What Is a Fresco Painting?


Fresco is the Italian word for “fresh”; it describes a method of painting very popular in Renaissance Italy. Fresco painting is commonly used to paint murals, as this technique allows for a large area to be covered while lasting for a very long time, and the design also becomes a part of the building. "The Last Supper," by Leonardo Da Vinci, is one of the most famous paintings in the world, and it is a fresco painted on the walls of a church in Milan, Italy.


  • A fresco is a painting produced by applying water-based paints directly onto a newly plastered surface, most commonly a wall. The colors are produced by using water to mix a powdered pigment into a paint which is then applied with a brush. The two methods of painting frescoes are: "buon," or “true,” fresco and "secco," or “dry” fresco.


  • Painting a buon fresco involves careful preparation. Two or three coverings of plaster mixed with sand are first applied to the wall and left to dry in between coats. Then a final coat is applied, known as "intonaco," a mixture of plaster and marble dust. The artist applies this coat in areas that he can easily cover in one session to ensure that he is painting while the surface is still moist. The paint soaks in and colors the plaster itself, making it a long-lasting method of painting. The artist must be completely sure of the design he is painting, as this kind of painting cannot be amended. If he makes a mistake, a fresh coat of plaster must be applied and the painting started again.


  • Secco is a simpler process that requires none of the preparation of buon frescoes. For this technique, walls which have already been plastered and allowed to dry are soaked with lime water and painted while still wet. The paint doesn't soak into the plaster as it does in a buon fresco; instead, it sits on top of the surface as a painting does on canvas. This technique is not as highly regarded as the buon method, but it is an effective way of repairing or enhancing a buon fresco.


  • The origins of the art of painting frescoes is unclear, but the technique has a long history in Mediterranean countries. Frescoes have been found in Knossos in Crete and attributed to the early Minoan civilization, and others have been found in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. The majority of frescoes in Italy date from the late 13th century to the mid-16th century. Perhaps the best-known examples of fresco painting are Michelangelo's work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the Stanza murals painted by Raphael in the Vatican.

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