Tempera

Tempera

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Tempera, also known as egg tempera, is a permanent fast-drying painting medium consisting of colored pigment
Pigment
A pigment is a material that changes the color of reflected or transmitted light as the result of wavelength-selective absorption. This physical process differs from fluorescence, phosphorescence, and other forms of luminescence, in which a material emits light.Many materials selectively absorb...

 mixed with a water-soluble binder
Binder (material)
-See also:*Adhesive or Glue*Cement*Paint...

 medium (usually a glutinous material such as egg yolk or some other size
Sizing
Sizing or size is any one of numerous specific substances that is applied to or incorporated in other material, especially papers and textiles, to act as a protecting filler or glaze....

). Tempera also refers to the paintings done in this medium. Tempera paintings are very long lasting, and examples from the 1st centuries AD still exist. Egg tempera was a primary method of painting until after 1500 when it was superseded by the invention of oil painting
Oil painting
Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments that are bound with a medium of drying oil—especially in early modern Europe, linseed oil. Often an oil such as linseed was boiled with a resin such as pine resin or even frankincense; these were called 'varnishes' and were prized for their body...

. A paint which is commonly called tempera (although it is not) consisting of pigment and glue size
Sizing
Sizing or size is any one of numerous specific substances that is applied to or incorporated in other material, especially papers and textiles, to act as a protecting filler or glaze....

 is commonly used and referred to by some manufacturers in America as poster paint
Poster paint
Poster paint is a tempera paint that usually uses a type of gum-water or glue size as its binder. It either comes in large bottles or jars or in a powdered form. It is normally a "cheap" paint used in theatrical backdrops or in grade school art classes....

.

History



Tempera painting has been found on early Egyptian
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

s sarcophagi decorations. Many of the Fayum mummy portraits use tempera, sometimes in combination with encaustic
Encaustic
Encaustic may refer to:*Encaustic painting*Encaustic tile...

.

Related technique has been used also in ancient and early medieval paintings found in several caves and rock-cut temples of India. High quality art with the help of tempera was created in Bagh Caves
Bagh Caves
The Bagh Caves are a group of nine rock-cut monuments, situated among the southern slopes of the Vindhyas in Kukshi tehsil of Dhar district in Madhya Pradesh state in central India. These monuments are located at a distance of 97 km from Dhar town. These are renowned for mural paintings by...

 between late 4th - 10th century AD and in 7th century AD in Ravan Chhaya rock shelter, Orissa.

The art technique was known from the classical world, where it appears to have taken over from encaustic painting
Encaustic painting
Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves using heated beeswax to which colored pigments are added. The liquid/paste is then applied to a surface—usually prepared wood, though canvas and other materials are often used...

and was the main medium used for panel painting
Panel painting
A panel painting is a painting made on a flat panel made of wood, either a single piece, or a number of pieces joined together. Until canvas became the more popular support medium in the 16th century, it was the normal form of support for a painting not on a wall or vellum, which was used for...

 and illuminated manuscript
Illuminated manuscript
An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration, such as decorated initials, borders and miniature illustrations...

s in the Byzantine
Byzantine
Byzantine usually refers to the Roman Empire during the Middle Ages.Byzantine may also refer to:* A citizen of the Byzantine Empire, or native Greek during the Middle Ages...

 world and Medieval
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 and Early renaissance Europe. Tempera painting was the primary panel painting medium for nearly every painter in the European Medieval
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 and Early renaissance period up to 1500. For example, every surviving panel painting by Michelangelo
Michelangelo
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni , commonly known as Michelangelo, was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and engineer who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art...

 is egg tempera.

Oil paint
Oil painting
Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments that are bound with a medium of drying oil—especially in early modern Europe, linseed oil. Often an oil such as linseed was boiled with a resin such as pine resin or even frankincense; these were called 'varnishes' and were prized for their body...

