Mural Painting (Latin murus,”wall”), is decoration of walls or ceilings for aesthetic or didactic purposes, executed in any of several techniques. Most often used to decorate public buildings, mural paintings tend to be of large scale and to portray religious, historic, or patriotic themes significant to the public. Closely allied to architectural and decorative schemes, mural art often emphasizes or enhances interior design, or can transform it, giving the illusion of different spatial dimensions.
Mural painting techniques include encaustic painting, fresco, oil painting, and tempera painting; the term fresco is in fact often used interchangeably with the terms mural or mural painting. Ceramics and, more recently, liquid silicates, acrylics, and fired porcelain enamel are other media often employed in mural art. Some modern murals have also been composed of photographs. Mosaics, often used to adorn walls and ceilings, are considered a separate genre, however.
A very ancient art form, mural painting is found on the walls of prehistoric caves, most notably those in Altamira, Spain, and the Lascaux caves in southern France (see Paleolithic Art). In the Far East, mural painting began in China about 1700 bc and from there spread to Korea and Japan. A remarkable series of paintings on Buddhist themes, done in tempera (between the 2nd century bc and the 7th century ad), cover the walls of caves in Ajanta, India.
Wall painting was one of the highly developed arts of ancient Egypt, the walls and ceilings of tomb chambers were decorated in tempera with figures and motifs symbolizing life in the afterworld. The palace of Knossos (Knosós) in ancient Crete (Kríti) was enhanced with brightly colored fresco paintings of flowers, animals, and human figures, and public edifices as well as private dwellings throughout ancient Greece were customarily decorated in tempera and encaustic; the tradition was carried on into later Hellenistic and Roman times. Particularly noteworthy are the illusionistic paintings of landscapes, still life, and the human figure found on the walls of buildings at Pompeii and Herculaneum.