Paintings are on a lightweight support and are painted into the wet plaster (lime mortar), using pigments and techniques similar to those used originally. The incorporation of the pigment into the wall as it dries is what gives the colours a particular luminosity, only achieved with buon fresco. Their texture, achieved through an ageing process, is a vital part of their appearance.

I have chosen the technique of fresco painting (the combination of buon fresco followed by secco) because of the beauty of the technique and because buon fresco is one of the earliest and most durable forms of painting. It is certainly the technique used by the Therans before 1500BC and by the Romans before 79AD.  The enduring quality of fresco has meant that the paintings in Santorini and Pompeii survived the volcanic eruptions that devastated those places and can be seen in the 21st century with all the freshness that they must have exhibited when first painted.

The methods used by other ancient civilisations are not known with absolute certainty but it is agreed that the Egyptians, for example, did not use buon fresco. Their artists quite often prepared a surface with a thin coat of whiting onto which, when dry, they would paint with pigments held in some form of aqueous medium. Their method was a form of secco painting.

What most ancient painting has in common is the use of a very limited range of pigments - predominantly earth colours.

Metropolitan Museum New York

A fresco is made by applying lime mortar (a mixture of lime putty and sand) to a wall and painting the image directly into this plaster while it is still wet.

On the left can be seen the sand and lime putty in the proportions chosen to make a layer of lime mortar for the wall or other support.

This photograph shows a panel previously prepared for "Dove with Apples" with a quantity of the lime mortar - seen in the photograph above - laid on the surface before spreading.

Because the pigments used in buon fresco are incorporated into the wall in the lime mortar they have to be carefully selected to withstand the chemical effects of the lime. On the left is a selection of pigments that are lime-proof.

For quality pigments I highly recommend:

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Here is the same panel of "Dove with Apples" with the buon fresco work completed, before the finishing touches - a secco - are carried out.

Secco is the Italian word for dry ie: when the buon fresco has hardened or dried and the painting has become impervious to water. Historically these touches have been executed using casein or rabbit skin glue as a medium/vehicle for holding the pigment.

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"Dove with Apples" with all work completed.

 


Dove with Apples

The comparison of the copy (left) with a photograph of the original (right) is to illustrate that faithfulness to the original is not adhered to slavishly.


The Lyre Player

The eye of the musician in the original has been lost but in the copy it has been put back. The areas of loss on the right of the original which might be taken for vegetation, have not been imitated in the copy. In the original there is a graffito below the brown bird. This has not been reproduced in the copy.

Small Bird with Pears

Here too, in this charming fresco from Poppea's Villa, the large crack on the left of the original has not been included in the copy as it distracts from the composition.

Rabbit with Figs

The losses in the body of the rabbit in the original have not been reproduced in the copy.

Saffron Gatherer 1

The drawing in the copy has been completed where it is missing from the original and a particularly rough sand has deliberately been used in the lime mortar which does not match the original wall but adds texture to the copy.

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Each fresco is individually made so that there are differences between each one that is created. This makes each fresco unique. With these three versions of "Dove with Apples" the most obvious differences are in the shapes of the panels and in their "ageing". There are also differences in colour, more obvious when enlarged.

© Alexandra Walker | The Art of the Fresco, 59-61 Kensington High Street, London W8 5ED | Email Alexandra@ArtofFresco.com