, which may have originated in Afghanistan
Afghanistan
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

 between the 5th and 9th centuries and migrated westward in the Middle Ages eventually superseded tempera. Oil replaced tempera as the principal medium used for creating artworks during the 15th century in Early Netherlandish painting
Early Netherlandish painting
Early Netherlandish painting refers to the work of artists active in the Low Countries during the 15th- and early 16th-century Northern renaissance, especially in the flourishing Burgundian cities of Bruges and Ghent...

 in northern Europe. Around 1500, oil paint replaced tempera in Italy. In the 19th and 20th centuries, there were intermittent revivals of tempera technique in Western art, among the Pre-Raphaelites, Social Realists
Social realism
Social Realism, also known as Socio-Realism, is an artistic movement, expressed in the visual and other realist arts, which depicts social and racial injustice, economic hardship, through unvarnished pictures of life's struggles; often depicting working class activities as heroic...

, and others. Tempera painting continues to be used in Greece and Russia where it is the required medium for Orthodox
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 icons.

Technique


Tempera is traditionally created by hand-grinding dry powdered pigment
Pigment
A pigment is a material that changes the color of reflected or transmitted light as the result of wavelength-selective absorption. This physical process differs from fluorescence, phosphorescence, and other forms of luminescence, in which a material emits light.Many materials selectively absorb...

s into a binding agent
Paint
Paint is any liquid, liquefiable, or mastic composition which after application to a substrate in a thin layer is converted to an opaque solid film. One may also consider the digital mimicry thereof...

 or medium, such as egg, glue, honey, water, milk (in the form of casein
Casein
Casein is the name for a family of related phosphoprotein proteins . These proteins are commonly found in mammalian milk, making up 80% of the proteins in cow milk and between 60% and 65% of the proteins in human milk....

) and a variety of plant gums.

Tempera painting starts with placing a small amount of the pigment paste onto a palette, dish or bowl and adding about an equal volume of the binder and mixing. Some pigments require slightly more binder, some require less. Distilled water
Distilled water
Distilled water is water that has many of its impurities removed through distillation. Distillation involves boiling the water and then condensing the steam into a clean container.-History:...

 is added.

Egg tempera


The most common form of classical tempera painting is "egg tempera". For this form most often only the contents of the egg yolk
Egg yolk
An egg yolk is a part of an egg which feeds the developing embryo. The egg yolk is suspended in the egg white by one or two spiral bands of tissue called the chalazae...

 is used. The white of the egg and the membrane of the yolk are discarded (the membrane of the yolk is dangled over a receptacle and punctured to drain off the liquid inside).

The paint mixture has to be constantly adjusted to maintain a balance between a "greasy" and "watery" consistency by adjusting the amount of water and yolk. As tempera dries, the artist will add more water to preserve the consistency and to balance the thickening of the yolk on contact with air. Once prepared, the paint cannot be stored. Egg tempera is water resistant, but not water proof.

Different preparations use the egg white or the whole egg for different effect. Other additives such as oil and wax emulsions can modify the medium.

Tempera grassa


Adding oil in no more than a 1:1 ratio with the egg yolk by volume produces a water soluble medium with many of the color effects of oil paint, although it cannot be painted thickly.

Pigments


Some of the pigments used by medieval painters, such as Vermilion
Vermilion
Vermilion is an opaque orangish red pigment, similar to scarlet. As a naturally occurring mineral pigment, it is known as cinnabar, and was in use around the world before the Common Era began. Most naturally produced vermilion comes from cinnabar mined in China, and vermilion is nowadays commonly...

 (made from cinnabar
Cinnabar
Cinnabar or cinnabarite , is the common ore of mercury.-Word origin:The name comes from κινναβαρι , a Greek word most likely applied by Theophrastus to several distinct substances...

, a mercury ore), are highly toxic. Most artists today use modern synthetic pigments, which are less toxic but have similar color
Color
Color or colour is the visual perceptual property corresponding in humans to the categories called red, green, blue and others. Color derives from the spectrum of light interacting in the eye with the spectral sensitivities of the light receptors...

 properties to the older pigments. Even so, many (if not most) modern pigments are still dangerous unless certain precautions are taken; these include keeping pigments wet in storage to avoid breathing their dust.

