May 7th, 2007
Sgraffito is a decorative technique that involves layering contrasting colors of lime plaster. While still wet, the design is scratched into the top layer of the lighter colored plaster and then the negative spaces of the design are removed to reveal the darker layer underneath. You can imagine the time and skill involved in managing this type of artform, particularly as it was accomplished across the entire facade of a building. There are still buildings in Florence that bear this beautiful and intricate artform, dating as far back as the 15th century. It was at that time that many fanciful frescoed examples from ancient Rome were found, now buried in underground cavelike rooms (‘grottoes’) after thousands of years of development. The discovery of these stuccowork motifs of flora, fauna and monstrous figures inspired many decorative artists at the time, who began incorporating these motifs into their work on a large scale and referred to them as ‘grotesques”.
The 16th century artist who is credited with the invention of the grotesque compositions in black and white sgraffito is Andrea di Cosimo Feltrini, who directed a flourishing workshop that specialized in the decoration of furniture, textiles, coats of arms, interiors and was particularly renowned for its scraffito facade grotesques. I snapped the photo above on a street in Oltrarno, but there is a lovely book available on the subject, The Painted Facades of Florence, that is filled with the history and motifs of this classic Florentine artform.
I particularly enjoy the photo shown just above as you can clearly see where the artist either forgot or ran out of time or daylight to carve out the final small details of the egg and dart molding. We will be attempting to create a faux sgraffito finish in the bathrooms at Alison’s studio. By that I mean that we will create the look not by using a removal technique, but rather applying the plaster in layers using stencils and Modellos. The silvery-black and white coloration should look really handsome with the blue tile already on the walls!