Polished plaster history is far longer and much more involved than you might think. So many of us associate polished plaster with a sophisticated modern design that we assume it must be a relatively modern invention, but that is far from the case – it actually dates back thousands of years!
The history of polished plaster
Some of the oldest recorded examples of plaster were found in Mesopotamia in the Kuwait, Iran, Turkey and Syrian regions of the world. They date back to approximately 9000 BC and are closer to modern polished plaster than you might think.
Usually made from lime stone and marble powder chips, unlike today’s plasters, they were found to contain unusual ingredients such as goats’ milk and animal blood – something that would surely not be used to mix plaster with today!
Archaeological digs in Jordan, at Ain Ghazal, found that plasters made from a mixture of unheated lime stone was used as a type of flooring, and decoration for walls and hearth areas as far back as 7500 BC. Once the floors and walls covered, their owners would often decorate them by hand with red-pigmented patterns that we, today, would recognise as finger-painting.
In ancient India and China clay and gypsum, plasters were often used to render ragged stone and mud-brick walls with a smoother appearance, which would suggest that the cultures at that time used plaster for its aesthetical properties, much like we do today.
This kind of coating was also used in ancient Egyptian tombs, which suggests that it must have been a highly prized form of building decoration. It is also thought that the ancient Egyptians were well aware of its anti-mould and mildew properties.
Polished plaster history also stretches quite far back in European history. It was found at the Tarxien complexin Malta – a number of excavations at that location – dating back to 3000 BC. However, it was not until approximately 900 BC that the polished, or Venetian plaster that we now know so well became popular in countries like Greece and Rome.
The history of polished plaster in Greece really took off when Greek architects and builders took the Egyptians’ recipe for plaster and made their own modifications to it, experimenting with different formulations to improve it.
In 360 BC, the Greek philosopher and historian Theofrast wrote down the process for both making and applying polished plaster in great detail.
In the 4th Century BC, polished plaster history took another turn when the Romans discovered the hydraulic set principles of lime.
They also began to use volcanic ash and other pozzolanic materials to create plaster that would set faster and harder than ever before.
When marble dust was later used in the plaster, harder, smoother finished could be created, and it was also possible to mould attractive decorations, something that the Romans did regularly. Unfortunately, these techniques were lost with the Roman Empire and not discovered again until the Renaissance period.
During the mid-13th century, gypsum plaster was widely used to create decorative adornments on many important buildings, such as churches and cathedrals, both in and outdoors. Animal hair was used to strengthen this kind of plaster, and additives such as beer, milk and eggs were used to improve its plasticity and help it to set.
In 14th Century Southern-England, decorative trawled plaster was widely used to decorate wooden-framed buildings. Lime putty and lime-gypsum mixes were most commonly used for this purpose, adding another chapter to the history of polished plaster.
Shortly after this, in the 15th Century, Marmorino, used for the external coating of buildings, was devised by highly-skilled Venetian workers.
In the 16th Century, numerous developments in the manufacture and use of plaster were made. In Bavaria, for example, a new kind of highly decorative plaster called scagliola was created. It was made from a mix of gypsum plaster, animal glues and pigments, and lime or marble dust, and occasionally sand. The finish was highly polished and coloured stoned could be used to create the kind of marble effects that we know and love today.
Although scagliola plaster was created in the 16th Century, it was Italian monks working in the 17th Century who perfected the technique.
Also in the 17th Century, Italian artists came up with a technique known as the sgraffito technique, which was a kind of scratch of graffito process. This was often combined with stucco model decorating techniques perfected in Germany to create unique decorative architecture for the facades of buildings.
From the 16th to the 18th Centuries, a popular form of plaster-based architecture was used widely. It was based on the work of the famous Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) who pioneered the neo-classical homes and villas that you can still see some evidence of in Rome today.
He was a major influence for a number of prominent British architects including Inigo Jones, who’s Covent Square Garden design has been a major influence on the West End of London over the years, and the much-loved Christopher Wren whose creations include St. Paul’s Cathedral and the south front of Hampton Court Palace, ensuring that polished plaster history and Georgian architecture were synonymous.
Since then, polished plaster has become even more popular and has gone under a variety of names from Venetian plaster to Stucco and even Spatulato plaster, but it has always remained a stylish and popular way of decorating homes and public buildings.
Of course, today, you won’t find any animal blood or beer in your polished plaster, but you will find that it can be used to create a wide range of looks from the classic to the modern luxe.
Here at Evoke Polished Plaster Interiors we recognise the beauty of Venetian plaster and we work hard to ensure that our clients get exactly what they want from the medium.
Our experts use well-practised techniques to help you add personality, style and extreme durability to your home via the medium of polished plaster. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.