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Fresco Painting May 12, 2013

Posted by cantueso in art, bullfight, history, painting.
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Fresh lime mixed with sand was orignally used as mortar. A thinner mix is used to paint the walls. When the paint dries, the surface looks like that of an egg, but mostly more luminous, brightly white.

Lime is mined and sold in big chunks. The chunks have to be dissolved in water to create a soft mass that looks like freshly fallen snow. This mass is mixed with sand  and allowed to rest for a day or two.

Once spread on a wall, the mix sets and gets hard in a few hours. You have to do your painting while it is still fresh and wet. This is why the painting technique is called

f r e s c o .

Above is Cervantes’ house in Esquivias,  now open to visitors. Though it belongs to Toledo, it is south of Madrid, between Madrid and Aranjuez,  off the highway.

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Casa encalada en Albarreal de Tajo — whitewashed house

A little house typical of the pueblos in central Spain. It is so typical that it was difficult to find a photo. Nobody would ever think of taking a picture of such an old everyday thing with its base painted to hide the mould left by rain because the house does not have any foundations.

Lime also kills or holds off all kinds of insects, ants, spiders. And since the lime and sand mix works also as a mortar, while painting a wall you fix many little or big cracks and holes.

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So it occurred to people a few thousand years ago to mix the lime with marble dust to get a glittering surface or to add clay or ground  stones or colours made of plants like Indigo. Soon they also had the idea to paint pictures on the freshly rendered walls.

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The great frescos

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling

The chapel is called Sistine because it had been built under Pope Sixtus IV. However, the story book pope who ordered Michelangelo to paint that ceiling is Julius II.

These are probably the most famous frescoes in the world:

There is a five star interactive video published by the Vatican where you can direct the camera with your mouse at http://www.vatican.va/various/cappelle/sistina_vr/index.html.

Since there are always crowds of tourists trying to get in, there are people willing and able to pay several hundred dollars for a private visit to the chapel, but they cannot see it as well as you now with your tablet, your computer, or even your phone :-D.

This diagram explains  what Bible stories are represented.

In the center of it all is the most celebrated of the frescos: there is God giving the divine light of reason to man:

The ceiling is eleven thousand square feet, and Michelangelo was new to the technique. He had to learn it on the job. And he had to work high up on a wriggly scaffolding.

It was a lonely and gigantic effort, something that cannot be imagined now anymore.

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Giotto’s Last Judgment

Satan is eating up all the souls that are dragged down to him and to eternal Hell. It is a fragment of a large painting in a chapel in Italy.
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A Roman fresco: Sappho, the Greek poet

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In public domain according to
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e4/Herkulaneischer_Meister_002.jpg/768px-Herkulaneischer_Meister_002.jpg

The painting is in Pompeii, Italy. A young woman is shown with a pen, a stylus used to write on wax tablets. The net in her hair is made of golden threads.

Even now there are artists who can do a portrait in fresco. It is a great technique to prevent the painter from focusing on irrelevant detail. And there is something special in the colours too: they are not sweet like pastels, and yet there is some of that typical luster or transparency of colour reflected by cristals.

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A Greek fresco: Bull leaping

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Leaping bull photo made by Saskia Ltd, Thomson Wadsworth in public domain according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Knossos_bull.jpg The fresco is from a palace in Knossos on Crete in Greece.

Bull leaping  still exists. I have never seen it, but while looking for information found a video showing young men leaping over a raging bull: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1L-8xLI_5c

Two kids boxing, also from Greece, but I have not yet found the reference.

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How to do a fresco

1. You need lime and colours that can be dissolved in water.

2. Dissolve the lime in water. Be careful: use a metal container: begin by doing little at a time to learn how it reacts. At first the solution gets extremely hot, starts to bubble, might splash or explode. Protect your eyes.

I knew about that, but not about the metal container, took a plastic bucket, watched it, nothing happened. But the lime burnt through the bottom of the pale and ran out.

3. Mix the solution with fine sand  to make a  malleable creamy mix of 8 parts sand to 5 parts  lime.

4. Apply a layer of the mix on a hard surface. Let it set for 20 minutes and start to paint. You have only a few hours to paint. It  must be painted while it is still wet.

Maybe you can learn from watching a video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-prAIz0urTE

Even a great painter like Giotto could do a fresco only in sections, so that now, a few hundred years later, you can still clearly see the seams defining a day’s work:
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giotto two angels
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