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Painting Reconstruction Historical Materials/Techniques

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Oil PaintOil PaintThe History of Oil PaintPreparation of Oil Paint The Properties of Oil PaintRelated Links and ResourcesReferences <p>The story of the history of oil paint is complex and contemporary research continues to uncover new information.  In Giorgio Vasari’s influential book, <em>Lives of the Artists,</em> Jan van Eyck is credited with inventing oil paint around 1420. It is now commonly known that oil paint had been used by painters many hundreds of years earlier. Certainly artists like Jan van Eyck and Leonardo da Vinci were able to exploit the medium with skill and mastery, leaving us with superb paintings such as the Ghent altarpiece and the Mona Lisa</p><p>The oldest known oil paintings are murals located within the Bamiyan caves in Afghanistan. Dated around 800 AD, analysis of these murals has confirmed that oil paint was used by artists well before Vasari's assertion of its invention in the early fifteenth century. One of the earliest references to the use of drying oils is found in the writings of a 5th-century writer on medicine named Aetis Amidenus.  Aetis records a technique for varnishing egg tempera paintings with an oil coating.  The 12th-century German Theophilus recorded the use of oil in his manuscript, <em>Schoedula Diversarum Artium</em>, and explicitly warned against the use of an olive oil, a non-drying oil, as a binder.  Cennino Cennini also documented the practice of applying thin layers of drying oil over tempera paint in the 14th century. </p><p>While he is no longer credited with the initial invention of oil paint, Jan van Eyck and his contemporaries demonstrated the technical potential of the oil medium.  They developed a sophisticated method of paint application, often layering increasingly transparent paint over more opaque underlayers to create rich, jewel-like colors impossible in egg tempera. The method also allowed for more realistic coloristic effects than were possible previously as seen when comparing the Netherlandish painters with their contemporaries in Italy. Improved methods of refining drying oils and the dissemination of the techniques finally made oil paint more practical, and its use spread throughout Europe.</p><p>The evolution of oil paint and paint additives continued long after the Renaissance. The creation and use of metallic driers allowed artists to have more control over the length of time needed before they could apply subsequent layers.  Early commercially available oil paint was sold in pigs bladders which allowed for transportation but was impractical. A major breakthrough came in the mid 19th-century with the development of commercially produced oil paint stored and sold in metal paint tubes.  The industrialization of processes originally carried out by workshop apprentices led to a standardization of production. The ready availability of materials also led to the loss of practical technical information within the artist's studio. Commercialization of paint production and the availability of a wider range of brightly hued pigments allowed artists to experiment with brilliant colors unavailable to earlier generations. Unfortunately artists were also less equipped to discern stable from unstable paints.</p><p>In its most simple form, oil paint composed of two ingredients; a drying oil and pigment. The ratio of drying oil to pigment depends on a number of factors including the chemical and physical composition of the pigment, the method of dispersing the pigment into the oil, the type of drying oil being used, and the desired consistency of the paint. A proper ratio is essential as an underbound paint(not enough oil) will likely, flake or powder away and if over-bound (too much oil) the paint will likely become dark and yellow with age. A third common component was the addition of a diluent like gun spirits of turpentine.  These was commonly used to thin paint, facilitate application, or to allow for thinner paint layers when these qualities were desired.</p><p>There were three types of drying oils commonly used by the Old Masters; linseed (or flax) oil, walnut oil, and poppyseed oil.  Linseed dries the fastest and had the highest film strength but also yellows the most, at least initially, with age.  Poppyseed dries the slowest but also initially yellowed the least.  Walnut oil falls in the middle of these properties.</p><p>Early methods of oil paint preparation were quite simple. The chosen pigments was placed on a hard stone slab and the required drying oil was added. This was initially mixed to form a paste with more or less oil or pigment being added as necessary. The paste was then mulled to completely disperse the pigment into the oil using a stone muller often made from granite or porphyry. The paint was then ready to apply or store.