While walls do their job without decoration, wall paintings tend to subvert functionality. Etruscan tomb paintings, like the one below, counteract the claustrophobic fact of burial, showing banqueters feasting like those described by Diodorus Siculus, with dancers, music and ‘canopies threaded with flowers’.
The Tomb of the Leopards, an Etruscan necropolis at Tarquinia, Italy, 480-450 B.C. Photograph © Alamy
In fresco, the final plaster layer is painted before it dries, so the pigment becomes a highly durable part of the coating. Giotto’s great fresco cycles in Padua (main image and below) and Florence survive intact after almost 700 years.
Investment in wall paintings assumes that people will spend plenty of time in the decorated space (the dead, for example) or that they need to be persuaded by what they find there.
The stunning frescoes by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua. Photograph: © The Art Archive/Alamy
Sol LeWitt’s painted walls (below) have a more disruptive theme than Giotto’s, but their spatial effects are still essentially about entering perceptual territory far beyond the wall.
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), Wall Drawing #146, 1972. All two-part combinations of blue arcs from corners and sides and blue straight, not straight and broken lines. September 1972. Blue crayon; dimensions variable. The Art Archive / The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, NY / Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Panza Collection, Gift, 1992. © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2014
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