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  • Writer's pictureMinji Kim

The Rich History of Venetian Plaster

What is Venetian Plaster?

Made from marble dust and limestone, venetian plaster creates an earthy and luxurious texture and depth to homes. Sunlight reflects beautifully on its surface and carries a cooling effect during hot temperatures.

Homes with these finishes are made by venetian plaster.

The technique involves layering thin coats of plaster onto a surface, creating a smooth durable finish that appears like marble. Unlike concrete, the use of limestone makes these finishes less prone to cracks and able to be mixed with different pigments for unique colors. The marble-like appearance would categorize it as a faux finishing, a “decorative paint finishes that replicate the appearance of materials such as marble, wood or stone.”

History of Venetian Plaster

The standard wall finish of the Renaissance to the inspiration for the White House, venetian plaster carries a rich history. Its premodern use can be traced back to Egypt, Ancient Rome, and even Mesopotamia and was popularized during the Renaissance in Venice, Italy.

Ancient Romans mixed lime, sand, and water to mold into various shapes and decorate buildings. This technique was elevated with the introduction of marble dust into the plaster mix, creating a luminescent glow. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel uses a similar technique. The famous artist used plaster shining under his paintings to create glowing rooms and figures.

In Venice, the city built on water needed durable building material that would prevent their homes from sinking into marshes. To their chagrin, using marble was beautiful, but caused their houses to sink! They rediscovered venetian plaster, which brought elegance to the city walls without the added weight.

During the Renaissance, this plaster was used to create a seamless marble-effect finishing, without having to labor carrying marble slabs. Such finishes are luxury and since this time, were a symbol of sophistication. Examples include Doge’s Palace in Venice built in the 14th century, with intricate patterns and designs etched on the walls and ceilings.

With the advent of wall paper and paint, venetian plaster, despite its sophistication, fell out of fashion. Several centuries passed, and two Italian architects Palladio and Carlo Scarpa rediscovered the plaster technique. Scarpa himself innovated the material, making it more durable and needing less layers. He then created iconic works such as the walls of Olivetti shop near the Piazza San Marco, which thousands of people come to visit each year.

Over the centuries, the plaster has evolved and been experimented with new techniques and materials. Today, it is widely used in both residential and commercial settings and remains one of the most popular and versatile decorative finishes. Whether used to create a warm, rustic feel or sleek modern look, Venetian plaster is a testament to the enduring power and beauty of traditional craftsmanship.

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