Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Fresco

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is fresco. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Fresco refers to the art of painting on freshly spread moist lime plaster using water-based pigments. It is also the word for a painting executed in this style.

// The ceiling piece was done in fresco and dates back to the 1800s.

// The fresco that adorned the wall of the old Roman cathedral took the artist five years to complete.

FRESCO in Context

“[Argentinian soccer player Lionel] Messi is larger than life in Rosario, where a 226-foot fresco, the largest of many murals of the city’s favorite son, was painted on the side of a downtown apartment building.” — Kevin Baxter, The Los Angeles Times, 16 Dec. 2022

Did You Know?

If the word fresco brings to mind images of eating an alfresco meal—that is, a meal eaten outside “in the fresh air”—your gut is on the right track: fresco is Italian for “fresh,” and the culinary usage is relatively common in English. But what puts the “fresh” in the English fresco is not so appetizing: the name of this art form refers to the fresh plaster used in it. Fresco is an ancient art, used as early as the Minoan civilization on Crete, but it reached the height of its popularity during the Italian Renaissance of the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Fresco comes in two types: in fresco secco (“dry fresco”), a dry wall is soaked in limewater, and lime-resistant pigments are then applied; in buon fresco (“good fresco”; buon fresco is also called “true” fresco), used by Michelangelo in his 16th century Sistine Chapel frescos, pigments are fused directly with wet plaster.

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