gesso

[jes-oh]
noun, plural gessoes.
1.
gypsum or plaster of Paris prepared with glue for use as a surface for painting.
2.
any plasterlike preparation to prepare a surface for painting, gilding, etc.
3.
a prepared surface of plaster or plasterlike material for painting, gilding, etc.

Origin:
1590–1600; < Italian < Latin gypsum gypsum

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World English Dictionary
gesso (ˈdʒɛsəʊ)
 
n
1.  a white ground of plaster and size, used esp in the Middle Ages and Renaissance to prepare panels or canvas for painting or gilding
2.  any white substance, esp plaster of Paris, that forms a ground when mixed with water
 
[C16: from Italian: chalk, gypsum]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Encyclopedia Britannica
Encyclopedia

gesso

(Italian: "gypsum," or "chalk"), fluid, white coating composed of plaster of paris, chalk, gypsum, or other whiting mixed with glue, applied to smooth surfaces such as wood panels, plaster, stone, or canvas to provide the ground for tempera and oil painting or for gilding and painting carved furniture and picture frames. In Medieval and Renaissance tempera painting, the surface was covered first with a layer of gesso grosso (rough gesso) made with coarse, unslaked plaster, then with a series of layers of gesso sottile (finishing gesso) made with fine plaster slaked in water, which produced an opaque, white, reflective surface

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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Example sentences
His monochromatic work is executed with graphite sticks and gesso washes,
  merging drawing with painting.
The nail is first hammered into the surface, then countersunk, and the
  resulting hole filled with gesso putty or additional compo.
Instead, the artists were taught to paint with tempera on wooden panels that
  were first treated with gesso.
The surface of the painted gesso plaster was textured by designs impressed with
  punching tools.
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