Fresco Painting

Fresco painting is the technique of painting on to wet plaster.  The word fresco means fresh, because the painting is being done on fresh plaster.  The paint then literally becomes part of the wall as the plaster dries.  It has a glowing look that you don’t get when you paint on dry plaster.  Murals are often made in the fresco style so they can literally become a part of the wall.

Sandro Botticelli [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Typically, we think of the Renaissance when we talk about frescoes, but this painting technique actually goes back into ancient times.  Fresco paintings were popular in ancient Crete, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and India.  In ancient Rome, there were many people who couldn’t afford to put fine finishes like marble into their homes, so they instead had their walls painted with marble looking frescoes– the first faux painting perhaps.

To try your own fresco painting, get a foil baking dish, some Plaster of Paris (usually sold at craft stores), paints, and brushes.  Mix up a batch of the Plaster of Paris according to the directions on the package, then pour about a half inch to an inch of it into the foil dish.  Let it set up for a few minutes until it is damp, but feels somewhat solid (the amount of time it takes depends upon how wet your plaster is…just keep an eye on it.)  Once it’s solid, paint on the wet surface.  Make sure the whole surface is covered with paint from corners to corners.


As the plaster dries, the paint becomes a part of it and the colors are vivid and glowing.

Additional Layers:

  • Before frescoes became popular most buildings were adorned with mosaics.  Which of these two do you think would be cheaper?  Easier?
  • Giotto and Fra Angelico were two famous fresco painters whose work adorns churches.  Find some of their paintings and learn something of the two men.
  • Besides faux painting, sometimes painters even made fake windows and arches to make homes look fancier.  You could paint a window frame on your fresco painting and put a scene inside it.
  • Look at one of the most famous frescos – Michelangelo’s work on the Sistine Chapel.
  • Try to find out what kinds of paints are usually used in frescoes.
  • The ancient Greeks adorned their walls with fresco paintings.  You can learn more about them along with this fresco exploration in Layers of Learning Unit 1-4.
Layers of Learning Unit 1-4
Unit 1-4: Ancient Greece, Wonders of the World, Satellites, Greek Art

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