Fresco Terms

Affresco (in English usage, "Fresco")- Painting with pigments dissolved in water on freshly laid plaster. As both plaster and paint dry, they become completely integrated. Known as the "true" fresco (or buon fresco), this technique was most popular from the late thirteenth to the mid-sixteenth centuries.

Arriccio- The preliminary layer of plaster spread on the masonry. The sinopia. is executed on this layer. The arriccio was left rough so that the final, top layer (see intonaco) might more easily adhere to it.

Cartone (in English usage, "cartoon")- The artist's final drawing on paper or cloth of the main lines of the composition; it is sometimes, but not always, equal in size to the wall area to be painted. (Several cartoons might be used to create one large image.) The cartoon was laid against the wall over the final, freshly laid plaster on which the artist would paint. Its outlines were incised on the plaster by pressure from a stylus to guide the artist in painting. This procedure was common in the sixteenth century. The spolvero technique (see below) was commonly used as well.

Giornata- The patch of intonaco to be painted "daily," not necessarily in one day. The artist decided in advance the size of the surface he would paint and laid on top of the arriccio only the amount of fresh intonaco needed for his work. The joinings are usually discernible upon a close examination of the painted surface, and they disclose the order in which the patches were painted, because each successive patch slightly overlaps the preceding one.

Intonaco- The final, smooth layer of plaster for the finished painting. It was made from lime and sand and laid in sections.

Mezzo fresco- Painting on partially dry plaster. The pigment penetrates the plaster less deeply than with the "true" fresco method, and the carbonation is less extensive. Mezzo fresco was a popular procedure in the sixteenth and later centuries.

Pontata- Intonaco spread in wide bands that correspond to successively lower stages of the scaffold. The painter frequently laid some preparatory colors on these large surfaces as they were drying, but he usually spread his final colors after the intonaco had dried. This is largely, then, a secco technique.

Secco (literally, "dry")- Painting on plaster that has already dried. The colors are mixed with an adhesive or binder to attach them to the surface to be painted. The binding medium may be made from various substances, such as tempera. Tempera (the addition of egg yolk to pigments) was commonly used to complete a composition already painted in fresco. Because the pigment and the dry wall surface do not become thoroughly united, as they do in "true" fresco, secco mural paintings tend to deteriorate and flake off the walls more rapidly.

Sinopia- Originally a red ochre named after Sinope, a town on the Black Sea that was well known for its red pigments. In fresco technique the term is used for the final preparatory drawing on the arriccio, which was normally executed in red ochre.

Spolvero- An early method (see cartone) of transferring the artist's drawing onto the intonaco. After.drawings as large as the frescoes were made on paper, their outlines were pricked, and the paper was cut into pieces the size of each day's work. After the day's patch of intonaco was laid, the corresponding drawing was placed over it and "dusted" with a cloth sack filled with charcoal powder, which passed through the tiny punctured holes to mark the design on the wall. This method was most popular in the second half of the fifteenth century.

Stacco- The process of detaching a fresco painting from the wall by removing the pigment and the intonaco. Usually an animal glue is applied to the painted surface and then two layers of cloth (calico and canvas) are applied, left to dry, and later stripped off the wall, pulling the fresco with them. It is taken to a laboratory, where the excess plaster is scraped away and another cloth is attached to its back. Finally, the cloths on the face of the fresco are carefully removed. The fresco is then ready to be mounted on a new support.

Strappo- The process by which a fresco is detached from a wall when the plaster on which it is painted has greatly deterio- rated. Strappo takes off only the color layer with very small amounts of plaster. It is effected by the use of a glue consider- ably stronger than that used in the stacco technique, but the pro- cedure that follows is identical. After certain frescoes are removed by the means of strappo, a colored imprint may still be seen on the plaster remaining on the wall. This is evidence of the depth to which the pigment penetrated the plaster. These traces of color are often removed by a second strappo operation on the same wall.

**Fresco terms taken from
Giotto : The Scrovegni Chapel, Padua
(Great Fresco Cycles of the Renaissance)
by Bruce Cole