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Veronese, il mago degli affreschi

Veronese, the wizard of frescoes


To understand the amazing technique of Paolo Caliari known as "Il Veronese" we must remember how to paint in "fresco", a technique that not even the great Leonardo was able to master (remember the technical disaster of his "Last Supper").

In the fresco, the painting is carried out directly on the plaster.

It starts from the dry wall with no unevenness where a coarse mortar composed of slaked lime and sand with a thickness of one centimeter is spread to make the surface as uniform as possible.

The plaster (or tonachino) made up of fine river sand, marble dust, sifted pozzolan, lime and water is applied to this layer.

On this plaster the painter has a maximum of three hours to paint before the wall dries. By painting "fresh", that is, when the plaster is wet, the color enters directly into the composition with the plaster and is incorporated into it. Once dry, it will resist water and time for centuries.


I like it complicated

We begin to understand what difficulties the painter must face.

1 - The painter must be fast because he has just under three hours before the plaster dries and he cannot correct a mistake or an inaccuracy, otherwise everything has to be redone.

2 - Impossible to paint the whole work; the painter has to make it piece by piece in the case of a human figure at most he can paint half of it.

3 - What he paints must be complete, that is, he cannot spread the color, and then the shadows, and then the glazes and then the details. Everything that paints with dry plaster disappears in a short time.

4 - The painter must understand what the final color will be. Wet pigments have different tones once dry and the color itself combines with the plaster materials and it is necessary to avoid oxides, which would act without control in changing the hue.

Obviously, if I have been halfway through painting a blue cloak, in the next "day" I will absolutely have to recreate an identical blue by combining plaster, pigment and water.

Let's imagine the compositional precision in the case of a large fresco, given that you can't go wrong.

To conclude the already large set of difficulties, sometimes it is necessary to fresco a ceiling and therefore paint while lying on a scaffolding.


Bravura manifests

Paolo Caliari was born in Verona in 1528 to a "stonemason" father and mother natural daughter of the noble Antonio Caliari.

His teacher Antonio Badile, whose daughter he will marry a few years later, teaches him the rudiments of the art, but Paolo is a voracious scholar and absorbs and learns from everything he sees: Mantegna, Bellini, Titian and the Venetian school.

The meeting with the architect Michele Sanmicheli changes his life, because it is he who introduces him to the environments that matter and acts as his mentor.

In 1551 he was already in Venice and success was immediate. His ability to build truly complex compositions, with dozens and dozens of characters is combined with the colors he is capable of creating: lively, joyful, vivid that immediately strike the senses of the beholder. The exceptional mastery of perspective allows him to create striking figures that look out from painted balconies, which look real and create a pleasant theatrical illusion of truth.

"Il Veronese", as they nicknamed it in Venice, but it is not just a fresco, there is still a lot to say.

But I'll talk about this in another post.

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