What is wall mural painting?

Mural, a painting applied to and made integral with the surface of a wall or ceiling. The term may properly include painting on fired tiles but ordinarily does not refer to mosaic decoration unless the mosaic forms part of the overall scheme of the painting.

Nature And Technique

Mural painting is inherently different from all other forms of pictorial art in that it is organically connected with architecture. The use of colour, design, and thematic treatment can radically alter the sensation of spatial proportions of the building. In this sense, mural is the only form of painting that is truly three-dimensional, since it modifies and partakes of a given space. Byzantine mosaic decoration evinced the greatest respect for organic architectural form. The great artists of the Renaissance, on the other hand, attempted to create an illusionistic feeling for space, and the masters of the subsequent Baroque period obtained such radical effects as to seem to dissolve almost entirely the walls or ceilings. Apart from its organic relation to architecture, a second characteristic of mural painting is its broad public significance. The mural artist must conceive pictorially a social, religious, or patriotic theme on the appropriate scale in reference both to the structural exigencies of the wall and to the idea expressed.

In the history of mural painting, many techniques have been used: encaustic paintingtempera paintingfresco painting, ceramics, oil painton canvas, and, more recently, liquid silicate and fired porcelain enamel. In Classical Greco-Roman times, the most common medium was encaustic, in which colours are ground in a molten beeswax binder (or resin binder) and applied to the painting surface while hot. Tempera painting was also practiced from the earliest known times; the binder was an albuminous medium such as egg yolk or egg white diluted in water. In 16th-century Europe, oil paint on canvas came into general use for murals. The fact that it could be completed in the artist’s studio and later transported to its destination and attached to the wall was of practical convenience. Yet oil paint is the least-satisfactory medium for murals: it lacks both brilliance of colour and surface texture, many pigments are yellowed by the binder or are affected by atmospheric conditions, and the canvas itself is subject to rapid deterioration.

Mural painting has its roots in the primeval instincts of people to decorate their surroundings and to use wall surfaces as a form for expressing ideas, emotions, and beliefs. In their universal manifestation in graffiti and in ancient murals, such as cave paintings and protodynastic Egyptian frescoes, symbols and representational images have been spread freely and indiscriminately across walls, ceilings, and floors. But, in more disciplined attempts to symbolize the importance and function of particular buildings through their interior decoration, murals have been designed for the restricted framework of specific surface areas. They therefore have to be painted in close relationship to the scale, style, and mood of the interior and with regard to such siting considerations as light sources, eye levels, the spectators’ lines of sight and means of approach, and the emotive scale relationship between spectators and the painted images.

Murals in the Tomb of Sennedjem
Murals depicting scenes from the afterlife, in the Tomb of Sennedjem, Thebes, Egypt.
Sylvain Grandadam/age fotostock


Early mural decorations for tombs, temples, sanctuaries, and catacombs were generally designed in horizontal divisions and vertical axes. These grid patterns were in harmony with the austere character of the interiors, and their geometrical plan enabled the artist to depict clearly the various episodes and symbols of a narrative subject. In these early traditions of mural design, in China, India, Mexico, Egypt, Crete, and Byzantium, no illusionary devices were used to deny the true flatness of the wall surface; images were silhouetted against a flatly painted ground framed by decorative dadoes (the decoration adorning the lower part of an interior wall) of stylized motifs in repeat patterns. By the early Renaissance, however, innovators such as Giotto, Masaccio, and Fra Angelico were placing figures within architectural and landscape settings, painted as if extensions to the real dimensions of the interior. The peak of technical skill and artistic expression was reached in the 15th and 16th centuries with the frescoes of Piero della Francesca, Michelangelo, and Raphael. The irregular shapes of wall areas and the distortions produced by convex surfaces were inventively exploited in the design. Intruding doors and windows, for example, were skillfully circumvented by sweeping pattern rhythms or were incorporated as features in the painting, and figures were foreshortened so as to appear to float across or to rise into cupolas (rounded vaults that form ceilings), lunettes (rounded spaces over doors or windows), and apses (domed projections of a church, usually at the east end or altar), the curving surfaces of which might be painted to simulate celestial skies. Existing structural wall features provided the divisions between narrative episodes. These were often supplemented by trompe l’oeil (“deceive the eye”) columns, pilasters, arcading, balustrading, steps, and other architectural forms that also served to fuse the painted setting with the real interior.


The Annunciation, fresco by Fra Angelico, 1438–45; in the Museum of San Marco, Florence.
SCALA/Art Resource, New York

With the increasing dependence upon tapestry hangings and stained glass as primary forms of interior decoration, mural painting suffered a decline in the Western world. Except for those given to Rubens, Tiepolo, Delacroix, and Puvis de Chavannes, there were relatively few important mural commissions in the period following the High Renaissance. In the 20th century, however, enlightened patronage occasionally enabled leading modern artists to execute paintings for specific sites: Monet’s Water-Lilies series for the Paris Orangerie, for example, and other murals in France by Vuillard, Matisse, Léger, Chagall, and Picasso; in Mexico and the United States by Orozco, Rivera, Tamayo, and David Siqueiros, and also in the United States by Matisse, Shahn, Keith Haring, and Willem de Kooning; in Britain by Sir Stanley Spencer and Bawden; in Norway by Edvard Munch; in the Netherlands by Karel Appel; and in Italy by Afro Basaldella.

Source: www.britannica.com

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