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Painting Reconstruction Historical Materials/Techniques

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BalsamsBalsams<p><strong>Canada Balsam </strong>– This viscous material is obtained from the oleo-resinous exudates from the balsam fir found in North America.  It has been used as an additive for paints and varnishes in addition to preparing specimens on microscope slides.</p><p><strong>Copaiba Balsam</strong> – Collected from a tropical tree also known as the “kerosene tree,” this particular balsam has been found as an additive in a number of paintings, including works by Vincent van Gogh.  Copaiba, like other balsams, was used as an additive to paints and varnishes in order to extend drying time and to impart texture.  In addition, Copaiba has also been used as a historic restoration material to regenerate old varnishes, including Jan Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”  Research has shown that such processes can cause irreversible harm to the surface of artworks.</p><p><strong>Larch Balsam (True Venetian Turpentine)</strong> – Larch turpentine, from the European Larch tree, has often been used as a varnish additive due to its transparency and low viscosity.</p><p><strong>White Fir (Strasbourg Turpentine) </strong>– Referenced in ancient manuscripts for its clarity and pleasing scent, Strasbourg turpentine is highly regarded compared with other balsams.  Soluble in a variety of solvents and perhaps the most transparent of the balsams, it has been used as a varnish and paint additive for centuries. </p><p><strong>PeruBalsam/ToluBalsam</strong> – PeruBalsam and ToluBalsam are harvested from the Myroxylon balsamum tree in Central America and are mostly known for their fragrant properties.  Both have been used to plasticize varnishes dissolved in alcohol and may have been used by the Incas as an ingredient for embalming.​</p>A summary of various balsams used in art materials and techniques including Canada balsam, Copaiba balsam, Perubalsam (Tolubalsam), Larch balsam (True Venetian Turpentine), and White Fir balsam (Strasbourg Turpentine).

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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489