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  #1  
Old 02-08-11, 08:40 PM
Alessandra Kelley Alessandra Kelley is offline
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Default Just posted my brief, potted history of egg tempera on my blog

"Ars Ex Ovo: a quick, subjective history of egg tempera" on my blog, "Confessions of a Postmodern Pre-Raphaelite" at http://alessandrakelley.com/artblog/?p=299

Some may recognize it as a reworked version of an essay I already had on my site. But now it has pictures and links (oooh...).
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Old 03-08-11, 12:26 AM
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vermillion9 vermillion9 is offline
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Nice! Very clear and concise. Next time some alleged "art expert" poo-poos ET, I'll know where to direct them...

Burgess Shale Cake!? Classic!!! You should really post that on "Must Have Cute".
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Old 03-08-11, 02:13 PM
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PhilS PhilS is offline
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Thanks Alessandra, for the clear, concise, interesting history of ET. I may print it out and use it as a reference for my next workshop if that would be OK with you.
When I get a chance, I'll check out the rest of your website. (I'm writing this from work where I have access to high-speed internet, but I have to be a little sneaky...)
Phil
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Old 03-08-11, 05:45 PM
Silver Lining Silver Lining is offline
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That is very nice, Alessandra. Thanks for posting it. Nice looking website, too.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Alessandra Kelley View Post
"Ars Ex Ovo: a quick, subjective history of egg tempera" on my blog, "Confessions of a Postmodern Pre-Raphaelite" at http://alessandrakelley.com/artblog/?p=299

Some may recognize it as a reworked version of an essay I already had on my site. But now it has pictures and links (oooh...).
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Old 03-08-11, 10:31 PM
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Bron Bron is offline
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Nice Alessandra! A small quibble; I'm not sure Jamie Wyeth did much in ET, though Peter Hurd, Andrew's brother in law, painted in ET, and may have been the one who introduced Andrew to it.
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Old 04-08-11, 06:47 PM
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Koo Schadler Koo Schadler is offline
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Hello Alessandra,

What a sweetly written and informative history, concise and complete at the same time. I say sweet because your love of tempera is evident in it. And the links are very handy, particularly for a computer neanderthal like myself - you make it easy. Nicely illustrated too. Thanks.

I was under the impression that Botticelli switched to egg oil emulsions (tempera grassa) midway through his career. I think this in part because of the look of some of his later work (less tempera-esque, more oil-like), and because some were painted on canvas. I don't think they could have survived as long and as well as they have on canvas unless there was some oil in his mix to increase the flexibility. My great big Botticelli book is at home and I'm at the library - I think that's where I read it? Not sure...I'll look it up when I get home.

I think the same is true for Michelangelo. I don't see how he could have gotten the look (painterly blending, depth of color, plasticity of the paint) in his rondo of the holy family without a fair percentage of oil in his paint. For both Botticelli and Michelangelo you see references to their paintings as oil, as egg and oil, as pure tempera - ay caramba, which is it?! It is very hard to find out about these things because there's been so little testing for precise mediums, what has been tested isn't always reported, most people aren't as interested in the distinction between pure tempera, tempera and oil emulsions, oil, etc.. Its not just a problem of the past - Pietro Annignoi (20th c. painter) is often called an egg tempera painter, when I believe he used mostly tempera grassa. Some similarities but in many ways very different mediums, particularly depending on how much oil you add.

But I don't know about Michelangelo and Botticelli for sure - I just feel strongly from what I've seen of their work and read of the changes in painting at that time. If anyone has anything more specific or scientific to add, I'd love to hear about it.

Thanks for sharing your history Alessandra.

Koo
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Old 29-08-11, 06:14 PM
Alessandra Kelley Alessandra Kelley is offline
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Thanks for your kind words, everyone. You were right, Bron. Jamie Wyeth has not used much tempera, and I have removed him from the essay. I apologize for the confusion.

Koo, I will try and find my sources. I believe Botticelli hung onto tempera to the end of his days, but I will try to make certain.

There has been some more recent testing of the media used in Renaissance paintings, and what I find interesting is that it seems to blow many of the Victorian and 20th century theories out of the water. Almost without exception, paintings made in Italy (before circa. 1500) are purely tempera and paintings made in the north are purely oil. There is no magical "mixed" style. There don't even seem to be tempera underpaintings with oil overpaintings (sorry -- although it is a perfectly viable method). It's purely binary, either or.

Of course, we await further testing. :)
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Old 12-09-11, 06:59 PM
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Koo Schadler Koo Schadler is offline
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Hello Alessandra,

This subject is very interesting to me as my paintings fall somewhere between egg tempera and oil. I love working in pure tempera but I push it to appear a bit like oil (relatively smooth, line-free blending and deeper tones). So the period in history where these two mediums meet and overlap compels me - its my kind of painting.

Its frustrating that there does not seem to be a lot of analysis and/or accessible documentation of precisely what mediums the artists of 1400-1500 were using. Some of the more useful writing I have found on this subject comes from the book "From Flanders to Florence" by Paula Nutttall published in 2004. Like you, she says many artists stayed with tempera throughout their careers. However she also gives specific examples of tempera under paintings glazed over with oil; works that are in part painted in tempera, in other parts painted in oil; and tempera grassa paintings ("fatty temperas", i.e. egg/oil) - including works (identified as egg/oil by the Uffizi and the National Gallery in London) by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and an early Michelangleo. The percentage of oil seems low but nonetheless present. Conversely, I've seen the National Gallery list Van Eyck's Arnolfini portrait as "oil, possibly with some egg tempera", and Nuttall also mentions that "a base layer in egg tempera had the advantage of drying quickly, a property that the Netherlandish painters themselves sometimes exploited".

