Spolvero: presence of an absence

The Spolvero is an artistic technique used to bring back to a surface, such as a frescoed wall, a preparatory drawing made on a sheet of paper, a specular spectrum of the artist’s definitive work.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, painters conceived the work directly on the wall. It was the time of the great wall decorations, the churches were completely covered with frescoes. The composition was made in full size: first some composition tests were performed, through the tracing of “plans and leads”, which reproduced respectively the horizontal and vertical scans of the work, subsequently executed directly on the curl, the second of the three layers fundamentals of the fresco.

The drawing, called “sinopia”, was first realized with a particular red earth, coming from Sinope, a city of the Black Sea, and then reported on the pictorial plaster with a yellow-green color, which in Florence was called “verdaccio”.

The traditional technique of creating the fresco included the division of labor into days. The wall was prepared through three basic steps. The first consisted in the creation of a primary layer, which took the name of Rinzaffo, consisting of fat lime and sand, and of a rough and viscous consistency. The second passage was performed on the curl, the finest layer on which the work was conceived. The third was performed on the surface layer, the Tonachino. The latter received the color during the working days.

During the Renaissance, with the Spolvero (and with other image transfer techniques in the following centuries) a revolution began in the realization of the frescoed work. Although the fresco technique did not undergo any variation, the Spolvero represented a new way of conceiving the process of conception and transfer of the work on the wall.

If in the past the drawing was made directly on the curl, in the Renaissance, and with the Spolvero, it was first conceived on small paper in the painter’s workshop. The drawing was shown on the sheet through the drilling with a large needle and then transferred to the fresh plaster. The sheet was placed on the plaster and dusted with coal. A cloth bag, containing the coloring substance, was beaten on the drawing. The coal (or another dye) passed through the holes in the paper, leaving a series of black dots on the plaster, used as a reference during the making of the work: they were joined to trace the lines that would have reproduced the final image on the wall .

In addition to Spolvero, there are other methods to bring back a preparatory drawing on the wall. Some will be used after the Renaissance, even in modern times. However, the Spolvero differs from any other carryover technique. When the other processes are fundamental and subordinate to the representation, or rather they are the first phase of preparation for what will be the final image, in the Spolvero the preparatory image is the reproduction of the definitive image that will never be visible, it is the mirror of the conceptual idea of ​​the artist.

A “First” (invisible) image of the finished work is present (but absent).

The preparatory image is the specter of what will be the conclusion of the artistic process. It is a presence that cannot be seen but that can be investigated through a deep investigation. It is the manifesto of the artistic idea. The present invisible to the eyes; presence absence.