What Is a Mural?

What Is a Mural? – Examples of Mural Art

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What is a mural? This may seem like quite a simple question, but let’s have a closer look at it. In this article, we will provide a definition of mural art, a brief history of murals and how they have been used through the ages, a few mural examples alongside a few famous muralists, and finally a short look at one of the worst things to have ever happened to a mural wall painting. So, let’s get down to discussing murals!



What Is a Mural?

A mural is, quite simply, any piece of artwork that is directly attached or applied to a surface. This generally means walls, but it can also refer to ceilings or any other possible surface that has a certain degree of permanence, like a fence. Murals have been used since the beginning of known human art as one could call cave paintings a form of mural painting.

However, we are going to look at the various types of murals that can be created and their history through the years.


Different Types of Mural Art

In general, there are four main types of mural art. We are going to be looking at each of these in more depth throughout the remainder of this article. These four most common varieties include:

  • Frescoes: This form of mural art is possibly the most famous of them and the oldest as it can be the easiest. A fresco is a mural painting that is painted directly onto a wall and is generally applied directed to freshly laid plaster. This basically means that the painting becomes an actual part of the wall rather than being painted onto it in the traditional sense. However, fresco-secco is another form that refers to painting onto already dry plaster. Both of these forms have been used since antiquity, but some of the most famous of them all were painted during the Renaissance.
  • Mosaics: This form of mural art entails the use of stones, glass, or ceramic that are then affixed to a surface. These pieces are generally made up of a variety of colors to produce a certain effect that, from a distance, leads it to appear to be a painting. These pieces can also make use of regular shapes or irregular ones, and this form has become synonymous with the Byzantine and Islamic architectural traditions as well as being commonly employed in hobby crafts.

Banksy Mural Wall PaintingGraffiti mural of a young girl and a rat by Banksy on a 19th-century building in Treme, New Orleans; Mark Gstohl, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Graffiti: This form of mural art is actually a lot older than some may realize. We tend to think of graffiti as a form of contemporary vandalism, but instances of graffiti can be found in ancient places, such as the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul which contains an ancient Viking rune that was carved into the walls by an unknown guard. Graffiti is generally created without the consent of the building’s owner and is within public view. Graffiti can also vary wildly, such as being simple words applied to a wall or whole artworks. When the focus is more on artworks, graffiti is sometimes referred to as street art.
  • Marouflage: This form of mural art is probably the least well-known of them all. This technique involves the use of applying canvases directly onto a wall. This means that the painted canvas is not hung but is rather fastened to the wall with adhesives ranging from glue to cement. One of the reasons for this form is because it is notoriously difficult to preserve frescoes. A painting can easily be moved to a gallery, but a fresco being moved to a museum requires the whole wall to be pulled down very carefully to ensure that the fresco does not break into pieces. So, the marouflage form allows an easier means of removing and preserving mural paintings.

Famous Mural ExamplesPart of the Berlin Wall in Germany in 2005. This part of the wall is located at East Side Gallery Graffiti; Victorgrigas at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

These are the four main types of murals, and each of them has a long history in the world of art. So, let’s have a look at that history before we move on to some of the most famous mural examples that have ever been committed to surfaces around the world.


A Brief History of Mural Art

Murals date back as far as art has been recorded. The oldest cave paintings date back tens of thousands of years, and cave paintings are still murals. The walls may be natural rather than constructed by humans, but they were still used as walls. Eventually, we started to actually make our own walls though, and some of the most ancient structures included murals on their surfaces. However, mural painting on walls became more common during the Medieval period. The use of both dry and wet fresco painting increased during this period, and especially during the Renaissance.

The Renaissance led to advancements in practically every artistic medium, and mural wall painting was no exception.

In the modern era, murals have become popular around the world. However, the number of mural painting techniques has exploded, and there are far more options than ever before. Many are designed using the more traditional fresco methods, but others use oil-based paint or techniques such as trompe-l’œil to create more illusionary forms. Today, murals are used for a variety of purposes too. They are often used for the beautification of spaces, but they also have a history of being used for protests or to express political opinions.

History of Mural Painting on WallMichelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City, which took him approximately four years to complete (1508 – 1512); Jean-Christophe BENOIST, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

They have long been used as memorial pieces for important figures or events from the history of a town or country, and they have even been used as educational tools.


Some Famous Mural Examples

Let us give an example of each of the main types of murals that exist out there. Many have been created over the centuries, and we will look at a few that are very old and some that are far newer. Let’s have a look at them:

  • The Madaba Map (6th century): This is one of the most famous mosaics ever designed, and we do not actually know who designed it. It is Byzantine in origin, and it is a map that depicts the Holy Land. It is one of the oldest maps of Jerusalem to have survived into the present day.
  • The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo (1508 – 1512): This immensely famous fresco was painted on part of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It depicts Adam from the Book of Genesis and God. Their hands are outstretched toward one another, and it has become one of the most reproduced paintings ever designed, and, as such, is possibly the most famous example of mural painting.
  • The History of Mexico by Diego Rivera (1929 – 1935): This is a marouflage artwork located in the National Palace of Mexico City. This marouflage mural depicts the history of Mexico. It shows their battles against the Spanish, French, and various dictators. It has become one of the most famous Mexican artworks and a stunning example of mural painting.
  • The Girl with Balloon by Banksy (2002): This is likely the most famous graffiti artwork by the unknown artist, and it depicts a young girl who is reaching out for a red, heart-shaped balloon as it floats away. They are found in various locations around London.

