan. It is believed to be discovered by accident by a member of the imperial family. They submerged sumi ink paintings in water, watched the inks float to the surface, and then preserved the image on paper. This technique became known as Suminagashi, or “ink floating”.
This art travelled to Persia and Turkey where Ebru originated. Known as “cloud art”, 15th century Marblers used thickened water to allow for more intricate patterns using paint.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, marbling spread to Europe by way of Marco Polo and the Silk Road but trade secrets were carefully guarded by a handful of people. Apprentice Marblers were taught only one step in the process, and were kept separate from other workers. At this time, marbling was used mostly for decorative bookbinding.
In 1853, a couple of Marblers broke the silence and the art spread through Europe and North America. However, with the invention of automated machines, craftsmanship was valued less than volume. The art faded into almost obscurity until the 1970s when a renewed passion for handcrafted items helped bring to life old techniques.
Today, marbling is practiced by hundreds of masters around the world who are revitalizing old traditions, while infusing them with new innovative applications.