Fresh perspectives on fresco

Jim Toia shares techniques of fresco creation with Lafayette students and members of the Easton community

Photo by Julia Brennan ‘17

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IDEAL’s demonstration of constructing a fresco

Students and residents of the surrounding community were invited to visit the Williams Visual Arts Building last Tuesday and Thursday to try their hand at creating a fresco, a type of mural painting on laid atop fresh lime plaster.

The event was interdisciplinary, drawing an arts crowd as well as science students. It was sponsored by Lafayette’s IDEAL Center, and was headed IDEAL’s co-director Diane Ahl, Rothkopf, an art history professor, and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department Head James K. Ferry.

Ferry was making the fresco in front of the students, as the talk went on. Art professors Jim Toia and Ed Kerns helped out, while Melissa Galloway, a chemistry professor, discussed the atmospheric chemistry of fresco degradation.

“My research focuses on atmospheric chemistry and trying to understand the gasses that are emitted into the atmosphere and then how they react with surfaces, ” Galloway said. She went into more detail explaining that sulfur is the most harmful chemical to frescos.

“The main issue with things like SO2, sulfur dioxide, reacting with [the fresco], is that is actually starts to react with the calcium carbonate that is the plaster layer, and it makes a different salt, calcium sulfate, which as a different volume,” Galloway said. This explains the white, blotchy look that many old frescos gain over time.

Participants were given scored clay boards (the scoring allowed the plaster to adhere) that they would ultimately transform into a piece of a large fresco of the Marquis de Lafayette. Professor Ferri added plaster to each board, and after a few moments to let the plaster settle participants were ready to paint. The paint was made of ground pigments in a medium. The pigments were bought in Italy.

“I had learned all about the old Italian murals, from Fra Angelico to Cavallini, from Professor Ahl’s Italian Renaissance class, but the creation of these frescoes was a process that had always puzzled me,” Art major Julia Brennen said. “It was quite intriguing to see the process firsthand. I suddenly understood the culture and process those Italian artists had mastered.”

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