The Importance Of Venice In Venetian Plaster

There are few wall treatments as filled with subtle, natural beauty as that of polished plaster applied by a Venetian plaster specialist, which gives a beautiful finish that can resemble polished marble when finished to perfection.

It typically consists of a mix of marble dust and slaked lime and has been beloved for thousands of years for its mix of versatility, strength and beauty, fulfilling all three of the core principles of ancient architecture as written by the Roman architect Vitruvius.

However, given that it has existed for several millennia, and the Republic of Venice as we know it has only been around for at most 1600 years, this naturally leads to a question.

What does Venice have to do with Venetian plaster, and why do we use that name?

To answer this, we need to make our way through two histories. The first is the earliest known use of the material, and the second is when it was rediscovered again and why it matters.

From Jordan To Rome

Lime plaster, the most general form for what we know as Venetian plaster is one of the oldest building materials ever used, given that it consists of a mix of limestone and aggregates that can be widely found and mixed.

Initially used to protect the fireplaces that accidentally discovered the hidden capabilities of limestone, lime plaster’s earliest use was dated over 9000 years ago in what is present-day Jordan, whilst it has also been found covering Egyptian pyramids and the ancient remains of buildings on the Greek island of Crete.

However, the most interesting use came from the Romans as described in Vitruvius’ masterwork De Architectura, which described a method of making lime plaster that is strikingly familiar to that later used in Venetian plaster.

However, as with many scientific and mechanical discoveries made by the Romans, the collapse of the Roman Empire led to them being lost to time, and for centuries the technique had been trapped in books written in a dead language by a dead civilisation.

The Venetian Revival

In 15th-century Venice, lime plaster made a comeback. By this point, the Renaissance was in full swing, and a huge aspect of this massive intellectual movement was the study of ancient texts and a yearning desire to return to classical ideas and styles.

This included, amongst other developments, a return to Ancient Roman designs, which often relied on marble that was almost impossible to transport through Venice. Using sand to make traditional plaster was also a considerable challenge.

The solution was what became known as the Marmorino style, which consisted of a base mortar made from lime and ground terracotta, and the finish itself used ground-up stone and marble leftover from other projects.

Its breathability made it far more useful in the waters of Venice and its lightness meant that there was less risk of the aquatic foundations collapsing.

It was hugely popular until the end of the 19th century, before being revived once again by another Venetian architect by the name of Carlo Scarpa in the 1970s.

So whilst it is true that Venice was not the birthplace of Venetian plaster, it was the place it called home.

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