Fresco: Wikis


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Ceiling Mosaic of the Arian Baptistry, Ravenna, Italy (5th century).
Fresco by Dionisius representing Saint Nicholas in the Ferapontov Monastery.
Dante Domenico di Michelino's DivineComedy in Duomo of Florence.
Fresco from Bavaria, Germany.
Fresco Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, Rome, Italy.

Fresco (plural either frescos or frescoes) is any of several related painting types, done on plaster on walls or ceilings. The word fresco comes from the Italian word affresco [afˈfresːko] which derives from the adjective fresco ("fresh"), which has Germanic origins. Frescoes were often made during the Renaissance and other early time periods.



Buon fresco technique consists of painting in pigment mixed with water on a thin layer of wet, fresh, lime mortar or plaster, for which the Italian word for plaster, intonaco, is used. Because of the chemical makeup of the plaster, a binder is not required, as the pigment mixed solely with the water will sink into the intonaco, which itself becomes the medium holding the pigment. The pigment is absorbed by the wet plaster; after a number of hours, the plaster dries and reacts with the air: it is this chemical reaction which fixes the pigment particles in the plaster. One of the first painters in the post-classical period to use this technique was the Isaac Master in the Upper Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi. A person who creates fresco is called a frescoist.

A secco painting, in contrast, is done on dry plaster (secco is "dry" in Italian). The pigments thus require a binding medium, such as egg (tempera), glue or oil to attach the pigment to the wall. It is important to distinguish between a secco work done on top of buon fresco, which according to most authorities was in fact standard from the Middle Ages onwards, and work done entirely a secco on a blank wall. Generally, buon fresco works are more durable than any a secco work added on top of them, because a secco work lasts better with a roughened plaster surface, whilst true fresco should have a smooth one. The additional a secco work would be done to make changes, and sometimes to add small details, but also because not all colours can be achieved in true fresco, because only some pigments work chemically in the very alkaline environment of fresh lime-based plaster. Blue was a particular problem, and skies and blue robes were often added a secco, as neither azurite blue, nor lapis lazuli, the only two blue pigments then available, work well in wet fresco.[1]

It has also become increasingly clear, thanks to modern analytical techniques, that even in the early Italian Renaissance painters quite frequently employed a secco techniques so as to allow the use of a broader range of pigments. In most early examples this work has now entirely vanished, but a whole fresco done a secco on a surface roughened to give a key for the paint may survive very well, although damp is more threatening to it than to buon fresco.

A third type, called mezzo-fresco, is painted on nearly-dry intonaco—firm enough not to take a thumb-print, says the sixteenth-century author Ignazio Pozzo—so that the pigment only penetrates slightly into the plaster. By the end of the sixteenth century this had largely displaced buon fresco, and was used by painters such as Gianbattista Tiepolo or Michelangelo. This technique had, in reduced form, the advantages of a secco work.

The three key advantages of work done entirely a secco were that it was quicker, mistakes could be corrected, and the colours varied less from when applied to when fully dry—in wet fresco there was a considerable change.

In painting buon fresco, a rough underlayer called the arriccio is added to the whole area to be painted, and allowed it to dry for some days. Many artists sketched their compositions on this underlayer, which would never be seen, in a red pigment called sinopia; these drawings are also called sinopia. Later, techniques for transferring paper drawings to the wall were developed. The main lines of the drawing were pricked over with a point, held against the wall, and a bag of soot (spolvero) banged on them on produce black dots along the lines. If a previous fresco was being painted over, the surface would be roughened to give a key. On the day of painting, a thinner, smooth layer of fine plaster, the intonaco, is added to the amount of wall that can be expected to be completed in a day, sometimes matching the contours of the figures or the landscape, but more often just starting from the top of the composition. This area is called the giornata ("day's work"), and the different day stages can usually be seen in a large fresco, by a sort of seam that separates one from the next.

Buon frescoes are difficult to create because of the deadline associated with the drying plaster. Generally, a layer of plaster will require ten to twelve hours to dry; ideally, an artist would begin to paint after one hour and continue until two hours before the drying time—giving seven to nine hours working time. Once a giornata is dried, no more buon fresco can be done, and the unpainted intonaco must be removed with a tool before starting again the next day. If mistakes have been made, it may also be necessary to remove the whole intonaco for that area—or to change them later à secco.

