Saturday, 27 April 2013

For those interested, this short slideshow is a collection of photo's taken during our progress on a vaulted ceiling.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWGgPaWVBSQ


Wednesday, 24 April 2013


Paintings done in true Fresco are executed on wet plaster in the space of a day, or for as long as the plaster is wet. Any work  painted on dried plaster can no longer be termed Fresco painting. Paint done on dried plaster can be traced in Italy as far back as 1300's and is termed  "Fresco Secco" It often happened that paintings in Fresco were NOT entirely finished "on the day" and so some re-touching was required to complete the works.
Over time, while Fresco painting was still considered the correct and honorable method, more and more "Fresco Secco" was used. Many different kinds of paint mixtures were experimented, but it was lime mixed with pigments that most looked like true Fresco paintwork. On a practical level, the architectural paintings of, for example Raphael Sanzio or Guido Romano, were so complex that they could not have been contemplated without the support of some painting on dry plaster. Overtime the commodity of painting on dry plaster, for both it's practicality of use and it's cost, became a necessity. As is known, from necessity is born invention and decorators would fine tune this method to an art-form in its own right.
The stylistic development associated with lime painting can be said to derive from how true Fresco painting was used within the grand decorative cycles abundant in Italy. In fact ornaments and figurative paintings, even when illusionistic, were used ONLY as a support to architecture and inserted appropriately within a logical framework. It was the structure of the building that called the tune and the first job of the decorator was to rationalize space according to the underlining architecture. Painted monochromatic mouldings and colour divisions were the way to stabilize a logical overall scheme and lime was the ideal medium . I believe that at this point  Trompe l'oeil, or trick of the eye painting, took a different path from traditional painted decoration, it's main objective was to suggest an impossible reality, with little or no structural attachment to it's surroundings, it has, maybe a closer relationship to classical canvas painting, which can be dislocated from it surroundings and still work on it own terms.  Trompe l'oeil  is also often done using fine art materials, which allows a greater flexibility of use: the painter has time to correct, define and modify with little risk of ruining this work of perfection.
Lime requires a sureness of hand a and gives little opportunity for second guessing yourself. However, moulding and ornaments can be painted with a speed that other materials simply don't allow. That is why it was so suitable for covering large expanses of wall space. It also offers total opacity  Often seen close-up these decorations lose their impact, it is only at a distance that their power hits you.  The emphasis was on the structural styling of space and not on detailed figurative painting.  In fact, lime painting is associated with a method known in Italy as "Quadraturismo" which alludes to the job of dividing and underlining space with reference to the classical orders. Ultimately the job of the decorator was to highlight architecture, not to modify it, not to trick your eye into seeing a different, impossible space, but to better understand what was physically there. Apart from the exasperated illusionistic Baroque period, in Italy buildings were decorated primarily with an eye towards underlining ambiance style. Decorators could provide solutions for surfaces much as an interior designer would, using purely paint, while still having the skills to finely paint ornaments.

In most countries lime-paint was used, however it has more of a reputation as an economic wall disinfectant known as  "whitewash". It was through its association with fresco painting that lime gained an added value and had prolific longevity in Italian decoration. 
Decorators over the century's were often cultured individuals, inspired by the renaissance Artists who possessed an immense knowledge of architecture, iconography, classicism as well as technical painting skills. 
From the the 1700's to the early 1900's intricate architectural schemes with complementary ornaments and paintings were commissioned to gave substance to both the building and its occupants.  Decorations in lime were placed on the ceilings, walls and facades of any building who's owner was of any social import.

Photo shows a late 1800's ceiling painted in "Fresco Secco" that needed some of our attention.  
Restored using lime putty-paint. This is a small private country home, like many others in Italy from this period, it was decorated with the intention of coordinating with the choice of interior decor.
copyright n.beccaria
copyright N. Beccaria

Monday, 15 April 2013

My line fetish...

I woke this morning fixating the moulding on my cupboard....
Much is said about the functionality of design and yet I still think that decoration, while not functional in tangible terms, does serve a purpose. The cupboard would still exist if I took away the moulding. It would still open, its shape would not be changed and it would continue to work as a container. The only real thing that would change, is that I would no longer intimatly appreciate its existence. All because a very sensual cornice and volute top it off. The thing with mouldings and me is that I have a serious fetish to outline!
I don't know what it is about defining objects that satisfies me so. Where I use lines to define an object on paper, I use moulding to define space on walls....and I think it is the most enjoyable aspect of my work. Hogarth spoke of the "line of beauty" a serpentine line, sometimes even invisible to the eye, as in composition, but still a presence that involves the spectator in an intimate relationship and a deeper comprehension of space.
Eyes work as a magnet, automatically searching for the underlining lines in an object or in space.
Lines, visible or suggested, are the glue that keep us attached to our surroundings.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Stop fussing...and get your hands dirty!

