Last edited 30 Oct 2019

Fresco

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A fresco is a type of mural painted direct onto wet plaster so that the paint becomes an integral part of the surface finish. The word ‘fresco’ is derived from the Italian ‘fresh’.

Frescos (or frescoes) were made as early as 1500 BC, with many examples in Knossos in Crete. The technique was developed in Italy during the thirteenth century, and became popular during the Renaissance.

It involves plastering a wall or ceiling a section at a time, with each section equivalent to the area that can be painted in one day. A water-based paint (made by mixing dry-powder pigments and water) is then applied to the wet plaster, which absorbs it, making it less likely to flake or rub off. The joints between sections of frescos follow clear lines of division within the image so they are not apparent in the completed work.

Frescos have a matte finish, and if they are kept clean and dry, can last for hundreds of years. However, they must be painted very quickly, mistakes are difficult to correct, they cannot be moved, and gases emitted by the drying plaster can be noxious.

Paintings on made on dry plaster, such as those at Pompeii, are not true frescos and are sometimes referred to as secco (dry) fresco.

Perhaps the most famous fresco is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, which took 4 years to complete between 1508 and 1511 and made the artist ill.

By the mid-16th century oil painting had become more popular than fresco painting, as there are fewer technical challenges, it is possible to achieve a gloss, translucent finish, and the painting can be moved.

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