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(Roman) Wall Fresco

Ratna Drost (NL)

Two modes of painting were practiced in Greco-Roman antiquity: painting on movable tablets and painting directly on stuccoed walls. In case of the Roman wall paintings, two principles govern the selection of compositions. One is hierarchy by which the rooms are decorated with respect to their importance in a program of activities; the other is function, which calls for a practical coordination between activity and appearance.

Plaster surface: wet = fresco, dry = secco.
Natural pigments. (minerals, clay etc.)
Charcoal and charcoal powder / pencils.
Egg whites.
Paper and needles, brushes.
Wooden panels.
Thread, such as waxed linen.
Parchment or paper.
Ink and quills, paints and brushes for illuminating/writing the book.
Paper, pencil / charcoal.

Instruction for a wall fresco:
1. Draw your design on paper with charcoal and puncture the drawing lines next.
2. Plaster the selected wall surface, using plaster and a spatula, of another device.
3. Transfer your design to the surface, using the punctured paper and a cloth, filled with charcoal powder.
4. Divide your design into sections, choose one and start with painting the outlines.
5. Fill in the surface within the painted outlines. Make sure to blend different colours.
6. Take the next section and repeat steps 4 and 5. Remoisten the surface when needed.
7. Paint the secco details (painting on dried plaster)

Introduction for children’s fresco:
The only thing different when working with children is the surface. Instead of a wall, provide them with a small framed panel and pre-punctured designs.

Instructions for natural paints:
1. Grind the natural pigments into a very fine powder using a grinder.
2. Mix the pigments with chalk water, when using the paint for the fresco technique.
3. Mix the pigments with egg whites, when using the paint for the secco technique.

For additional reading: 

Cech, Brigitte, High Tech Romeinen. Techniek in de oudheid, Nijmegen (2011), 71-72
Cech, Brigitte, Technik in der Antike, Darmstadt (2010)
Fagan, Brian M., The Oxford Companian to Archaeology, New York, Oxford (1996), 205-206
Peters, T., (trans.), Vitruvius, De Architectura, (Vitr. 7.3.5-11), Amsterdam (1997). On preparing and plastering walls and the preparation of pigments.



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