The word Fresco is derived from the Italian word meaning “fresh”. It is a technique of mural painting implemented upon freshly laid plaster. It consists of painting water-based pigments on freshly applied plaster, mostly on wall surfaces. The colours used in these paintings are made by grinding dry-powder pigments in pure water that dry and set with the plaster to become a permanent part of the wall. Fresco painting is ideal for making murals because it has a monumental style, is durable and has a matte surface. The fresco technique has been used since ancient times and is associated with Italian Renaissance paintings.
Buon or “true” fresco is the most durable technique of Fresco painting. In this technique, three successive coats of specially prepared plaster, sand and marble dust are applied onto a wall. These coats are then left to set while the artist transfers the outlines of their design onto the wall. After that the final coat of plaster is applied onto the wall. When it comes to Fresco paintings, a painter must work fast, while the plaster is wet but can not make changes and fix mistakes by overpainting. That has to be done on a fresh coat of plaster or by using the ‘secco’ method.
Secco or “dry” fresco is a superficial process that omits the complex composition of the wall with wet plaster. Instead, dry, finished walls are soaked with lime water and painted while wet. In this method, the colours do not penetrate into the plaster but form a surface film. ‘Secco’ has always held an inferior position when it comes to ‘true’ fresco, but it is useful for retouching the ‘true’ fresco paintings.
The origin of fresco painting is unknown, but it existed as early as the Minoan civilization and by the ancient Romans at Pompeii. As seen in the works of Cimabue, Giotto, Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Correggio, and many other painters from the late 13th to the mid-16th century – the Italian Renaissance was the prominent period of fresco paintings. Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s Stanza murals in the Vatican are the most famous of all Fresco paintings. By the mid-16th century, the use of fresco had largely been replaced by oil paintings. The technique was briefly revived by Diego Rivera and other Mexican muralists in the first half of the 20th century and more recently by Francesco Clemente.
In India thanks to large number of ancient rock-cut cave temples, valuable ancient and early medieval frescoes have been preserved in more than 20 locations. Some of the locations with valuable preserved ancient and early medieval fresco paintings include Bagh Caves, Ellora Caves, Sittanavasal, Armamalai Cave, Badami Cave Temples and Ajanta Caves.