Making Green: Tempera versus Oil | National Gallery, London

Making Green: Tempera versus Oil | National Gallery, London


The appearance of a painted colour depends partly on the pigment, but also on the ingredients used to bind the paint together. Pigments
mixed with oil produce a glossy finish. Pigments mixed with egg yolk, to make egg tempera paint,
will have a flatter, matt appearance. Pigments made from mineral clays, known as
green earths, bound in egg tempera, were used by Italian artists from the 13-15th centuries
as a base colour for flesh. These greens were used to suggest shadows,
and model the shape of the face. Pinks, reds and white highlights were added
on top.  Tempera dries so quickly, that different colours
can’t be easily blended on the painting surface. So artists used delicate hatching when applying
the different colours. The very green skin tone of many Renaissance
faces may be due to the layers of pink paint having faded, revealing more of the base layer
than was intended. With oil paint, the pigment is bound in certain
kinds of oil, often linseed or walnut, that dry to form a tough film. Jan van Eyck was particularly famous for his skill at working in oil. Oil paint dries slowly and so can be manipulated on the picture surface.
Some pigments are opaque, others can be used to make a translucent ‘glaze’. Glazes can be built up in layers to produce a deep, glossy colour that can imitate gleaming
satins, costly wool, velvet and rich silk damask.

14 thoughts on “Making Green: Tempera versus Oil | National Gallery, London

  1. You forgot to add that Tempera gets moldy after a few Days….that why 99% of all Painters switched to Oil like 1000 Years ago or so

  2. Off corse the italian egg tempera painers did not intend to delivere to us greenish tone skin figures . This rezult is the work of time !
    About van Eyck …In that period , the painers din add to their dry-pigments not only oil ( lin seed, valnut, maybe poppy ) but a more complex formula that contains

  3. a more complex formula . I put her an example : linseed oil + resin (hard of soft, sometime bouth ) + balsams ( like "Venetian terbenin" or "Canadian balsam" ) + terbenin esence and maybe driers, sicatifs…..
    This tipe of binder provides a very diferent aspect of the paint film respect to use only oil as a binder .
    As I see, Michael Harding provides few mediums /binders formulated from ancient recepies .
    Well to know : resin and balsams contains by the medium provides transparenci and gloss , and bees wax provides a mat valvet opaque / semiopaque finish ( depends of how opaque or transparent is the pigment ).
    So ,for painting with the same pictorical materia like Memmling or Tiziano is not enough to add row oil to the pigments !

  4. Does anyone know what kind of pigment I should buy on amazon or ebay? I just want to make sure I got the right stuff and not like glitter or something. I do have a bowl to grind my pigment but I want to know if I can buy it in hopes to save money and time.

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