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Understanding the Renaissance and Baroque fresco tradition

Why did artists paint in buon fresco?

When you want to work on a wall, which is the most agreeable and impressive kind of work, first of all get some lime and some sand, each of them well sifted.
--Cenino Cenini, The Craftsman's Handbook (c.1437), Dover, 1960, p. 42

Of all the methods that painters employ, painting on the wall is the most masterly and beautiful, because it consists in doing in a single day that which, in the other methods, may be retouched day after day, over the work already done.
— Giorgio Vasari, excerpted from his Lives of the Artists (1568), in Vasari On Technique, Dover

What was the role of fresco in architecture?

[Annibal] Caro, on the other hand, carefully arranged the images in his later programmes to reinforce their associations and interrelations. The Camera dell’ Aurora [at Caprarola] had a scheme of calculated contrasts and symmetry. Thus the central compartment of each lunette was made to correspond, with Quiete facing Vigilanza and one antique sacrifice opposite the other.
—Clare Robertson, “Annibal Caro as Iconographer”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Volume 45, 1982, p.169

References (not exhaustive, but suggestive)

books in print:

Ralph Mayer, The Artist’s Handbook, Viking (5th Edition, 1991); his chapter on fresco is perhaps the most succinct technical and practical guide to the technique available in print
The Painted Facades of Florence, Centro Di, Florence, 2005
Vasari on Technique. Dover, 1960

books out of print:

The Great Age of Fresco: Giotto to Pontormo; [New York] Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1968.
Millard Meiss, The Great Age of Fresco, George Braziller, 1970; this and the above book are based on the traveling exhibit of detached frescoes that honored American contributions to the aftermath of the Florentine flood of 1966
E. H. Gombrich, Means and Ends: Reflections on the History of Fresco Painting. London: Thames and Hudson, c1976.
Merrifield, Mary Philadelphia The Art of Fresco Painting, London, A. Tiranti, 1952
Shaun Tyas, Making Medieval Art. Donington, 2003

Imitating and Emulating

Copying, or imitating, was the classic way of learning in the Renaissance studio. Emulating, or trying to equal or exceed a master on their own terms, was instead a more advanced stage in an artist's apprenticship, one indeed many continued to practice even as they became masters themselves.

Read David Mayernik's new book The Challenge of Emulation in Art and Architecture, from Ashgate Publishers

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