Sgraffiti, the street art of 15th Century

“Time is a gentleman” says a proverb, but the action of time doesn’t always help certain forms of art to survive.

Once again a new form of art was born in Florence: the fashion of decorated facades (at least 70 remain in the city), which dates back to the 1400s. A sort of “street art” present on many noble palaces, which is back in fashion in second half of the 1800s and then in the Liberty buildings of the late 1900s.

Vasari called them “sgraffiti”, describing them as drawing and painting together. Two layers of plaster colored with contrasting tones (the darker underneath) were made on the facades and the design was reported on the walls with the “dusting” technique. With an incision the underlying layer reappeared and the darker line was highlighted with hatches to give depth.

Just go to Via Maggio (Palazzo di Bianca Cappello), to “Borgo degli Albizi” (Palazzo di Montalvo) and in the courtyard of Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Via Cavour, to find artistic decorations, fake marbles, ashlars, palmettes and grotesques, but also portraits and fake statues. With Liberty, flowers and scrolls with branches and leaves resurface as in the Vichi house-gallery, in Borgo Ognissanti.

Today modern street art takes possession of less noble walls to send cultural and political messages or regenerate city spaces, but it is also ephemeral art which unfortunately fades over time, wears out until it disappears.