Application


Tempera paint dries rapidly. It is normally applied in thin, semi-opaque or transparent layers. Tempera painting allows for great precision when used with traditional techniques that require the application of numerous small brush strokes applied in a cross-hatching technique. When dry, it produces a smooth matte
Matte
Matte may refer to:In film:* Matte , filmmaking and video production technology* Matte painting, a process of creating sets used in film and video* Matte box, a camera accessory for controlling lens glare...

 finish. Because it cannot be applied in thick layers as oil paints can, tempera paintings rarely have the deep color saturation
Saturation (color theory)
In colorimetry and color theory, colorfulness, chroma, and saturation are related but distinct concepts referring to the perceived intensity of a specific color. Colorfulness is the degree of difference between a color and gray. Chroma is the colorfulness relative to the brightness of another color...

 that oil paintings can achieve. In this respect the colors of an unvarnished tempera painting resemble a pastel
Pastel
Pastel is an art medium in the form of a stick, consisting of pure powdered pigment and a binder. The pigments used in pastels are the same as those used to produce all colored art media, including oil paints; the binder is of a neutral hue and low saturation....

, although the color deepens if a varnish
Varnish
Varnish is a transparent, hard, protective finish or film primarily used in wood finishing but also for other materials. Varnish is traditionally a combination of a drying oil, a resin, and a thinner or solvent. Varnish finishes are usually glossy but may be designed to produce satin or semi-gloss...

 is applied. On the other hand, tempera colors do not change over time, whereas oil paints darken, yellow, and become transparent with age.

Ground



Tempera adheres best to an absorbent ground that has a lower "oil" content than the tempera binder used (the traditional rule of thumb is "fat over lean", and never the other way around). The ground traditionally used is inflexible Italian gesso
Gesso
Gesso is a white paint mixture consisting of a binder mixed with chalk, gypsum, pigment, or any combination of these...

, and the substrate is usually rigid as well. Historically wood panels were used as the substrate, and more recently un-tempered masonite
Masonite
Masonite is a type of hardboard invented by William H. Mason.-History:Masonite was invented in 1924 in Laurel, Mississippi, by William H. Mason. Mass production started in 1929. In the 1930s and 1940s Masonite was used for many applications including doors, roofing, walls, desktops, and canoes...

 and modern composite boards have been employed. Heavy paper is also used.

Tempera artists


Although tempera has been out of favor since the Late Renaissance and Baroque
Baroque
The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...

 eras, it has been periodically rediscovered by such later artists such as William Blake
William Blake
William Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age...

, the Nazarenes
Nazarene movement
The name Nazarene was adopted by a group of early 19th century German Romantic painters who aimed to revive honesty and spirituality in Christian art...

, the Pre-Raphaelites
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti...

, and Joseph Southall
Joseph Southall
Joseph Edward Southall RWS NEAC RBSA was an English painter associated with the Arts and Crafts movement.A leading figure in the nineteenth century revival of painting in tempera, Southall was the leader of the Birmingham Group of Artist-Craftsmen—one of the last outposts of Romanticism in...

. The 20th century saw a significant revival of tempera. European painters who worked with tempera include Giorgio de Chirico
Giorgio de Chirico
Giorgio de Chirico was a pre-Surrealist and then Surrealist Italian painter born in Volos, Greece, to a Genovese mother and a Sicilian father. He founded the scuola metafisica art movement...

, Otto Dix
Otto Dix
Wilhelm Heinrich Otto Dix was a German painter and printmaker, noted for his ruthless and harshly realistic depictions of Weimar society and the brutality of war. Along with George Grosz, he is widely considered one of the most important artists of the Neue Sachlichkeit.-Early life and...

, Eliot Hodgkin
Eliot Hodgkin
Eliot Hodgkin was an English painter, born in Purley Lodge, Purley-on-Thames near Pangbourne, Berkshire.Although he began with oil painting, most of his finest works were in tempera, specializing in highly detailed still lifes....

, and Pyke Koch
Pyke Koch
Pyke Koch was a Dutch artist who painted in a magic realist style.He was born in Beek. He exhibited in the 25th Venice Biennale in 1950. His work was shown in a retrospective exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum, Arnhem in 1966, and in a solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in 1972. He...

