Frescoes, paintings on freshly applied, wet lime-plaster walls with colours made by grinding artists' dry-powder pigments in pure water, which set with the plaster and become a permanent part of the wall. Corrections and the addition of details of the al fresco painting can be executed as fresco secco (applied on the dry plaster), which is considerably less durable.
Earliest examples of fresco painting in Austria date from the Romanesque period. Superior achievements from that period are extant in Lambach (ca. 1070-1090), the Nonnberg monastery in the city of Salzburg (ca. 1140) and Gurk (ca. 1210, renovated in the zackenstil mode after a fire in the period 1260/70). Other remarkable Romanesque frescoes are found in the Provostry Church of Maria Woerth (late 11th century), the Church of the Teutonic Order (Deutschordenskirche) at Friesach (2nd half of the 12th century) and St. John's Chapel (Johanneskapelle) at Puergg, Styria (mid-12th century). By the second half of the 12th century, strong Byzantine influences made themselves felt in Austrian frescoes (as had actually been the case 100 years before at Lambach).
During the last third of the 13th century a most expressive fresco style, which already heralded Gothic painting, developed in Austria: it has come to be known as "Zackenstil" or "zackbruechiger Stil". The frescoes on the west gallery of Gurk Cathedral, which stem from the forties of the 13th century, mark the time when this style was at its best. Other works in this style, which gradually disappeared around 1300, are found at Seckau, Goess, Mauthausen, Michelstetten and Moedling.
Gothic frescoes are particularly frequently found in South Tirol, for instance at Runkelstein Castle near Bozen/Bolzano, in Brixen/Bressanone, Terlan/Terlano and in the monastery of Neustift, which influenced M. Pacher's frescoes in the Abbey Church of San Candido/Innichen and at Neustift.
Bohemian and in particular Italian influences became increasingly important in the course of the 14th century. In 1339-1343 the western portico of Gurk Catherdal was decorated with a fresco cycle - a "biblia pauperum" of 19 scenes from the Old and 26 from the New Testament - which clearly reflects Upper Italian models (Giotto).
By 1400 the weicher Stil (International Style) had also come to the fore in fresco painting. The oldest secular murals in Vienna (ca. 1400), which were based on a literary text by Neidhart von Reuental belong to this style.
Most medieval frescoes in Austria date from the 15th century. Of the wealth of frescoes from that period, many of which were the work of artists whose names have been handed down, mention should be made of the frescoes in the churches of Thoerl (Thomas von Villach, 1470), Millstatt (inter alia the Passion frescoes by Friedrich von Villach, 1428, and the Last Judgment by Urban Goertschacher, 1518), Maria Saal, St. Paul (frescoes by Friedrich Pacher, around 1470, and Thomas von Villach), Metnitz, Gerlamoos, St. Peter in Holz, Zweinitz and Zwickenburg in Carinthia. The province of Salzburg boasts valuable frescoes at St. Leonhard bei Tamsweg, Styria on the south wall of Graz Cathedral ("Landplagenbild", 1481), East Tirol at Strassen, Lower Austria in the charnel house of Duernstein, in the Heiligenblutkirche (Holy Blood Church) of Pulkau und at St. Martin am Ybbsfeld.
During the Renaissance fresco painting largely gained importance in secular art. Amongst the foremost works from that period are the decorations of the Spanish Hall (1570) in Ambras Castle near Innsbruck and the Knights' Hall of Goldegg Castle in the Pongau area (1536). As regards the decoration of religious buildings, fresco painting frequently lost ground to sumptuous stuccowork.
The desire to achieve a union of architecture, painting and sculpture resulted in a dramatic upswing in ceiling frescoes during the Baroque era. Fresco decoration assumed virtually equal importance in churches and palaces.
There was hardly any opportunity for fresco painting on a large scale in the early 19th century, and it was not until the period of late Romanticism and Historicism (Ringstrasse in Vienna) that monumentalism in art saw a new flowering, though the fresco technique was used only sparingly.
Literature#F. Reichmann, Gotische Wandmalerei in Niederoesterreich, 1925; J. Garber, Die romanischen Wandgemaelde Tirols, 1928; W. Frodl, Die romanische Wandmalerei in Kaernten, 1942; Die gotische Wandmalerei in Kaernten, 1944; W. Frodl and J. Weingartner, Die gotische Wandmalerei Suedtirols 1948; H. Hutter, Trecentoeinfluesse auf die Wandmalerei in Oesterreich, doctoral thesis, Vienna 1959; E. Weiss, Der Fresken-Zyklus der Johanneskapelle in Puergg, doctoral thesis, Bonn 1964; I. Krumpoeck, Studien zur Wandmalerei des 14. Jahrhunderts in Vorarlberg, 1992; A. Besold, Fresken in Kaernten um 1400, master's thesis, Vienna 1992.