Fresco involves applying colored pigments to a wall of fresh, lime plaster. Pigments are ground-up in water and applied to fresh plaster with a brush, usually very quickly, since the plaster can not be allowed to harden and set. The Minoans and Pompeian cultures produced some of the largest and most vivid frescos in their ancient buildings. The Renaissance revived the fresco as a medium, using it to decorate cathedrals, auditoriums and churches.
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Fresco paint merges with the physical structure of the wall, adhering under the surface of the plaster in a three dimensional manner. The fresco pigments bind to the crystalline structure in the limestone plaster. The surface layer does not have the glossy sheen of an oil painting, which can detract from the images. Fresco paint becomes embedded permanently into the wall and last thousands of years, under ideal circumstances.
Fresco painting can be viewed from multiple vantage points. With the absence of glossy varnish, the painting can be viewed, glare-free, from different depths and angles of the room without losing any of its character or detail. Rendered by a skilled artist, the painting can embellish and emphasize a flat or curved wall, giving the impression it has been painted to the exact measurements of the interior. Fresco painting appears natural and organic because of its soft texture.
Fresco painting allows for intricate storytelling and the elaboration of profound themes used to tell a story, make a statement or record history. The large surface areas of walls permit extended artwork with many images, characters, landscapes and structures. Fresco also permits the expression of conflicting ideas, such as the dual themes of fervor and solemnity found in the Pompeian murals of Villa dei Misteri. The Minoan frescoes, painted at Knossos, appear almost chic in presentation and style.
Durability and Temperature
Fresco painting, since it becomes part of the wall itself, does not lose its pigment from chipping or fading, like an oil medium might. Fresco paint is particularly durable in warm, dry climates, where the limestone plaster is not subjected to moisture and crumbling.
Reclamation and Preservation
Fresco paintings can be extracted in whole from a wall structure. After the limestone has completely dried, a canvas treated with a water-soluble glue, can be placed over the painting. When the canvas glue has dried, it can be pulled from the wall. The fresco image transfers to the canvas, like a primitive Xerox copy. The technique for pulling the fresco is called a "Calicot". The transfer method has made it possible to produce near pristine reproductions, for the inclusion in libraries, museums and tourist shops.