History of Venetian Plaster
The term “Venetian Plaster” was coined for the decorative plasters that were used extensively throughout Venice, Italy. The
Venetians brought the ancient art of decorative plaster to a level never seen before.
Since the times of Ancient Egypt, marble was used as the predominant building material for all important buildings such as
religious structures, government buildings, and residential buildings. Despite the great desire for marble as a building
material in Venice, the material posed many problems for the Venetians. Venice is often referred to as the “floating city”,
referring to the fact that Venice is situated on 118 islands which are bisected by over 100 canals. Many of the city’s
buildings are actually constructed on top of wooden poles as the foundation, with a combination of brick and plaster walls.
Heavy building materials were used in a very limited fashion, which meant strictly for structural purposes. The architects at
the time believed that excessive use of marble within the city would have the potential of sinking the islands.
The other reason that marble was used in a very limited fashion within the city of Venice was the high cost of using the
material. Marble is extremely heavy and thus difficult to transport and use as a construction material. Given the
circumstances that Venice’s landscape presented, the rule of thumb was that the lighter the building was, the less expensive
it was to construct.
Since marble was no longer a reasonable option for decorative purposes, the Venetians used specially formulated paints
such as distempers, frescoes and encaustos to decorate their buildings. The problem with using these paints on exterior
surfaces was that the very unique microclimate of the Venice region quickly deteriorated the finishes. The microclimate
found around Venice consisted of very frequent fogs, salt vapor from rough surrounding waters, and ascending humidity
within the walls. The combination of the salt penetrating the walls and the severe humidity caused the plaster walls to
actually burst every few years.
The continuing problem of deteriorating walls generated a very intense search to find a product that would be as durable as
marble, which could also achieve an equally prestigious look. After many years of experimenting, the Venetians formulated
a product that would change the way decorative plasters were used from then on. The Venetians named the superior
product “Stucco Veneziano”, which translates into the term “Venetian Plaster”. The Venetians went on to perfect the
artistic application of this product, and are therefore recognized throughout the world as the masters of this art.
Composition of authentic Venetian Plaster
The creation of Venetian Plaster begins by extracting only the purest limestone from rivers and quarries found in the
Venice region of Italy. This limestone is then broken apart and put into a large kiln where it is heated to the point of
decomposition, which occurs between 1600 and 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, the molecular composition of the
limestone is altered, thus causing the stone to turn into a very fine ash. The ash is then mixed with water and stored in a
dark vault for at least one year, while a process known as “slaking” occurs. The slaking process creates an extremely fine
putty-like substance, to which marble dust and other aggregates such as sea sand and silica are added. At this time,
natural color pigments found in the earth are added to the solution. The resulting Venetian Plaster product is literally “liquid
stone”, that when applied to surfaces, undergoes chemical changes where the product returns to its original state of natural
Timeline of Decorative Plasters
The Earliest accounts of the use of decorative plasters were found in Mesopotamia, which was the region between the
Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The native people of this region switched from hunting and gathering, to domesticating
animals, thus beginning the agricultural revolution. The formation of villages then arrived, which brought about closer
attention to the construction of living structures. The earliest form of plaster was used to decorate and protect the
infrastructure of residential dwellings as well as religious shrines. This plaster consisted mainly of clay and other
aggregates. These plastering techniques were fairly crude, but with time and improved communications across the world,
they became more refined.
Decorative plaster was used extensively on Egyptian tombs and pyramids during the “Age of the pyramids”, the 4th
Dynasty of the Ancient Egyptian Empire. During this period, artists and craftsman became increasingly skilled due to a
flourishing economy and the need to produce the most exquisite displays of art for the royal family and the members of the
ruling elite. Private tombs were highly decorated to exemplify the wealth and status of the tomb owner. Both the interior
and exterior surfaces were coated with a lime and gypsum plaster that was then painted with pictures and Hieroglyphics.
Decorative plaster was also used on Pyramids and Temples in order to conceal the imperfections of the stone used for the
construction of these great pieces of architecture.
The Greeks borrowed the Egyptian recipes for decorative plaster and improved on them so that they could be used
extensively for the decoration of the king’s palaces. The island of Crete is where the Minoan Civilization thrived. The
Minoan civilization is thought of by many scholars as the world’s first great civilization. During the “Second Palace Period”
is when the Minoan Civilization reached its zenith. Many of the artists, engineers, and architects of the time focused
mainly on the construction of exquisite palaces for the kings. Major archeological excavations have revealed four major
palaces on the island of Crete. The most spectacular of these is the Palace at Knossos, which had over 1,500 rooms and
occupied over 78,000 square feet. Interior decoration consisted mainly of decorative plaster with fresco paint to create
lively scenes of social life and spiritual celebration.
The Romans used decorative plasters for important buildings just as their predecessors did. The difference is the Romans
discovered the method of “slaking lime”, which created a much stronger plaster with better binding capabilities. Their
plasters offered much more durability as well as workability, which ultimately led to superior finishes. Their process of
slaking lime essentially consisted of aging a limestone and water solution in a dark vault for approximately three years. This
slow maturing process ensured that the limestone would not be exposed to any atmospheric gases, which would cause the
plaster to lose its binding and hardening properties. This much improved form of decorative plaster was used on some of
the world’s finest pieces of architecture.
The city of Venice, Italy had such harsh weather conditions, that even the plaster formulas that the Romans created could
not withstand the climatic abuse. The microclimate of Venice consisted of frequent fogs, severe humidity, and extreme
amounts of salt in the air. The combination of these conditions caused the plasters to burst every few years. There was an
urgent need for a more durable plaster that would be as resilient as natural stone. The solution was a product that was
coined by the Venetians as “Stucco Veneciano”, which translates to English as “Venetian Plaster”. Venetian Plasters were
used extensively throughout the Venice region by Andrea Palladio, who is quite possibly the world’s most influential
architect. After thousands of years of evolution, decorative plasters were finally perfected. These same formulas are used
for Venetian Plaster finishes today by Old World Plasters.