; and the medium was popular with American artists such as the Regionalist
Regionalism (art)
Regionalism is an American realist modern art movement that was popular during the 1930s. The artistic focus was from artists who shunned city life, and rapidly developing technological advances, to create scenes of rural life...

 Thomas Hart Benton
Thomas Hart Benton (painter)
Thomas Hart Benton was an American painter and muralist. Along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, he was at the forefront of the Regionalist art movement. His fluid, almost sculpted paintings showed everyday scenes of life in the United States...

 and his student Roger Medearis
Roger Medearis
Roger Medearis was an American Regionalist painter. He was a student of Thomas Hart Benton while at the Kansas City Art Institute in the late 1930s and took up the technique of egg tempera painting, a rediscovered medium popular with Regionalists...

; Social Realists
Social realism
Social Realism, also known as Socio-Realism, is an artistic movement, expressed in the visual and other realist arts, which depicts social and racial injustice, economic hardship, through unvarnished pictures of life's struggles; often depicting working class activities as heroic...

 Isabel Bishop
Isabel Bishop
Isabel Bishop was an American painter and graphic artist, who produced numerous paintings and prints of working women in realistic urban settings...

, Reginald Marsh
Reginald Marsh (artist)
Reginald Marsh was an American painter, born in Paris, most notable for his depictions of life in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s. Crowded Coney Island beach scenes, popular entertainments such as vaudeville and burlesque, women, and jobless men on the Bowery are subjects that reappear...

, and Ben Shahn
Ben Shahn
Ben Shahn was a Lithuanian-born American artist. He is best known for his works of social realism, his left-wing political views, and his series of lectures published as The Shape of Content.-Biography:...

; Jacob Lawrence
Jacob Lawrence
Jacob Lawrence was an American painter; he was married to fellow artist Gwendolyn Knight. Lawrence referred to his style as "dynamic cubism", though by his own account the primary influence was not so much French art as the shapes and colors of Harlem.Lawrence is among the best-known twentieth...

, Paul Cadmus
Paul Cadmus
Paul Cadmus was an American artist. He is best known for his paintings and drawings of nude male figures. His works combined elements of eroticism and social critique to produce a style often called magic realism...

, Jared French
Jared French
Jared French was a painter who specialized in the ancient medium of egg tempera. He was one of the masters of magic realism, part of a circle of friends and colleagues who all painted surreal imagery in egg tempera. Others included George Tooker and Paul Cadmus.French received a Bachelor of Arts...

, Rudolph F. Zallinger
Rudolph F. Zallinger
Rudolph Franz Zallinger was an American-based artist notable for his mural The Age of Reptiles at Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History and for the popular illustration known as March of Progress , one of the world's most recognizable scientific images.-Biography:Zallinger was born in Irkutsk,...

, George Tooker
George Tooker
George Clair Tooker, Jr. was a figurative painter whose works are associated with the Magic realism and Social realism movements...

, Robert Vickrey
Robert Vickrey
Robert Remsen Vickrey was a Massachusetts-based artist and author who specialized in the ancient medium of egg tempera...

, Peter Hurd
Peter Hurd
Peter Hurd was an American artist, born Harold Hurd, Jr., in Roswell, New Mexico.Nicknamed "Pete" by his parents, he later legally changed his name to Peter.-Life:...

, Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Newell Wyeth was a visual artist, primarily a realist painter, working predominantly in a regionalist style. He was one of the best-known U.S. artists of the middle 20th century....

, and science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 artist John Schoenherr
John Schoenherr
John Schoenherr was an American illustrator.Schoenherr may be best known as the original illustrator for Dune by Frank Herbert, creating the canonical images for elements such as sandworms. However, he is also very well known as a wildlife artist and children's book illustrator, with over forty...

, notable as the cover artist of Dune
Dune (novel)
Dune is a science fiction novel written by Frank Herbert, published in 1965. It won the Hugo Award in 1966, and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel...

.

