Wall Painting

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Wall Painting


a picture or design painted either directly on plastered walls and ceilings or on canvas, paper, or some other material that is attached to an architectural surface. The most common techniques of wall painting are fresco, distemper, tempera, encaustic, and oil painting. Wall painting is a type of monumental art. Some wall paintings do not include figurative representations but are purely ornamental; this is especially typical of folk art.

Late Paleolithic cave drawings and petroglyphs are among the earliest examples of wall paintings. Two-dimensional wall paintings depicting religious, battle, and genre scenes were common in ancient Egypt, especially in the third to first millennia B.C. Wall paintings appeared in China in the second millennium B.C. and in Urartu in the first millennium B.C. The wall paintings of the Aegean civilization, which date from the second millennium B.C., are marked by dynamic composition. Ancient Greek wall paintings show a trend toward spatially convincing representations; this trend was developed further in ancient Rome.

Middle Asian architecture of the seventh and eighth centuries, for example, the palaces and religious structures of Varakhsh and Pendzhikent, was distinguished by wall paintings with figurative representations. In the Islamic Middle Ages the paintings of Middle Asia, Iran, and Western Asia became purely decorative. The medieval cave structures of China (Tunhuang) and India (Ajan-ta) were decorated with magnificent wall paintings.

Medieval European wall painting, imbued with lofty spirituality and arranged in a strict hierarchical order, was the prototype of one of the major forms of painting in Byzantium, Georgia, the Balkans, and ancient Rus’. The earliest examples of wall painting in ancient Rus’ are the 11th- and 12th-century paintings in churches in Kiev, Novgorod, and Vladimir. The 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries marked the greatest achievements in the art of ancient Russian wall painting, as seen in the work of Theophanes the Greek, Andrei Rublev, and Dionisii. In 17th-century Russia the technique was even further developed in Moscow and in cities along the Volga River, including Yaroslavl and Kostroma.

In Western Europe, Romanesque structures were decorated with highly expressive and often intensely dramatic wall paintings. The Gothic architecture of Western and Central Europe, which had few smooth, unbroken surfaces, were decorated with stained-glass panels instead of paintings.

The Italian Renaissance marked a new stage in the evolution of wall painting. The works of Giotto, Masaccio, Piero della Fran-cesca, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo attained a high level of realism of representation and were often imbued with civic fervor. Renaissance painters sought to create the illusion of extending actual space and, to attain this end, constantly imitated architectural motifs and sculpture. Attempts to create illusory gaps in the surface of the wall was more pronounced in baroque wall painting, which eventually became mainly ornamental. In the 17th and 18th centuries wall paintings were often replaced by tapestries, mirrors, and wallpaper; painting was used mainly to decorate ceilings. The classical wall paintings of the 18th and early 19th centuries were dominated by representations of sculpture (grisaille), architectural forms, and landscapes.

Nineteenth-century painters, including the German Nazarenes, revived thematic wall painting, sometimes turning to the heritage of the early Italian Renaissance. In doing so, they often resorted to the eclecticism typical of most wall paintings of this period. Wall painting was very popular among artists working in the art nouveau and national romantic styles, for example, P. Puvis de Chavannes and M. Denis in France, F. Hodler in Switzerland, E. Munch in Norway, and M. V. Vasnetsov, M. A. Vrubel’, and M. V. Nesterov in Russia. These painters by and large avoided gaps in the surface of the picture and emphasized rhythmic colors and composition.

In the capitalist countries contemporary wall painting is marked by a strong tendency toward formalist stylization akin to abstract art and surrealism, as seen in the work of M. Chagall (French), S. Spencer (British), and R. Tamayo (Mexican). At the same time the vast scale and the emotional accessibility of the medium of wall painting attract artists seeking to express progressive and democratic ideas. This can be seen in the works of D. Rivera, J. C. Orozco, and D. A. Sequeiros in Mexico, H. Erni in Switzerland, and A. Refregier in the USA. The technique of wall painting has been greatly enriched in the 20th century; the use of pyroxilin paints has been introduced by the Mexican muralists.

In the USSR wall painting has met with great success owing to large-scale construction projects, the erection of majestic public buildings and memorial complexes, and the artists’ interest in the social and educational aspects of the synthesis of the arts. In the 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s notable wall paintings were executed by Ch. Akhmarov, L. A. Bruni, A. A. Deineka, P. D. Korin, E. E. Lansere, and V. A. Favorskii; in the 1950’s and 1960’s important artists in this medium included A. V. Vasnetsov, N. Iu. Ignatov, B. P. Miliukov, and B. A. Tal’berg. Wall painting is also developing in the German Democratic Republic (W. Womacka), Hungary (E. Domanovszky), and other socialist countries.


Schmidt, T. Tekhnika antichnoi freski i enkaustiki. Moscow, 1934. (Translation from German.)
Zhadova, L. A. Monumental’naia zhivopis’ Meksiki. Moscow, 1965.
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Lazarev, V. N. Drevnerusskie mozaiki i freski XI-XV vv. Moscow, 1973.
Lebedeva, V. Sovetskoe monumental’noe iskusstvo shestidesiatykh godov. Moscow, 1973.
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