About Murals

Murals are large scale paintings executed directly on walls, ceilings, and many other typically large flat, convex or concave surfaces. They are presumed to be the oldest human art form, as cave paintings at numerous ancient human settlements suggest, and can be found all over Earth.  A wide variety of artistic styles are used in mural painting, and some (usually Trompe L'oeil murals) incorporate the use of techniques which combine Realism with a dramatic sense of scale and amazing depth, while Trompe L'oeil paintings are noted for an extraordinary sense of detail.

A mural is usually commissioned by a wealthy patron, corporation, government or institution because it obviously represents an expensive endeavor.  For this reason, murals are often found in places like public and private schools, government buildings, and on the outside of buildings in urban, suburban and rural areas. Murals and those of us who create them often become well known, due to the large scale and themes.  (Leonardo da Vinci and Diego Rivera were both muralists. Michelangelo was, of course, too.)   Qualified  muralists demonstrate a remarkably wide range of skills required to meet the special needs of murals.  (The requirements or 'needs' of mural painting are too numerous to note here.)

Classically, a mural is applied directly to a prepared surface as with fresco which, of course, was used in the Sistine Chapel.   (Fresco is a wet plaster to which pigments are added. As the pigments dry, they fade slightly, but more importantly bond with the plaster.)  Today's murals are frequently painted with acrylics rather than oils which were the standard less than one hundred years ago.

Mural History

There have been murals on walls throughout the world  for as long as there have been people on Earth.  People scratched them, carved them, etched them and painted them.  The history of mural painting is rich and varied, from the prehistoric cave paintings at Sulawesi, Indonesia; the Chauvert, Niaux and Lascaux caves in France; to the celebratory and ceremonial murals of ancient Egypt, Rome, Mesopotamia, Greece and India.

According to art historians, mural painting dates back at least 40,000 years.   (Other historians credit the Minoans and the Etruscans.)  Some of these impressive works have been preserved, thankfully, by the very caves which they inhabit.   These ancient murals typically depict the activities of a particular civilization‘s people, encapsulating a moment in time, and range from scenes of hunting, gathering, and family life, to religious and funerary scenes.

An interesting evolution continues in the world of murals.  New ones are continually being commissioned and created while old ones are constantly being rediscovered and restored (i.e. ca. 100 AD.  Mayan wall paintings at the remote ruins of El Petén and San Bartolo in Guatemala, which were discovered in March 2001).

The purpose of murals varies from culture to culture, and from time period to time period.  Several examples follow.  Many murals in the Tibetan world, both ancient and contemporary, are created as part of meditative and reflective Buddhist practices.  During the Baroque period in France, Germany and England, rich art patrons and royalty had Biblical and allegorical murals painted on the ceilings and of their luxurious homes and palaces. Patrons often had themselves painted into the mural, as a way of capturing their likenesses for all time.

Mural art appears on the walls and ceilings of interior and exterior spaces, ranging from palaces, temples, and tombs, to museums, libraries, churches, and other public buildings. In our more contemporary era, murals have found their way onto a large variety of surfaces.  

An important point to finish this section with: Good mural artists will consider their mural in relation to the mural's natural or architectural setting, allowing the piece to become an aesthetic, social, and most importantly, cultural, artifact.

Worth noting...Murals date to Upper Paleolithic times, such as the paintings in the Chevaux Cave in Ardeche (southern France) around 30.000 BC.  Ancient murals have also survived in Egyptian tombs circa 3150 BC, the Minoan palaces from the Neopalatial period circa 1700-1600 BC, and in Pompeii circa 100 BC to 79 CE (AD).   These ancient murals were ‘painted’ with whatever materials, always natural, were available at the time.

Definition:  Traditionally, a mural is any artwork painted directly on a wall, ceiling or other large permanent surface.

About Mural Making Today

Murals today are painted in a variety of traditional and non-traditional ways, using oil or water-based media, and vary in style from abstract to trompe l’oeil.  Mural painting itself has experienced an amazing renaissance in private residences and public buildings especially in North America (particularly the United States), Europe and South America.  Murals have a dramatic impact whether consciously or subconsciously on the attitudes of viewers.  Furthermore, the presence of large murals adds emotional quality to the daily lives those who have the priveledge of viewing it.

Many people like to express their individuality by commissioning an artist to paint a mural in their home.  Patrons around the world find that murals open up spaces within their domiciles -- a pied-a-terre, for example -- which can often feel cramped otherwise.  Think 'wall' and 'large scale mural' in, say, a New York, Tokyo, Singapore, Paris, or Rom residence.
Murals are wonderful in Great Rooms, Living Rooms, Bedrooms, Dining Rooms, Bathrooms, Solariums, Breakfast Rooms, Parlors, Private Offices... the list goes on.  The current trend for feature walls has increased commissions for muralists worldwide.  Large hand-painted murals can be designed on a specific theme, incorporate personal images and elements and may be altered by concept adjustments during the course of painting.  Most importantly, the personal connection and interaction between patron and artist is an amazing and unique experience, especially for people not usually involved in the arts.  You are allowed a glimpse into Creation itself.

Copyright Eric Jonsson   1985-2022.
All rights reserved.

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A Brief History of Murals and Mural Painting
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