In a wall-sized fresco, there may be ten to twenty or even more giornate, or separate areas of plaster. After centuries, these giornate (originally, nearly invisible) have sometimes become visible, and in many large-scale frescoes, these divisions may be seen from the ground. Additionally, the border between giornate was often covered by à secco painting, which has since fallen off.

For wholly à secco work, the intonaco is laid with a rougher finish, allowed to dry completely and then usually given a key by rubbing with sand. The painter then proceeds much as he would on a canvas or wood panel.



Crete and Egypt

The earliest known examples frescoes done in the Buon Fresco method date at around 1500 BC and are to be found on the island of Crete in Greece. The most famous of these, The Toreador, depicts a sacred ceremony in which individuals jump over the backs of large bulls. While some similar frescoes have been found in other locations around the Mediterranean basin, particularly in Egypt and Morocco, their origins are subject to speculation.

Some art historians believe that fresco artists from Crete may have been sent to various locations as part of a trade exchange, a possibility which raises to the fore the importance of this art form within the society of the times. The most common form of fresco was Egyptian wall paintings in tombs, usually using the a secco technique.

Classical antiquity

Fresco of a Roman woman from Pompeii, c. 50 CE.

Frescoes were also painted in ancient Greece, but few of these works have survived. In southern Italy, at Paestum, which was a Greek colony of the Magna Graecia, a tomb containing frescoes dating back to 470 BC, the so called Tomb of the Diver was discovered on June 1968. These frescoes depict scenes of the life and society of ancient Greece, and constitute valuable historical testimonials. One shows a group of men reclining at a symposium while another shows a young man diving into the sea.

Roman wall paintings, such as those at the magnificent Villa dei Misteri (1st century B.C.) in the ruins of Pompeii, and others at Herculaneum, were completed in buon fresco.

Late Roman Empire (Christian) 1st-2nd century frescoes were found in catacombs beneath Rome and Byzantine Icons were also found in Cyprus, Crete, Ephesus, Cappadocia and Antioch. Roman frescoes were done by the artist painting the artwork on the still damp plaster of the wall, so that the painting is part of the wall, actually colored plaster.

Also a historical collection of Ancient Christian frescoes can be found in the Churches of Goreme Turkey.

Indian fresco

Fresco from Ajanta, 6th century
Chola Fresco of Dancing girls. Brihadisvara Temple c. 1100

The frescoes on the ceilings and walls of the Ajanta Caves were painted between c. 200 BC and 600. They depict the Jataka tales that are stories of the Buddha's life in former existences as Bodhisattva. The narrative episodes are depicted one after another although not in a linear order. Their identification has been a core area of research on the subject since the time of the site's rediscovery in 1819. The Chola fresco paintings were discovered in 1931 within the circumambulatory passage of the Brihadisvara Temple in India and are the first Chola specimens discovered.

Researchers have discovered the technique used in these frescos. A smooth batter of limestone mixture is applied over the stones, which took two to three days to set. Within that short span, such large paintings were painted with natural organic pigments.

During the Nayak period the chola paintings were painted over. The Chola frescos lying underneath have an ardent spirit of saivism is expressed in them. They probably synchronised with the completion of the temple by Rajaraja Cholan the Great.

One of the greatest frescoes in the world can be found in Sigiriya[citation needed]. This was during the time of the great hydraulic civilization that these frescoes were created in the 5-6th centuries. This is considered a masterpiece of ancient frescoes. These are still clearly visible in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka.

Middle ages

The late Medieval period and the Renaissance saw the most prominent use of fresco, particularly in Italy, where most churches and many government buildings still feature fresco decoration. In Denmark too, church wall paintings or kalkmalerier were widely used in the middle ages (first Romanesque then Gothic) and can be seen in some 600 Danish churches as well as in churches in the south of Sweden which was Danish at the time.[2]

One of the rare examples of Islamic fresco painting can be seen in Qasr Amra, the desert palace of the Umayyads in the 8th century.

