History of Lime, Stucco & Venetian Plaster
Beginning with all life on earth, limestone is formed in the oceanic environment which was developed from biological marine life and shelled creatures that lived and died. As their remains were left to settle to the bottom, they were buried deep into the ground by the earth's ever-changing activity like pressure and heat. Throughout time this material "re-crystallized" into new shapes and patterns that grew together to form the rock we today call limestone (calcium carbonate).
Over the centuries, and in many areas of the world, the origins of stucco (plaster) go back about five thousand years. Many archaeologist and architectural scholars think that stucco had its roots in the ancient regions of Mesopotamia or present-day Iran and Iraq. Archaeological digs carried out on the island of Malta have shown that in places like Tarxien and Hagar, stucco was used as a binder to hold stone together. Additionally, it was used for decorative purposes at sites dating back as far as 3000-2500 B.C. In those days, Malta was the home of some of the largest man-made structures on earth and many believe the use of stucco helped in the construction of these large buildings.
We also find ancient stucco remnants on the island of Crete from around 3000 B.C. We know that the Greeks later brought this building material to North Africa where the Egyptians took this product and used it to help construct many of the palaces for the Pharaohs’. It was also used decoratively in Egyptian palaces and temples. In fact, some of the most decorative forms of stucco were first found in their which resembled some of the polished and decorative looks used today.
Stucco was influenced heavily by the natural elements found in the local geographical areas where people lived and built. Keep in mind that the art of stucco was spiritually influenced by the life of the people who used it. Although its main use was in the world of construction, it took on an art form that was handed down from father to son and the art of making stucco was passed from generation to generation. Each local culture or family where it was made also made use of the local taste and materials readily available to them. They adapted it to the local archaeological style, color, and methodology of its local region.
Undoubtedly, over the years, stucco would endure a varying array of material available in each geographic region including pigments of color, but it remained unchanged in its characteristic application and the paste contents of base lime, with a fine powder of stone, lime, and marble.
It was not until the construction era of Venice Italy (1400-1700) that stucco was improved and produced for the masses. The architects then were aware of the durability of plaster and importance of its use when building in the hostile living environment that was present. In Venice, there is high humidity because of swampy lagoons and the unpredictable tides of the Adriatic Sea. Building materials used in the construction of the city of Venice were extremely important since Venice was a city built on hundreds of small islands carved into the sea. However, it was not until man left the dark ages and entered into the Renaissance that stucco took on a life form of its own.
Venetian Plaster or "Stucco Veneziano" was developed because of man's need to evolve an already acceptable and durable construction product to meet the needs of a community or city built entirely on water. Over the centuries, the present-day Venetian Plaster has revolutionized the product, not only for its construction and durability properties, but also because of its design capabilities. Some of the Renaissance's greatest artists used lime stucco to paint many of the world's most famous frescos like those of Michelangelo in Rome.
Since post-World War II, the technology of producing stucco products has changed. The combining of modern day technology and the ancient methods brings an old world product into the 21st century. Today, stucco is produced throughout the world, but the true Venetian Plasters or "Stucco Veneziano" is still only produced in a small region of Northern Italy - using the same water and magnesium quality dolomite limestone that have been used for centuries. Many have tried to match or copy this product, but like any good cook will tell you, food always tastes better when using the fresh ingredients from the very region that inspired it.
Venetian Plaster has remarkable design and construction capabilities. It can offer you the look of the old world or enhance the look of the most contemporary project. It's modern-day elements will give value to any construction project. With so many stucco companies trying to benefit from the association of Venetian Plaster in their products' name or sales and marketing, one must make sure they are using authentic products. Many plaster companies use high levels of acrylic and synthetic resins to make so-called Italian plasters available today. Although these products have a commercial place, they should not be confused with the traditional authentic products. Some of these faux plasters are made to resemble or look like our authentic products, but they do not have the characteristics or benefits of authentic Italian lime plaster.
A theory of how lime plaster might have been discovered:
A cooking platform or open pit fire was surrounded by limestone rocks and was subjected to continuous heat and flame for days and weeks. This heat exhausted all the oxygen, carbon dioxide and water in the stone creating a chemical reaction in that rock turning it into lime the byproduct of limestone. When the fire was doused with water or rain, it initiated another chemical reaction with the heated lime bringing the lime to a boiling point that created a putty-like substance. Once this lime cooled, it was strong and smooth and became a perfect material to be molded and applied over a framework of wood or the inside of a cave. This formed walls and ceilings that offered strong protection from the wind, the sun, and rain and also the smooth canvas for prehistoric cave drawings to document early man's life and experiences.