On Architecture

Vitruvius Pollio

Vitruvius Pollio, creator; Morgan, M. H. (Morris Hicky), 1859-1910, translator

1. LEAVING the subject of floors, we must next treat of stucco work. This will be all right if the best lime, taken in lumps, is slaked a good while before it is to be used, so that if any lump has not been burned long enough in the kiln, it will be forced to throw off its heat during the long course of slaking in the water, and will thus be thoroughly burned to the same consistency. When it is taken not thoroughly slaked but fresh, it has little crude bits concealed in it, and so, when applied, it blisters. When such bits complete their slaking after they are on the building, they break up and spoil the smooth polish of the stucco.


2. But when the proper attention has been paid to the slaking, and greater pains have thus been employed in the preparation for the work, take a hoe, and apply it to the slaked lime in the mortar bed just as you hew wood. If it sticks to the hoe in bits, the lime is not yet tempered; and when the iron is drawn out dry and clean, it will show that the lime is weak and thirsty; but when the lime is rich and properly slaked, it will stick to the tool like glue, proving that it is completely tempered. Then get the scaffolding ready, and proceed to construct the vaultings in the rooms, unless they are to be decorated with flat coffered ceilings.

1. WHEN vaulting is required, the procedure should be as follows. Set up horizontal furring strips at intervals of not more than two feet apart, using preferably cypress, as fir is soon spoiled by decay and by age. Arrange these strips so as to form a curve, and make them fast to the joists of the floor above or to the roof, if it is there, by nailing them with many iron nails to ties fixed at intervals. These ties should be made of a kind of wood that neither decay nor time nor dampness can spoil, such as box, juniper, olive, oak, cypress, or any other similar wood except common oak; for this warps, and causes cracks in work in which it is used.

2. Having arranged the furring strips, take cord made of Spanish broom, and tie Greek reeds, previously pounded flat, to them in the required contour. Immediately above the vaulting spread some mortar made of lime and sand, to check any drops that may fall from the joists or from the roof. If a supply of Greek reed is not to be had, gather slender marsh reeds, and make them up with silk cord into bundles all of the same thickness and adjusted to the proper length, provided that the bundles are not more than two feet long between any two knots. Then tie them with cord

to the beams, as above described, and drive wooden pegs into them. Make all the other preparations as above described.

3. Having thus set the vaultings in their places and interwoven them, apply the rendering coat to their lower surface; then lay on the sand mortar, and afterwards polish it off with the powdered marble. After the vaultings have been polished, set the impost mouldings directly beneath them. These obviously ought to be made extremely slender and delicate, for when they are large, their weight carries them down, and they cannot support themselves. Gypsum should by no means be used in their composition, but powdered marble should be laid on uniformly, lest gypsum, by setting too quickly should keep the work from drying uniformly. We must also beware of the ancients' scheme for vaultings; for in their mouldings the soffits overhang very heavily, and are dangerous.

4. Some mouldings are flat, others in relief. In rooms where there has to be a fire or a good many lights, they should be flat, so that they can be wiped off more easily. In summer apartments and in exedrae where there is no smoke nor soot to hurt them, they should be made in relief. It is always the case that stucco, in the pride of its dazzling white, gathers smoke not only from its own house but also from others.

5. Having finished the mouldings, apply a very rough rendering coat to the walls, and afterwards, when the rendering coat gets pretty dry, spread upon it the layers of sand mortar, exactly adjusted in length to rule and line, in height to the plummet, and at the angles to the square. The stucco will thus present a faultless appearance for paintings. When it gets pretty dry, spread on a second coat and then a third. The better the foundation of sand mortar that is laid on, the stronger and more durable in its solidity will be the stucco.