Early modern Europe

Northern Romania boasts about a dozen painted monasteries, completely covered with frescos inside and out, that date from the second quarter of the sixteenth century. The most remarkable are the monastic foundations at Humor (hoo mor), Moldoviţa (mol do vee' tsa), Arbore (are' bo ray) and Voroneţ (vo ro nets). Suceviţa (sue che vee' tsa), dating from 1600, represents a late return to the style developed some seventy years earlier. The tradition of painted churches continued into the nineteenth century in other parts of Romania, although never to the same extent. [3]

Andrea Palladio, the famous Italian architect of the 16th century, built many mansions with plain exteriors and stunning interiors filled with frescoes.

The Foujita chapel in Reims completed in 1966, is an exmaple of modern frescos, the interior being painted with religious scenes by the School of Paris painter Tsuguharu Foujita. In 1996, it was designated an historic monument by the French Government.

Mexican Muralism

Jose Clemente Orozco, David Siqueiros and Diego Rivera the famous Mexican artists renewed the art of fresco painting in the 20th century. Orozco, Siqueiros, Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo contributed more to the history of Mexican fine arts and to the reputation of Mexican art in general than anybody else. Together with works by Orozco, Siqueiros, and others, Rivera's large wall works in fresco established the art movement known as Mexican Muralism.

Selected examples of frescoes

Italian Early Medieval

Italian Late Medieval-Quattrocento

Italian "High Renaissance"

Italian Baroque

Czech Republic

Conservation of frescoes

In Venice

The climate and environment of Venice has proved to be a problem for frescoes and other works of art in the city for centuries. The city is built on a lagoon in northern Italy. The humidity and the rise of water over the centuries have created a phenomenon known as rising damp. As the lagoon water rises and seeps into the foundation of a building, the water is absorbed and rises up through the walls often causing damage to frescoes. Venetians have become quite adept in the conservation methods of frescoes.

The following is the process that was used when rescuing frescos in La Fenice, a Venetian opera house, but it is the same process for similarly damaged frescoes. First, a protection and support bandage of cotton gauze and polyvinyl alcohol is applied. Difficult sections are removed with soft brushes and localized vacuuming. The other areas that are easier to remove (because they had been damaged by less water) are removed with a paper pulp compress saturated with bicarbonate of ammonia solutions and removed with deionized water. These sections are strengthened and reattached then cleansed with base exchange resin compresses and the wall and pictorial layer were strengthened with barium hydrate. The cracks and detachments are stopped with lime putty and injected with an epoxy resin loaded with micronized silica.[5]

See also


  1. ^ All this section - Ugo Procacci, in Frescoes from Florence,pp. 15-25 1969, Arts Council, London.
  2. ^ Kirsten Trampedach, "Introduction to Danish wall paintings - Conservation ethics and methods of treatment from the National Museum of Denmark". Retrieved 2 March 2010.
  3. ^ Anca Vasiliu, "Monastères de Moldavie (XIVème-XVIème siècles)", Paris Mediterranée, 1998
  4. ^ Restoration of the Last Supper 1498 - Leonardo da Vinci 1452-1519 - The Last Supper St. Apostle John Comparison
  5. ^ Ciacci, Leonardo., ed, La Fenice Reconstructed 1996-2003: a building site in the city, (Venezia: Marsilio, 2003),118.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

FRESCO (Ital. for cool, " fresh"), a term introduced into English, both generally (as in such phrases as al fresco," in the fresh air"), and more especially as a technical term for a sort of mural painting on plaster. In the latter sense the Italians distinguished painting a secco (when the plaster had been allowed to dry) from a fresco (when it was newly laid and still wet). The nature and history of fresco-painting is dealt with in the article Painting.

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Simple English

Fresco is a way of painting pictures. A fresco is a painting that is done on a wall. All wall paintings are sometimes called frescoes by mistake. A true fresco is painted onto plaster that is fresh. The plaster has been laid on the wall that day and is still damp. The word fresco comes from the Italian for "fresh".


Advantages and disadvantages of fresco painting

The good things about fresco painting

Fresco is a very good way of painting pictures on walls. It is much easier than painting on dry plaster because when paint is put onto dry plaster, it sinks straight in. Painting on fresh plaster means that the artist can spread the paint much easier.

Another reason why it is a good way to paint pictures on plastered walls is that the paint joins with the plaster so that the colours will not rub off. Frescoes last for hundreds of years. If they are kept clean and dry, the colours will stay bright for a very long time.