Other practicing tempera artists include, Philip Aziz
Philip Aziz
Philip J.A.F. Aziz was a Canadian artist. He lived in London, Ontario, and was of Lebanese Greek Orthodox descent. He was recognized for his work in the technique of egg tempera-en-gesso panel, a method popular during the Renaissance.-Early years:Aziz was born in St...

, Ernst Fuchs
Ernst Fuchs (artist)
Ernst Fuchs is an Austrian painter, draftsman, printmaker, sculptor, architect, stage designer, composer, poet, singer and one of the founders of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism. In 1972 he acquired the derelict Otto Wagner Villa in Hütteldorf, which he restored and transformed...

, Antonio Roybal
Antonio Roybal
Antonio Roybal is an American fine-art painter and sculptor from Santa Fe, New Mexico.-History:Antonio is the son of David and Aggie Roybal, born in Santa Fe but raised in Southern California. He lived in San Diego during the earliest years of his childhood. He has three sisters. One of his...

, George Huszar
George Huszar
George Cristian Huszar is an artist. Stylistically, he creates traditional Romanian icons on glass. He paints with traditional tempera technique using eggs as an emulsion. The details are done by hand. Huszar started artistry around five years of age...

, Donald Jackson
Donald Jackson (calligrapher)
Donald Jackson, born in 1938 in Lancashire, England, is a British calligrapher, official scribe and calligrapher to the Crown Office of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Jackson is artistic director of The Saint John's Bible, a recent, hand-written and illuminated Grand Bible...

, Tim Lowly
Tim Lowly
Tim Lowly is a Chicago artist, musician, and teacher. He is known for compassionate egg tempera pictures of children in mysterious circumstances.-Biography:...

, Altoon Sultan
Altoon Sultan
Altoon Sultan is a Vermont-based artist and author who specializes in rural landscapes painted in egg tempera. Her works are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Yale University Art Gallery...

, Grégoire Michonze
Grégoire Michonze
Grégoire Michonze was a Russian-French painter, born in 1902 in Kishinev , Russia Grégoire Michonze (1902–1982) (variant name Grégoire Michonznic, Grogórij Mišónznik) was a Russian-French painter, born in 1902 in Kishinev (Bessarabia), Russia Grégoire Michonze (1902–1982) (variant name Grégoire...

, Shaul Shats
Shaul Shats
Shaul Shats is an Israeli painter, printmaker and illustrator, born in 1944 in Kibbutz Sarid, Israel. He studied at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem , the Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam , and the Freie Akademie, The Hague . Shats taught at the Bezalel Academy from 1978-82...

, Sandro Chia
Sandro Chia
Sandro Chia is an Italian painter and sculptor.A native of Florence, he was a key member of the Italian Transavanguardia movement, along with fellow countrymen Francesco Clemente, Mimmo Paladino, Nicola De Maria, and Enzo Cucchi....

 (e.g. Studio 1986), Jon Gernon, Fred Wessel, Michael Bergt, Tim Donovan (wildlife artist), Alex Colville
Alex Colville
David Alexander Colville, is a Canadian painter.Colville's family moved from Toronto to Amherst, Nova Scotia in 1929. He attended Mount Allison University from 1938-1942, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Colville married Rhoda Wright that year and enlisted in the Canadian Army under the...

, Beverley Bonner http://www.beverleybonnerfineart.com, Estefan Gargost http://www.gargost.com/painting-lornas-illumination.htm, Elaine Drew, and Fred Wessel http://www.fredwessel.com, and Australian artist Jeremy Gordon [www.jeremygordon.com].

Further reading

  • Altoon Sultan, The Luminous Brush: Painting With Egg Tempera, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York 1999.
  • Daniel V. Thompson, Jr. (translator), Cennino de Cennini, Il Libro Dell' Arte, Dover, the most well known treatise on painting and other related techniques
  • Daniel V. Thompson, Jr., Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting, Dover: explanation and expansion on Cennini's works
  • Daniel V. Thompson, Jr. The Practice of Tempera Painting: Materials and Methods, Dover Publications, Inc. 1962..

External links