Fresco is an art form whose appreciation is directly tied to an understanding of the medium. A basic familiariy with the process and terminology will add immeasurably to anyone's appreciation of fresco and the fresco artist.
Important Terms in Fresco Painting:
arriccio the equivalent of the brown coat in a three coat plaster wall; the surface on which the sinopia is painted
bozzetto the small scale full-color model (also modello) for the fresco composition; often in oil or watercolor
buon fresco “true” or “good” fresco; fresco means “fresh” in Italian, and a fresco is a painting into fresh plaster (the intonaco, or finish coat of plaster laid on the wall that day)
cartoon from the Italian cartone, or large sheet of paper, it is the full-size drawing used to transfer the design onto the intonaco
giornata a day’s work—usually about 8 hours, but can be longer—determined by the length of time the plaster remains “fresh” and able to absorb the pigments when brushed on the wall; a large fresco is composed of many giornate, the seams between which often remain somewhat visible in the final painting
intonaco the finish coat of plaster upon which the fresco is painted; composed of roughly one part lime putty and one part aggregate (usually river sand, but also pozzolana [volcanic ash], marble powder, etc.)
lime the aged, slaked lime putty--burnt limestone combined with water --used in fresco cures slowly on the wall, and remains relatively soft throughout its life
lime milk latte di calce in Italian; watery lime formed either naturally or by mixing water and lime; can be used instead of water in fresco painting; also used to brush on the sinopia, and for lime wash wall painting
mezzo fresco literally "half-fresh," it is a technique using lime milk and pigments on an already dry intonaco; not as absolutely permanent as buon fresco, it became more common in large interior frescoes during the Baroque since artists were not constrained by giornate
sinopia derived from the name of a red pigment (from Turkey) often used for this kind of painting, it is the outline of the final fresco painted on the arriccio coat; any pigment can be used, and it is applied with lime milk to adhere to the “dry” arriccio; the sinopia principally provides guidelines for the various giornate
No other artistic medium is so evocative of a landscape, a culture, and of craft. It is especially because of its durability that the ancient frescoes that have come down to us continue to occupy such a powerful place in our imagination. Since the middle of the last century, new generations of artists committed to craft, beauty, and meaning have created works that extend that ancient tradtion, and these new frescoes deserve to be known by a wider audience.
click on the images at the right to see larger views and learn more about the steps in making a fresco
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