In my early days as a decorator I was told by one of my senior colleagues to stop fussing over removing the traces of "spolvero" (pouncing) because it was an added value for the client. At the time I was a bit dubious! However recent restorations of the Vatican rooms made me think again. Many traces of cartoon transfers: the preparatory designs, were found, unerased and wanting to share this consideration, I went to find a passage that spoke specifically about the small punctuation dots. However I found more about the "traces" and the effect they have regards our perception of these works.
This point is from transcripts taken during meetings held by Maurizio De Luca (Head Restorer at the Vatican rooms) and following the part completion of the restoration of the "Stanza della Segnatura". Much is technical information, however De Luca speaks with emotion, from the stomach, as they say in Italy, in relating those aspects which are intrinsically human.
Now most would have good reason for feeling moved standing just a few centimeters from the likes of Raphael, but isn't it touching to hear how overcome with emotion De Luca is when he actually see's the flaws: a man's hand-print, where he has clearly slipped- and with a mucky paw has caught his bearings against a wall! De Luca literally gushes at finding one single bean in the plasterwork: proof that some unknown helper had possibly eaten lunch while still on the job! He also mentions the genius of Raphael as seen not in this case for precision or minute detailing, but in the fluidity, his quickness, in rendering with a few sharp strokes a head of a Medusa. All of this is described as De Luca's "live meeting with Genius" These are certainly the aspects of Art that win....that transcend time. The facts of the past in all their glory are also stories about real people and human events, that's what makes them fascinating.

"Dunque questa è la testimonianza viva, l’incontro vivo, l’incontro con il genio, ma dove si incontra il genio? Secondo me questa testa di Medusa, eseguita in questo modo, che adesso analizzeremo, è qui che si vede la presenza di un essere pittoricamente superiore. Guardate come a fronte di una staticità invece di una figura che dovrebbe rappresentare la personalità anche se deificata, idealizzata, ma dovrebbe rappresentare una donna …………………………….. ma che ha sul petto questa specie di Medusa urlante rappresentata con una intensità pittorica e con una rapidità pittorica… osserviamo, vedete i puntini dello spolvero, ed ecco il pennello che unisce i puntini in una forma sommaria e inizia il movimento del pittore ed il pennello che si muove con una rapidità ed una sicurezza che grazie a Dio io posso mostrarvi ma che non è facile percepire stando nella stanza. Queste sono quelle grazie che ci vengono concesse che sono concesse a noi restauratori di poter accedere a luoghi inaccessibili catturare queste immagini e poi possibilmente poterle testimoniare a tutti"
Maurizio De Luca. Head of restoration works at the Vatican.










Tuesday, 9 April 2013

A Hans Hartung approach

Italian wall decorations of the past seen up-close are not necessarily detailed, in fact they are not intended to be viewed with the same scrutiny you might reserve a framed painting. I recently visited a restoration in progress: the church ceiling at San Francesco Saverio in Mondovì, decorated in 1676 by Andrea Pozzo. It was astounding that the painted columns that from floor level seemed to be of mammoth length, seen at ceiling level were in realty no longer then a couple of meters. What mostly interested me was that the rich drapery, flowers, ornaments and moldings were evidently the result of a few very simplified and cleverly chosen strokes of paint. The paintbrushes used must have been of the size you would normally use to fill up a wall with just one colour!
I translated an Italian text for a Hans Hartung exhibition and recall that Hartung favored transforming his gestural paint strokes into an art form, taking a few casual strokes then magnifying them to gigantic proportions. Many Italian decorations seen up close are still lovely, but striped of the distance intended for their viewing, they are similar to abstract works of art. In a way they are minimalist! So yes, tongue in cheek...less is indeed more!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A pinch of colour

This is part of a threesome I'm preparing. Colour is slowly seeping  into my palette with these fragments.
 I do tend to think in neutral first, because of the use of grisaille. The other basic local "filling" colours are often soft or at least the result of many mixed tints.  I like to use full body colour a bit like spice,just  to sharpen up an area or to keep a design vibrant.