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Subject: Sgraffito

Sgraffito

From: Jean D. Portell <jeandp>
Date: Monday, December 11, 1995
Els Jacobs <Dominique.Dierick [at] ping__be> writes

>We are looking for information about sgraffito (techniques, history,
>conservation and restoration) for a thesis one of our friends is
>making here in Belgium.

This is an Italian term for a decorative technique in which gold
(usually) leaf under opaque paints is partially revealed by
scratching through the latter, usually for the purpose of depicting
sumptuous textiles in panel paintings and carved sculptures. In
Spain this technique is called "estofado". As I pointed out in a
footnote to my article, "Altered Silver Gilding" (in the 1991 book,
"Gilded Wood: Conservation and History", edited by Deborah Bigelow
et al), the Italian term is a reference to the method that is used
(scribing), whereas the Spanish term is a reference to the visual
effect that is achieved (rather like quilting, which is an alternate
translation of "estofado" - though it can also mean stew!).

The Italian master craftsman, Cennino Cenninni, wrote a good
description of the process in his book, "Il Libro dell' Arte". The
Spanish painter, Francisco Pacheco (father-in-law of Diego
Velazquez) also wrote about it, in his "Arte de la Pintura, Libro
III".  Pacheco's description has been translated into English by
Zahira Veliz, in her "Artists' Techniques in Golden Age Spain: Six
Treatises in Translation" (Cambridge University Press, 1986). A less
technical explanation (in Spanish) that also cites specific examples
of estofado appears in "Escultura Barroca Castellana", by Juan Jose
Martin Gonzalez (Madrid, 1959).

I have noted an occasional confusion among people lecturing in
English, a tendency to misuse the term "estofado" to refer to
multicolored surfaces in general. But there is a perfectly good
Spanish word for polychromy: "policromado". Whether you call it
"sgraffito" or "estofado" or something else (what terms are used in
northern Europe?), the specialized technique is fascinating. (Your
friend should also consider a related technique called
"lusterfarben" in Germany, "corlas" or "corladura" in Spain, and
"barniz chinesco" in parts of Latin America.) I am happy to know
that someone plans to research the subject for a thesis. Tangled
mysteries may be unraveled.

Jean D. Portell

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                  Conservation DistList Instance 9:48
                 Distributed: Monday, December 11, 1995
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Received on Monday, 11 December, 1995

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