</p><p>Drying agents, or siccatives, could also be added to the paint (or diluent) to speed up drying.  Certain metallic salts  lead, manganese, and later cobalt were used to catalyze the oxidation of the drying oil and decrease drying times. Early siccatives were simply lead, manganese or other metals dissolved into a drying oil with heat. The flammability of drying oils made this a dangerous procedure. A common painting practice was to apply more flexible paint layers over less flexible ones. This was later called the "fat over lean principle".  Generally lower paint layers containing less drying oil ("lean") with each successive layer containing more and more drying oil ("fat").  This layering technique created a more stable, flexible paint layer that was more resistant to the movement of the canvas or panel. The ratio of oil to pigment in a paint could be modified by diluting the paint with a solvent like turpentine to make a paint leaner, or the addition of additional oil to subsequent paints, or the selection of paints inherently fatter than lower layers. There are no early references to the "fat over lean" principle but the good preservation of so many oil paintings suggests that it was commonly observed.</p><p>Oil paint eventually replaced tempera paint as the primary medium in Western painting because of its handling properties.The slow drying rate of the oil medium gave artists more time to manipulate and blend the paint. This property gave painters such as Leonardo da Vinci ample time to create flawlessly executed, realistic compositions.  Oil paint colors can also be far deeper and saturated than those in tempera. Tempera does not allow the same warmth of color that is easily achieved in oil paint. These properties increased the visual depth and jewel-like quality of paintings. Finally, the new medium increased the range of paint handling techniques available to artists.  Oil painting techniques permitted greater freedom for experimentation in contrast to the precise, hatching technique required for egg tempera.  </p><p>Oil paint can be applied thick or thin, smooth or rough, transparent or opaque and many stages in between. This versatility was exploited by artists: from the brilliant transparencies of Flemish paintings, to the diaphanous applications used by Leonardo, and to the thick and varied surfaces created by Rembrandt. The slow drying oil medium allowed for complex indirect painting techniques; multiple layers of paint could be combined to create a final visual effect incorporating glazes, scumbles, wet-in-wet, and alla prima paint applications.  In the alla prima technique, the artist executes the work in one layer of opaque paint rather than using multiple translucent layers, and all colors and values are created while the paint is wet.  This technique is also called "direct painting" because all effects are achieved at the surface of the paint. Direct techniques are typified by visibly spontaneous brushwork and often a heavy impasto (a thick application of paint that readily reveals brushstrokes or palette knife marks). However, there was no traceable or implacable evolution from indirect to wet-into-wet paint application; artists of later generations may well have chosen complicated indirect methods or combined disparate methods on the same painting.</p><p><a href="http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/channel/making-colour/">"Making Green: Tempera versus Oil" </a> </p><p><a href="http://www.artcons.udel.edu/public-outreach/historic-art-materials/drying-oils">Drying Oils</a></p><p><a href="http://kremerpigments.com/blog/making-oil-colors">Making Oil Paints: Kremer Pigments</a></p><p><a href="http://closertovaneyck.kikirpa.be/">Closer to Van Eyck - KIKIRPA</a></p><p>Barnes, Gina, and Takayasu Higuchi. "Bamiyan: Buddhist cave temples in Afghanistan." <em>World Archaeology</em> 27 (1995): 283-300.</p><p>Cennini, Cennino, and Daniel V. Thompson. <em>The Craftsman's Handbook "Il Libro dell' Arte"</em>. New York: Dover Publications, 1960.</p><p>Dunkerton, Jill, Susan Foister, Dillian Gordon, and Nicholas Penny. "Oil Painting in the Netherlands and Italy." In <em>Giotto to Dürer: Early Renaissance Painting in the National Gallery, </em>193-204. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991. </p><p>Kirsh, Andrea, and Rustin S. Levenson. "The Paint Layer." In <em>Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies</em>. ?? New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. </p><p>Hermens, Erma, and Joyce Townsend. "Binding Media." In <em>The Conservation of Easel Paintings</em>. Abingdon, Oxon England: Routledge, 2012, </p><p>Thompson, Daniel V. <em>The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting.</em> New York: Dover, 1956.​</p>A summary of oil painting in western easel painting. Topics include the history of oil painting, various preparation methods, and the properties associated with the medium.

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