Thursday, August 30, 2007

Zgraffito, aka sgraffiare

Zgraffito [or sgraffito] is a technique of decorative application, usually on the outside of buildings, involving layers of limestone plaster where designs are scratched in the top layer of wet plaster. It was developed in Italy in the XV century. The word is either the root of graffiti or a derivative of it; I have not have the patience to search more web sites after having found the above information. I had heard of it as a decorative technique but knew next to nothing. Now I know a little bit more than nothing and I've seen a few stunning examples, notably on a palace in the Czech Republic. the entire facade of the very large palace is decorated with designs like those above and each is different! I didn't try to count how many, I'm not that compulsive. The building was otherwise simple and magnificent. It had been decorated by Italian craftsmen, probably in the XVI century. Inside was an three story Italianate arcaded courtyard. Above the courtyard were large portrayals of the Battle of Troy and also of Samson destroying the temple of his enemies. if I understood properly these reliefs were also zgraffito although they looked sculpted to me.

In other cities and on more humble buildings I saw other examples of zgraffito, or perhaps it was faux zgraffito [to mix languages] that was painted ... but really I couldn't tell. The picture below was on the facade of an interesting building. When used all over a building the effect is like wall paper on the outside, but in shades of gray it is subtle enough to be really very pleasing.
The visual delights of the sidewalks, and the zgraffito-ed buildings was just one of several elements that made the trip visually more exciting than I expected. In a sense I am a little "been there,seen that" about lovely rolling countryside with a mix of fields and woods. Perhaps the most pastoral and peaceful landscapes, which exist lots of places in the world, including much of the Northeast and Midwest of the US. In the beauty pageant of landscapes it is Mama and apple pie, universally pleasing. But the many castles and palaces, the Renaissance and baroque facades, the subtle and sometimes exuberant colors of houses and buildings was a visual treat I had only partly anticipated.
This last picture was in Jincin, the first little city after Prague, in Bohemia where the petal designed sidewalks were. it's just a happy coordination of a public bench and a simple planting of marigolds. What a delight for the eye! More about architecture tomorrow, I think.

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