Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In the Zone: The Renaissance, May 30, 2011

Our show about the Renaissance was so much fun to prepare for.  I had a great time rereading about it, listening to the music of the time, and trying out some of the art techniques I learned about. 


Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine Alexandria, 1379, Giovanni del Biondo (egg tempera painting)

I shared about how the Renaissance saw a move from the use of egg tempera paints by nearly all artists through the Middle Ages (and in fact dates back to Ancient Egypt) to widespread use of oil paints.  Egg temperas were created by mixing egg yolk with coloured pigment powders (ground with mortar and pestle) to form a smooth creamy paste.  Limitations of egg tempera included the fact that the paint dried very quickly.  So, artists had to work quickly in small areas at a time.  They couldn’t mix up large batches because it would dry out or spoil before it could be used and this would prove expensive for them.  By making small batches of paint, if the artist didn’t create enough, they might run out and then have the added task of attempting to match colours.  In addition, because of the texture of the paint and the nature of its quick drying characteristic, egg temperas were difficult to blend.  The only way to do this was to paint on one colour, allow it to dry, and then paint a layer of another colour over it so that the translucent layers would seemingly blend together to form a new shade.  The difficulty in blending, shading and creating texture with these paints made it hard to create paintings that were realistic.


Game Stall at Market, around 1625, from the studio of Frans Snyders, oil painting

Oil paints were first used around the 12th century in northern Europe but it didn’t reach widespread use until after its potential had been truly explored by 15th century painters in the Netherlands.  Oil paints are much more flexible than egg temperas as they can be applied in very thin layers and for fine detail as well as in thicker layers to add texture.  The colours that could be achieved were much stronger and more brilliant.  The paint dries much more slowly than egg temperas do, allowing artists to mix up larger batches with plenty of time to use them up.  They can be blended and used for both shading and texture, allowing the artist to achieve realistic results in their paintings.  During the Middle Ages, the primary subjects for artwork were topics of a religious nature.  In these, the artists weren’t striving for realism but rather attempting to convey the essence of the subject symbolically.  As the Renaissance movement began to grow, more and more artists started seeking to depict realism in their work, drawing from scenes around them and using live models for their paintings.  Oil paints were much more suited to this purpose than egg temperas and the translucent nature provided by the oil in them allowed for rich vibrant colours. 

Want to make your own egg temperas and try them out for yourself?  Want some hints on painting with oils?  Check out the recording of our show and you’ll find lots more information and ideas there! http://www.linqto.com/PlaybackRoom.aspx?roomname=creativeedventures&name=SingleExplicit_2011_05_30_20_00_44_826

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