Iconic MuralThe Creation of Adam by Michaelangelo; Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This has been a brief collection of some of the most famous mural examples. There are many more out there, but we should also have a look at some of the mural artists who labored to produce the stunning examples we have just discussed.


Some Famous Mural Artists

Let’s have a look at some of the most famous muralists to have ever lived. We are only going to look at one for each of the main types of mural artworks. So, let’s have a look at these few figures from the history of murals:

  • Michelangelo (1475 – 1564): This Italian figure is considered to be one of the masters of Renaissance Italy. He had a hand in far more than only murals, but he did paint the Creation of Adam, which may be the most famous of them all.
  • Antoni Gaudí (1852 – 1926): This famous artist and architect made use of mosaic designs in many of his buildings, and he would go on to have a profound effect on the Art Nouveau movement because of his many elaborate designs.
  • Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957): This Mexican artist led a movement in mural artworks that spread throughout the country and the world. His works have become some of the most important of the 20th
  • Banksy (Unknown): This graffiti artist is definitely the best-known of all street artists. His real identity has never been confirmed, but his political and social commentary-oriented artworks have become world-famous.

Mural Painting on WallWe the Youth (1987) mural by Keith Haring, located at 22nd and Ellsworth Streets in Philadelphia, United States. It was completed in collaboration with CityKids Foundation, a New York-based youth organization; Keith Haring, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This has been a brief collection of some of the most famous mural artists to have ever lived. Antoni Gaudí served as a replacement for the unknown Byzantine mosaic artists who created such stunning works, but their artistry also deserves to be remembered and celebrated.


The Worst Moment in Mural History

There was a rather unremarkable fresco located in a church in a small Spanish town near Zaragoza. This fresco was called Ecce Homo and it depicted Jesus Christ. It was painted by Elias Garcia Martinez. The fresco, as is common with many old frescoes, was rapidly decaying. This meant that it needed to be restored. Now, what happened next is something that is disputed, because a senior citizen from the town, Cecilia Jimenez, claimed that she had permission to do what she did, but other sources claim that she took it upon herself. This well-intentioned parishioner entered the church and attempted to restore this image of Christ herself.

The delicate and intricate image was soon replaced by an image made of large brushstrokes and a blob-like head.

The ”rejuvenated” fresco was soon dubbed “Monkey Christ” because of its new design. The woman responsible was rather angry at those who criticized her for doing what she did, and there were many in the art community who grimaced at the destruction of an old fresco. However, perhaps this botched restoration is not actually the worst day in mural history, because the small town has since seen an upsurge in tourism. After all, people want to see Monkey Christ. So, perhaps this is actually a happy story.

Mural PaintingPulp Fiction by Banksy; Bruce Krasting, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

So, what about another contender for the worst day in mural history? This one does not have a happy end to it. One of Banksy’s most famous tags is an image of Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta from Pulp Fiction, but instead of holding guns, they’re holding bananas. The image has become iconic, and there are several instances of it. One of those instances was in the Old Street Station in London. This particular tag was added in 2002, but on a regular morning five years later, some people noticed that it was gone. It turned out that it had accidentally been painted over by workers who did not realize the value of the artwork. A representative went on to say that the workers are “professional cleaners, not professional art critics”. However, the famous piece of graffiti art is now gone forever.


Murals are everywhere and this article has shown off some of them. We have looked at frescoes, mosaics, graffiti, and marouflage murals from around the world. We have also discussed their history and meaning, as well as examined some of the worst disasters in the history of mural art. Hopefully, this means that you now have a well-rounded understanding of murals. Perhaps look out for a few murals in your own town!




Frequently Asked Questions


What Is a Mural?

A mural is any artwork that is applied directly to a wall. This could mean that it is painted on a wall or affixed to it. There are various types of mural artworks, but the most famous generally entails a mural painting on a wall. Murals have been around since the origins of human art, as cave paintings are a form of mural painting.


What Are the Different Types of Murals?

There are many types of murals, but the main types include frescoes, mosaics, graffiti, and marouflage. Each of these types have their own specific distinctions, but they are all unified in the fact that they are artworks that are directly applied to a permanent surface of some kind.


What Are Some of the Most Famous Mural Examples?

Some of the most famous murals include the Creation of Adam fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, mosaics like the Madaba Map and the walls of the Hagia Sophia, the Girl with Balloon graffiti murals by Banksy, and the History of Mexico marouflage by Diego Rivera. However, there are many other murals around the world.


Who Are Some of the Most Famous Mural Artists?

Some of the most famous figures to have engaged in mural artworks include Michelangelo, the Byzantine artists who covered churches in mosaics, the graffiti artworks of the still-unknown Banksy, and Diego Rivera’s marouflage work. However, murals are one of the oldest forms of art, and as such, there have been countless figures over the millennia who have made use of murals.


What Are the Uses of Murals?

Murals have been used for many different purposes over the years. They are often used to beautify the locations on which they are painted, they can be used to express some level of political commentary, they can be used as memorials, or they can even exist to help teach. Murals have been around since the beginnings of human art, and as such, they have served a myriad of purposes over the years.

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