Saturday 27 July 2013

Fresco or wall painting?

For the majority of people they are often seen as the same thing and all too often the terms are interchanged even in informational literature. In addition, sorting one from the other is difficult. You need to get up very close and personal with what has been painted on the wall and anyone but an expert will find it a challenge. The general rule of thumb is that frescos are often more brilliant and deep in their colours and more durable than wall paintings.
Fresco & wall painting side by side
Technically a fresco or "buon fresco" [real fresco] is a painting which has been done on wet [ie fresh] plaster. The artist draws directly on the wet wall and the colours used are absorbed and become one with the plaster through a chemical reaction [calcium carbonate is formed as a result of carbon dioxide from the air combining with the calcium hydrate in the wet plaster]. Pigments used to paint are traditionally created from earth oxides or minerals. 

Wall paintings are painted onto a dry plaster medium and are, therefore, generally held to be less intense and less brilliant in their colours. To create a wall painting the artist would traditionally mix the pigments with either egg white, egg yolk or an adheisive like gum arabic. This would allow the pigment to bond with the dry plaster. This technique was also used to correct or add additional details to a "buon fresco".

The chapel of St Georges-sur-Loire [Rochecorbon] has examples of each side by side.
On the north wall is a 12th century fresco next to a 13th century wall painting. They are indeed very different. The 12th century fresco is more intense in its colours, even if the range is much more restricted than in the 13th century wall painting. In the wall painting the presentation of the figures is more sophisticated, the draping of the clothes is more fluid and the use of persective has advanced--not suprising as there is a century of artistic evolution between them.
12th century fresco
The fresco shows Christ bathing the feet of the Apostles. The Apostle is leaning his head on his hand with his elbow being supported on his knee. He looks as if he's suspended in mid air over the basin in which Jesus is bathing his feet. The motief of the floor is a variant of the quatrefoil pattern which was very common in mediaeval floor tiles. 
13th century wall painting
The wall painting shows the Last Supper. Each Apostle is sat behind the table and has a fish in a dish [apologies for the rhyme!] in front of him. The tablecloth is pleated and the robes are draped. The figures are altogether more realistic than in the fresco of a century earlier and the range of colours used is greater. However, they are softer in tone than those of the 12th century fresco, making them less intense. Behind the Apostles on the arcading is a cityscape which represents Jerusalem.
Angels to the right,
On the south wall are further remains of another 13th century wall painting of the Last Judgement, much of which has now gone with the exception of the angels who are still clearly visible busily sounding their trumpets.
Angels to the left

For such a small chapel, St Georges-sur-Loire certainly offers a range of treasures: lovely stained glassMerovingian remnants and interesting murals.

Mural is the catch-all term for any kind of art on a wall from pre-historic cave drawings to contemporary graffiti art. Use the word mural and you'll always be right and never have to worry whether it is a fresco or wall painting again!


Susan said...

For me, wall painting is the catch all term, and mural not much used except by non-professionals and generally applies to more modern works. My colleague Katy at the NT was very fierce about insisting that we used the term wall painting for everything unless we were being very specific about a particular technique. I can't recall any buon fresco in our care though.

I love that the angels are putting on a show, with one pointing to the sky and another to the ground. Makes it so much more dynamic.

The position of the fishes in dishes is interesting too -- dangling from the tablecloth instead of on the tabletop. I'm guessing this is a device to avoid having to paint them in front of the apostles.

Really interesting post and fascinating to see the two techniques side by side.

GaynorB said...

Interesting and an education - yet again!

When is a fresco not a fresco? When it's a wall painting... ;o)

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Susan - Personally, we always use the term wall painting but to be honest aren't such purists so mural is fine too.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Gaynor - exactly! :-)

the fly in the web said...

Thanks for returning to the subject..I enjoy the colours of the earlier frescos.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - you are very welcome indeed :-)

Perpetua said...

Fascinating as always, and to think one small church has so much to see and admire. I knew the main difference between a fresco and a wall painting, but the technical details are very interesting.

PS Love your sunflower!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Perpetua - it is certainly a small chapel that 'packs a punch' as they say.

Sunflower is in a field by the side of the chemin which leads to our house.

We always try to have banner photos which are of Charnizay or immediate vicinity.