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A 'fresco' (plural frescoes) is a term for several related painting types. The word comes from the Italian phrase buon fresco ("really fresh"), a technical term in opposition to a secco ("on dry surface"). Buon fresco paintings were done on wet plaster, while a secco paintings were completed on dried plaster.


In painting a fresco, the surface of a plastered wall is divided into areas roughly corresponding to the contours of the figures or the landscape, generally drawn on a rough underlayer of plaster, called the arriccio. Many artists sketched their compositions on this underlayer, which would never be seen, in a red pigment called sinopia. From this pigment, the underdrawing acquired its name, the sinopia. On top of this first, rough layer of plaster, a second layer is added, called the intonaco. This is the final layer, and would be smoothed and perfected as the painting surface.
Buon fresco technique consists of painting in pigment mixed with water on wet, fresh, lime mortar or plaster (intenazo). Due to the chemical makeup of the plaster, a binder is not required, as the pigment mixed solely with the water will be enough to bind the pigment to the wall. The pigment is absorbed by the wet plaster; after a number of hours, the plaster dries, and the pigment dries as well, a part of the wall. One of the first painters to use this technique was the Isaac Master in the Upper Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi.
A secco painting, in contrast, is done on dry plaster. The pigments thus require a binding medium, such as egg, to hold the pigment to the wall.
Generally, buon fresco works are more durable than a secco works. Historically, the a secco technique was used more often for final touches or to touch-up mistakes made in a buon fresco work.
Buon frescoes are diffiicult to create because of the deadline associated with the drying plaster. Generally, a layer of plaster will require ten to twelve hours to dry; ideally, an artist would begin to paint after one hour and continue until two hours before the drying time. Thus, an artist would need to know exactly how much he/she could paint in those hours, before the plaster dries: this area is called the giornata ("day's work"). Once a giornata is dried, no more buon fresco can be done without removing the dried plaster from the wall-- a task usually requiring a crowbar or other sharp instrument-- and starting over. Hence the use of a secco to repair minor mistakes or to add finishing touches.
In a wall-sized fresco, there may be ten to twenty giornate, or separate areas of plaster. After centuries, these giornate (originally, nearly invisible) have become visible, and in many large-scale frescoes, these divisions are visible from the ground. Additionally, the border between giornate was often covered by a secco frescoing, which has since fallen off.

Frescoes in History

The earliest form of fresco was Egyptian wall paintings in tombs, usually using the a secco technique.
Roman wall paintings, such as those at Pompeii and Herculaneum, were completed in buon fresco.
The late Medieval period and the Renaissance saw the most prominent use of fresco, particularly in Italy, where most churches and many government buildings still feature fresco decoration.
Andrea Palladio, the famous Italian architect of the 16th century, built many mansions with plain exteriors and stunning interiors filled with frescoes.

Selected examples of Italian frescoes

'Italian Late Medieval-Quattrocento'
* Panels (including Giotto, Lorenzetti, Martini and others) in upper and lower Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi
* Giotto, Cappella degli Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua
* Camposanto, Pisa
* Masaccio, Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence
* Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena
* Piero della Francesca, Chiesa di San Francesco, Arezzo
* Ghirlandaio, Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Florence
* The Last Supper, Leonardo Da Vinci, Milan (technically a tempera on plaster and stone, not a true fresco [])
* Sistine Chapel Wall series: Botticelli, Perugino, Rossellini, Signorelli, and Ghirlandaio
* Luca Signorelli, Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto
'Italian "High Renaissance"'
* Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling
* Raphael's Vatican Stanza
* Raphael's Villa Farnesina
* Giulio Romano's Palazzo del Tè, Mantua
* Mantegna, Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua
* The dome of the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore of Florence
'Italian Baroque'
* The Loves of the Gods, Annibale Carracci, Palazzo Farnese
* Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power, Pietro Da Cortona, Palazzo Barberini
* Ceilings, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, (New Residenz) Wurzburg, (Royal Palace) Madrid, (Villa Pisani) Stra, and others; Wall scenes (Villa Valmarana and Palazzo Labia)
* Nave ceiling, Andrea Pozzo, Sant'Ignazio, Rome

Bulgarian frescoes

* Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo, near the village of Ivanovo, from the 13th and 14th century.
* Boyana Church, on the outskirts of Sofia, frescoes from 1259.
* Rila Monastery, frescoes finished in 1846.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Fresco".