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Related to frescoes: Hellenic, mosaic, fresco secco, buon fresco


(frĕs`kō) [Ital.,=fresh], in its pure form the art of painting upon damp, fresh, lime plaster. In Renaissance Italy it was called buon fresco to distinguish it from fresco secco, which was executed upon dry plaster with pigments having a glue or casein base. In true fresco the binder is provided by the lime of the plaster; in drying this forms a calcium carbonate that incorporates the pure pigments, mixed only with water, with the material of the wall. During the Renaissance it was customary to prepare a cartooncartoon
[Ital., cartone=paper], either of two types of drawings: in the fine arts, a preliminary sketch for a more complete work; in journalism, a humorous or satirical drawing.
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 of the same dimensions as the contemplated fresco. To transfer the design to the wall, pounce, or dust, was applied through perforations in the cartoon to the wet coat of plaster (intonaco). The plaster was made of fine sand, lime, and marble dust that was applied in small sections daily. A large fresco therefore consists of many small sections, each painted in a day. The sections were planned in such a way as to make the joinings inconspicuous. As not all colors are lime-proof, fresco does not permit as large a palette or as delicate a manipulation of transitional tones as the oil medium. However, its clear, luminous color, fine surface, and permanence make it ideal for bold, monumental murals. The Minoans decorated the palace at Knossos and the Romans painted the villas at Pompeii in this fashion. The technique has not altered substantially since the 15th cent., when it was brought to perfection by the great masters of the Italian Renaissance. Only dry climates are hospitable to the medium, so fresco was used rarely in N Europe. The art of fresco painting declined until the 20th cent., when it was revived in Mexico by Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco.


See C. Cennini, Il libro dell'arte (tr. 1932); M. Meiss, The Great Age of Fresco (1968); E. Borsook, The Mural Painters of Tuscany (2d ed. 1981).


A mural painted into freshly spread moist lime plaster; in such work, groundwater-based pigments unite with the plaster base; retouching is done after it has dried.



a technique of painting with water- or limewater-based paint on freshly spread, wet plaster. Upon drying, a thin, transparent layer of crystallized calcium carbonate forms and fixes the paints, making the painting long-lasting. The term “fresco” is also used for a work executed in this technique.

Fresco is the principal technique of mural art. It makes possible the creation of monumental compositions that are organically bound to architecture. The plaster usually consists of one part slaked lime to two parts mineral fillers (quartz sand, limestone powder, crushed brick). Sometimes organic substances, such as straw, hemp, or flax, are added to protect the ground from cracking. Only pigments that do not combine with lime are suitable for fresco. The fresco palette is somewhat restricted. The principal pigments are natural earth pigments (ochres and umbers), Mars pigments, and cobalt blue and green. Less commonly used are copper-derived pigments (for example, bremen blue) and vermilion. All blue and black pigments (and occasionally others) are mixed with glue and applied after the plaster has dried. Fresco permits the use of tones at full strength, but the artist must bear in mind that the colors will fade greatly upon drying. Layering plays an important role; however, colors will fade and become dull when a great many layers of paint are applied. In addition to true fresco, secco—the technique of painting on dry plaster—has been known since early antiquity.

Fresco was already widespread in Aegean art of the second millennium B.C. It reached a high level of development in classical Greece and Rome, where multilayered polished grounds made with additives of powdered marble were used. In the first centuries A.D. murals executed in a technique similar to fresco appeared in the East, for example, in India and Middle Asia. The artists of antiquity applied tempera to the dried plaster as a finishing touch. This device was also used in the medieval frescoes of Byzantium, ancient Rus’ (in the tenth to 12th centuries and again in the 14th to 17th centuries, when Theophanes the Greek, Andrei Rublev, and Dionisii were working), Georgia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Italy, France, Germany, and other countries.

Fresco achieved a high level of development in 14th- to 17th-century Renaissance Italy, where Giotto, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, Raphael, Michelangelo, and other great masters used the technique. In Italy buon fresco —that is, true fresco without the use of tempera—appeared in the 16th century. The frescoes of this and subsequent periods were characterized by a two-layer ground; the top layer was applied to a segment of the mural only when the artist expected to finish it within one to two days.

The traditions of fresco continued in the decorative murals of the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 19th century the Nazarene school of German art and some representatives of art nouveau (for example, F. Hodler in Switzerland) turned to fresco. Many progressive 20th-century artists work in the technique, including A. Borgonzoni of Italy and D. Rivera of Mexico. The palette of modern fresco has been supplemented by many new synthetic pigments.

In the USSR, a significant contribution to the popularization of fresco has been made by V. A. Favorskii, L. A. Bruni, and N. M. Chernyshev.


Haus-Schmidt, D. Tekhnika antichnoi freski i enkaustiki. [Moscow] 1934. (Translated from German.)
Baudouin, P. Tekhnika freskovoi zhivopisi. [Moscow] 1938. (Translated from French.)
Chernyshev, N. M. Iskusstvo freski v drevnei Rusi. Moscow, 1954.
Lebedeva, V. Sovetskoe monumental’noe iskusstvo shestidesiatykh godov. Moscow, 1973.


(graphic arts)
Painting of two types, buon fresco and fresco secco; in buon fresco, dry pigments are ground with water and applied on a wet lime plaster wall, and as the plaster dries, the pigment is permanently bound to it; fresco secco utilizes pigments ground in glue, casein, or polymer emulsions and applied on a dry plaster wall that has been wetted with limewater.

fresco, buon fresco

The technique of painting water colors on plaster when it is almost but not quite dry; in such work, water-based colors unite with the base; any retouching is done when the plaster is dry (i.e., fresco secco).


1. a very durable method of wall-painting using watercolours on wet plaster or, less properly, dry plaster (fresco secco), with a less durable result
2. a painting done in this way


(standard, programming)
An object-oriented API for graphical user interfaces, under development by the X Consortium as an open, multi-vendor standard.


(language, specification)
An object-oriented specification language.

["Refinement in Fresco", in Object Oriented Specification Case Studies, K. Lano et al eds, P-H 1993].
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