Forging a Fresco – with Alan Pascuzzi in Florence- last month Alan gave a couple of my friends a lesson in Fresco painting and I decided that it was high time that I had another go and joined in with this hugely enjoyable lesson.

the formula

In the first part of our workshop, Alan explains the chemical analysis of the lime paste that makes the whole thing work. I have to admit that this has always puzzled me in respect of the earliest frescos such as the

I have to admit that this has always puzzled me in respect of the earliest frescos such as the cave paintings in France supposedly created around 30,000BC.  We agreed that they must have stumbled on the formula by accident, because sure enough, they built their frescos to last in those days! 


The next element of our lesson was to make a tracing of our chosen image – in this case, we were all trying to reproduce elements of Michelangelo‘s famous work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel .


As usual, the heads alone are challenging enough, and it certainly makes life easier to be able to copy it onto tracing paper rather than having to copy a Michelangelo Godhead freehand!


The next step is create the cartoon by punching holes in the tracing paper with a pin – making holes large enough for, spolvero, a coloured powder to go through.

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The cartoon is then transferred to the pre-prepared tile – covered in fresh fresco plaster, using the same “spolvero” method with a pounce bag full of powder, that would have been used by Giotto and his followers.


Then comes a tricky bit of mixing up the correct colours and getting the paint in the right place – using the copy of the original as your guide with Alan always on hand to help.


Andrea and Georgina also have images from the Sistine Chapel to paint from.


The colours used are all naturally created , many literally converted from the Italian soil,  these include Yellow Ochre, a natural earth colour composed of clay and silica from Terra di Siena (earth of  Siena) and Red Ochre a natural pigment incorporating ferrous oxide in different stages of oxidation.

Burnt Umber, a mix of hydrated iron and manganese, literally comes from burning the earth of Umbria. Vine Black used to be produced from burning vine wood,  Ivory Black, originally created from burnt Ivory, is thankfully now made through burning animal bones.

White, made from dried lime paste reduced to a powder and then rehydrated for 8 days, is the most difficult colour of all to use. This is because it looks transparent when it is applied, but continues to whiten for up to two years after application, thus creating a very different – and not always desirable – effect, such as this recently restored fresco below where in my opinion St Andrew’s beard looks about as natural as that of a department store Santa Claus.


Below are our productions for our “Giornate” our short day’s work – I hope to be able to get back up to Rome next year to re-visit the originals in the light of my increased understanding.

I don’t think we would get far passing them off as original works by the hand of Michelangelo but the beauty of these classes is in the learning – and in the opportunity for individual interpretation.




So, my thanks again to Alan Pascuzzi for being an inspirational teacher and to Georgina Lee Maude and Andrea Hill for being such enthusiastic, and successful, students.

If you would like to try your hand at fresco painting in Florence – please do get in touch with me through this site – our next class starts at 10am on June 15th.