Join us on this journey to learn what is Venetian plaster and how you can use it in your home. We’ll introduce you to the methods, tools of the trade, as well as the people -the Venetian plasterers- who apply these techniques! Let us start.
Where does Venetian plaster come from?
Venetian plaster, also called polished plaster in the UK, comes from Italy, arguably one of the most enthralling locations in Europe. Just as some decorative materials, Italian cuisine, fashion and critical aspects of its art and traditions have become fully integrated into our daily lives.
When you think of Italian art, you might think of Renaissance artists like Michelangelo or Leonardo, but modern and traditional Italian art forms are still prevalent. Just look at events like the spectacular Venetian festival of glass taking place every September, and the Biennale, held every other year in the spring. Who would resist such a treat if they could go?
Francesco da Mosto, Italian architect, author, historian and filmmaker, in his BBC series has been infectious, opening up Italian culture and history to the regular viewer. In the kitchens of Gino D’Acampo and Marco Pierre White, tradition is reinvented through innovation. Italian-British actors like Mark Strong bring a fresh perspective and outstanding performances to British cinema. Our Instagram feeds are full of Milanese fashion and Italian design, the ruins of Rome and Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast’s holiday spots. Italy has become a part of our lives in the UK, and it fits in seamlessly!
How was Venetian plaster invented?
Venice, originally a haven for refugees, later a significant nexus for trade – also called Serenissima, the Most Serene Republic – has yielded so much that we have come to love and embrace passionately, symbols like the masks and the carnival, the gondolas, the palazzos and architecture. Based on the name and how the City embraced architecture and design, you might think Venetian plaster was invented in Venice.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. Venetian plaster was not invented in Venice.
Polished plaster, although its make and use are one of the great traditions of the Republic, it is much more ancient than Venice! Venetian plaster was invented before the birth of Christ, probably in Rome. It was first mentioned by Marcus Vitruvius Pullio, arguably the most significant Roman architect, who was not only an architectural genius but also a prolific writer. He is often credited with being the father of architecture. His most famous work, the “De Architectura Libri Decem”, written between 30 and 15 BC, is the first book to mention this noble material.
Marble is a popular building material in Italy due to its availability, and it was even more prevalent in Ancient times. Marble dust and grit were easy to find or make because smaller pieces needed to be disposed of. Maybe not surprisingly, cutting the marble for the ever-growing number of noble Villas and public buildings also produced it in large quantities. The marble dust, mixed with lime, was used by the Romans on as many as ten layers. They used it to produce an even texture that is smooth to touch, endures the weather and can easily be repaired, and it became the precursor of what we call today Venetian plaster.
Venetian plaster was forgotten and then rediscovered several times. Two of the most notable architects bringing it back to fashion were Palladio and Carlo Scarpa; Palladio treasured it for its lightness, while Scarpa not only rediscovered and used this wall and ceiling covering but also improved on it. He added resins and other components, like cement to the mix, not just to enhance the look but also the durability and flexibility, making modern Venetian plasters what they are today. One of the most notable works of Carlo Scarpa, which is still admired and visited by thousands every year, is the Olivetti shop near the Piazza San Marco, currently serving as an exhibition centre and museum. It features smooth, mirror-like polished plaster and Marmorino plaster finishes extensively, making the design genuinely exquisite, so don’t hesitate to visit Scarpa’s masterwork if you’re in the area!
What is Venetian plaster?
Although in ancient times, Venetian plaster was a lime-based plaster that was used only to imitate the look of marble, currently, it is used not only to create a marble-like look but also to imitate and sometimes surpass the look and other features of various stones and even concrete. The traditional polished plaster mix is hydraulic lime with marble dust, combined with animal glues, casein and other, natural additives, coloured with natural pigments.
Modern Venetian plasters can also be resin-based and come in many forms, with and without grains, to reproduce the look of an ever-growing number of finishes. Venetian plaster is the ideal material to re-create the look of noble materials on any small or large, even a curved, surface as it is hand applied on-site on a thin layer. They can also be used to create gorgeous accent walls! Italian plasters are generally very durable, can be fully breathable and come in hundreds of colours.
You might be surprised to hear that Venetian plaster can be used to create designs ranging from the look of Harling to traditional smooth lime finishes like those covering the Trulli houses in Puglia to contemporary concrete! It can be used for media walls, corridors, ceilings and even bathrooms; many can be used interior and exterior. The walls of some houses decorated with Venetian plaster have survived more than 500 years, which is a testament to their durability.
Who are Venetian plasterers?
A special plaster deserves a specialist to apply it. Italian plasters have been used in the United Kingdom, with other decorative finishes like scagliola, since the early 17th century by Italians. Nowadays, companies like Impera Italia offer extensive Venetian plastering training courses, and plasterers are now increasingly often specialised in Italian decorative plastering.
Venetian plasterers should be able to apply most Italian plasters to create several established and well-known finishes like the smooth and mirror-like polished plaster, the satin, stony Marmorino or the textured Travertino with a cut stone-like look.
To create these refined finishes, they use tools like our Gold of Venice polished plastering trowel.
One of the hallmarks of a suitable applicator is the finesse that he can create a “standard” finish with, meaning that the first square feet of their wall or ceiling decoration should be very similar to the final one.
Another mark of excellence is the design of the applicator’s feature walls. This is since most applicators, to stay in the trade, need to be able to produce bespoke colours and custom designs.
Finally, a suitable applicator should also have access to his own tools and should be able to provide the client with Venetian plaster sample boards for every project.
Always approve a sample board before going ahead with a design and ask for references, preferably videos of the finishes produced. An experienced applicator should be able to show you images and videos of the features he created. If you ascertain that the applicator has all the tools, references and sample boards they should, you probably will get the design you dreamt of!
Some companies have selected and approved applicators they trust and can recommend, like the Impera Italia Brand Ambassadors. These people generally have immense Venetian plastering experience, come highly recommended, and even manufacturers trust their expertise. If you are looking for a truly luxurious design, you can not go wrong if you choose a highly skilled and recommended tradesperson to realise your vision!
Are you looking for traditional or modern Venetian plasters for your home? In that case, Impera Italia’s product line satisfies many criteria, balancing delicacy and elegance with actual durability to an extent previously unavailable through any British suppliers.
Our showrooms are the perfect places to find outstanding interior design and plasters for exteriors. Our helpful team will make sure to meet and exceed your requirements, so don’t hesitate, get in touch today for a unique, one to one consultation!
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