So Nuttall (and the various books she references in her bibliography) seem certain there was some mixing of mediums going on. It seems logical to me as well, given the creative and experimental nature of humans in general and artists in particular (some more inclined to experiment, others less). Cennino Cennini in the late 14th c. said something along the lines that the purpose of art is to paint not this world, but other worlds. From 1400 onward this began to change; there was a great emerging interest in creating more (relatively) "realistic" images. A wide tonal range of lights and darks (to render 3D form more convincingly), smoother blending (to make convincing light to dark transitions), and opacity in the lights all create greater "realism" in painting. Egg tempera is capable of these things, but oil does them better and more readily. So it seems natural that among the many Italian Renaissance artists wishing for greater realism, some would experiment with the emerging oil medium that was so good at doing those things (as they would have seen in the Netherlandish oil paintings being brought to Italy at that time).

The switch from egg to oil seems evident in the works themselves too. In person some of the later paintings have a very different quality to their surface - a subtle feeling of a bit more fat and body; they don't have quite the thin, incorporeal, aetherial feeling of a tempera surface. And then there is a piece like Michelangelo's Doni tondo, in which the smooth blending and actual surface appear very oil-like (Nuttall does describe it as an oil painting).

Then there is the question I still ponder of how Botticelli's Birth of Venus, painted on canvas, has held up so well given the brittle nature of pure tempera as it ages. Could he have added a bit of oil to increase the paint's flexibility? I have no idea, just a wild guess that is most probably wrong....but I am curious how that painting has held up on canvas as well as it has.

So all of the above is why I am, so far, convinced there was some mixing of mediums, both north and south, in the Renaissance. But the subject is far from certain, and I'd love to hear more about what you've been reading that says otherwise. Do say more about what you've heard.

(By the way, the crazy thing about Nuttall's book is that, helpful as it is in discussing the little discussed topic of the egg to oil transition, she fails to mention in her captions for the paintings illustrated what medium each was made from! She says "panel" or "cloth" or "fresco" but not "egg tempera" or "oil" or "tempera grassa". It is only in the text that she says what mediums were used for which paintings, and not always very clearly. Argh...!)

Koo
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  #9  
Old 29-09-11, 08:03 PM
Alessandra Kelley Alessandra Kelley is offline
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According to the Uffizzi, which has analysed the Doni Tondo, it is tempera, with no oil included. (http://www.virtualuffizi.com/uffizi1...?Contatore=252 )

The theory that Renaissance paintings were tempera under oil was a powerful story of the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was repeated again and again with great sincerity by many art historians with no experience of painting and certainly no actual chemical analysis of the paintings in question. It was an article of faith, so much so that art forgers even followed the process. It is still constantly restated in art histories, despite apparently being based on Victorian conjecture.

However, in the last two decades I've run into various scattered museum studies and analyses of Renaissance paintings. When tested, the paintings are usually found to be pure tempera (Greek and pre-1500 Italian paintings, including Michelangelo's Doni Tondo), or pure oil (northern paintings and Italian paintings after 1500).

I'm willing to bet the National Gallery said "possibly with some tempera" not because it has any material evidence, but because the art-historian myth of oil-over-tempera is so strong.

The techniques don't seem to be mixed -- which makes some sense. Maintaining two separate sets of pigments (in water for tempera, dry or in oil for oil) and two sorts of surfaces, brushes, media, etc. would be an infernal nuisance for a studio. However, this is only a story I've made up to explain it. I don't have evidence for it.

I'm sorry, but I would like to see Ms. Nuttall's evidence. I will see if I can dig up references for my hypothesis.
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  #10  
Old 30-09-11, 12:01 AM
Alessandra Kelley Alessandra Kelley is offline
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Found a source! It's "The Changing Image: Studies in Painting Conservation", a bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994. Back when I first read it was when I began to wonder about the accuracy of the old orthodoxy about the transition from tempera to oil painting.

It has a bit about the preparation for the Met's huge Petrus Christus exhibition. Christus was, of course, a major Netherlandish painter of the mid-15th century, and the two paintings of his in the bulletin are both oil on oak. Of the medieval and Renaissance paintings in this bulletin, four are non-Italian (Netherlands, Germany, and Spain) and are all oil on panel. One pre-1500 Italian painting is tempera on wood, and two post-1500 Italian paintings are oil on canvas.

The only painting in the bulletin identified as "tempera and oil" is a forgery, a genuine old painting that had its dull bits sanded off and replaced with pretty new stuff suited for the eyes of early 20th-century collectors. The author of the article on this one, Hubert von Sonneburg, says:

"The choices of materials and the methods employed are very characteristic of the early part of this [twentieth] century, when a renewed interest in the techniques of the early Netherlandish painters flourished. It was the firm -- though misinformed -- belief of a select group of practitioners that these masters used tempera instead of oil, ... [By 1953] advanced analytical methods at the Brussels Central Laboratory had established that the early Flemish masters used an oil-based medium."

In other words, they've known for almost sixty years that northern paintings -- Netherlandish ones, anyway, are oil and not tempera. And the Italian paintings are tempera and not oil.

But those tempera-under-oil theoreticians were convincing evangelists, and for some reason people -- including art historians who should know better -- are still repeating their stories.

Me, I'm waiting for the scientific analyses. But so far the more they test, the more it's tempera-Italy-pre-1500, oil everywhere else, and no mixing.

Maybe I'll do this up more formally and post it on my blog, hm?

Last edited by Alessandra Kelley; 30-09-11 at 12:03 AM.
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