Fresco paintings refer to a technique in which an artist paints a mural on lime plaster. Since such a painting is typically done on lime plaster when it is still fresh, the painting becomes a part of the plaster upon drying.
Fresco paintings were one of the most popular forms of art in late medieval Europe. Especially when it came to religious art, frescoes were frequently used to adorn the walls of ecclesiastical buildings such as churches and chapels.
Although this medium of art was practiced in classical antiquity as well, having examples in classic Roman and Greek art, it was only in the Renaissance period that fresco painting reached its apogee.
Frescoes were one of the most popular forms of art in the Byzantine Empire. They were most commonly employed to adorn the interiors of church domes, walls, and vaults. Consequently, the key themes painted in most of the Byzantine frescoes were Biblical or Christian in nature.
The Byzantine style of fresco painting evolved significantly over the course of the Empire’s existence from the 5th to 15th centuries.
Early Byzantine frescoes used static elements while frescoes dating to the 13th and 14th centuries depict a style in which more dynamic elements such as elaborate perspectives of space were used.
In particular, the later Byzantine frescoes were more directly influenced by the painting techniques from Western Europe. A large body of Byzantine frescoes are extant today in modern-day Eastern Europe and Asia Minor.
Although fresco paintings remained a popular medium of art during the High and Late Middle Ages, it was the Italian Renaissance that took the art form to its heights.
During the 15th century, Italian artists extensively adorned the interior of churches and other buildings with elaborate fresco paintings, embellishing them with new techniques, elements, and stylistic features.
One of the most iconic fresco paintings of the period includes Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel. Fresco paintings of this period were marked by the use of lively colors and more realistic depictions.
Towards the end of the Renaissance period, oil paint became increasingly popular among artists since it allowed greater manipulation of light. Consequently, Italian fresco paintings underwent a decline.
Fresco remained a popular art form during the late medieval and Renaissance periods. One of the pre-eminent reasons for its popularity was the freedom it offered to artists. The technique of painting a fresco typically involved dampening the wall first and then applying a layer of damp plaster to it. On the wet plaster, a basic design of the fresco to be drawn was made.
Special colors made from diluted pigments were then applied to the plaster before it could dry. A chemical reaction bound the colors solidly to the plaster once the plaster dried. Compared to dry paintings which could flake off of walls over time, fresco paintings were far more durable. This is manifest in many fully-preserved frescoes dating back to the Renaissance period.