Fresco is the "green" method of painting because it does not use dangerous chemicals. The water, the calcite and the colours do not cause pollution.

The bad things about fresco painting

The problems with painting frescos come from the plaster. It must be mixed up and put on the wall freshly every day and left to partly dry before it can be used. As the plaster begins to dry or "set", the artist can start the picture. The plaster becomes very hot while it is drying, giving off steam, and a plastery smell. The artist must work very quickly and carefully. If he/she makes a mistake, the plaster must be scraped off. Unlike most other types of painting, frescos can not be moved from place to place, or rearranged.

Method - the way to paint frescoes

The artist must plan the work carefully. It starts with a small drawing of the picture, The artists then makes a large drawing, called a cartoon, and works out the right order to paint the picture, because a big picture might take more than a week to paint. Each day's work is called by the Italian name giornata. Giorno means "day".

When the day's work starts, the artist needs to work fast so there is usually another worker or assistant who mixes the plaster and helps the artist.

The artists pins up a drawing and uses a sharp point to mark the lines of the drawing onto the plaster. He/she then paints the outlines of the picture onto the plaster. Accuracy is very important; the artist must get it right in one go.

As the painting dries, the artist works over the whole giornata again, putting in details of the faces and the clothing, and painting shadows.

At the beginning of the next day's work, the plaster edge of the last giornata is scraped so that the new plaster joins well. Often it is possible to see the joins and work out how many giornata it took to do a single painting.

History of frescoes



Not all wall paintings are frescoes. In Ancient Egypt, for example, many of the wall paintings were done on dry plaster and are not true frescoes.

The Royal Palace at Knossos in Crete, c. 1500 BC, had many frescoes. The scene of athletes dancing with a bull is the most famous.

Many Ancient Roman wall paintings can be seen at Pompeii from the 1st century AD, but these are not true frescoes. , photo Giovanni dall'Orto.]]


There are many frescoes dating from the late Middle Ages, about 1000-1400 AD when, it was the fashion to paint the inside of churches with people and stories from the Bible. The order of the pictures was carefully planned by the artists and priests. Above the altar is usually seen a picture of Jesus Christ. On the west wall is often a frightening picture of The Last Judgement to remind people to turn to Jesus. Many frescoes like this can be seen in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Serbia, Armenia, Romania and Russia. There are a few in Germany, France and Italy.


, by Giotto.]] In Italy, around 1300 AD, the artist Giotto painted frescoes that were so full of life that people were amazed. Each picture was like looking onto a stage where real people told the story. This was the beginning of the period of art history called the Renaissance. Giotto's frescoes became so famous that he had many pupils and followers. Giotto's most famous frescoes are in the Arena Chapel in Padua. He also painted in the Church of St. Francis at Assisi and at Santa Croce (Church of the Holy Cross) in Florence.

A hundred years later, about 1400 AD, two artists called Masolino and Masaccio worked in the city of Florence, painting a chapel. Their names translate as "Little Tom" and "Fat Tom". Masaccio's way of painting was the biggest change since Giotto, in particular the two weeping naked figures of Adam and Eve. Everyone thought that Masaccio was one of the greatest painters alive. But he died at only 27 years old. These frescoes are in the Church of the Carmine, in Florence.

In the 1400s many other artists in Italy were given the job of painting churches or chapels. They were paid by patrons, rich people who could afford an artist. The most important patron was the Pope. Pope Sixtus IV had built a new chapel in the Vatican in Rome. In 1481, he got some of the best artists in Italy to decorate the walls for him. See Sistine Chapel.

In 1508 the work continued in the Sistine Chapel when Pope Julius II made the great artist Michelangelo go to Rome to paint the ceiling. It took him four years, and he became sick from the strain and the smell. But when he had finished, he had painted one of the greatest artworks in the world. Then, 1537-1541, he painted the west wall of the same chapel with The Last Judgement

For the next 200 years, painted ceilings were in fashion. But artists soon discovered that it was easier to paint in oil on canvas and put it up on the ceiling than to paint on the ceiling in fresco. The fashion for fresco painting began to fade.

Other pages


  • Helen Gardner, Art Through the Ages, Harcourt, Brace and World Inc.

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