How Frescoes Were Made long ago

How Were Frescos Made?

Have you ever wondered how frescos were made by the great masters of the Italian Renaissance including Giotto, Raphael, and Michelangelo? I was fascinated when I learned exactly how they created breathtaking paintings that still look amazing today.

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A fresco is a result of painting fresh plaster with colored pigments of mineral origin dissolved in water. When the surface dries, the color is incorporated into the plaster thanks to a chemical process, thus allowing the painting to remain for a potentially unlimited period of time, even outside.

For a mural painting, the surface has to be smooth and of a uniform color. For this reason, the wall which is to be painted is covered by a coat called plaster, made up of hydrated lime and river sand. The next process is called “slaked lime” which makes the surface even smoother. This slaked lime is obtained by firing at 900° river stones or pebbles, made up essentially of calcium carbonate. The pebbles become a powder, giving rise to what is known as “quicklime”. This quicklime is plunged into the water for about six months because otherwise, it would burn the colors. This greasy paste (slaked lime) its formula and its chemical reactions are fundamental for the pictorial technique of frescos.

Fresco or “a buon fresco” painting is done by applying color to the still fresh plaster, hence why it is called “a fresco” painting. The difficulty of the fresco technique is the need to work while the plaster on the wall is still wet. The artist laid out his scene drawing in charcoal. 

See It For Yourself

We are big supporters of public television. I found this video done by NOVA that I thought was quite good showing exactly how a fresco is created.


Not Just Paintings Found Indoors

Just to be clear, frescos are not just found in the interiors of churches, monasteries, etc. Frescos, remember is the technique that is used to paint. It is actually very common to find a fresco on the exterior of a building as seen below. You just never know where you will find one!

frescoe on the exterior of a building in Italy.

Editors Note:  This post was originally published on October 4, 2016, and has been updated for accuracy and additional information.
How were frescoes made in Italy and Europe?

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