What is tempera?

The Renaissance Italian masterpiece `Stroganoff Madonna' by Duccio di Buoninsegna

The Renaissance Italian masterpiece `Stroganoff Madonna' by Duccio di Buoninsegna  

WHILE ALBRECHT DURER was one of the first artists to use tempera and oil glaze, tempera has been around for sometime. Artlex, the art encyclopaedia, defines tempera as a process "where the pigments or colours are mixed with an emulsion of egg yolks rather than oil, and can be thinned and solved with water."

Tempera is super environment friendly as the pigments came from natural sources like minerals, wood, plants or clay. As the medium is fast drying, artists had to apply it quickly with small brushstrokes. Rapid drying also made it difficult to change or correct the painting later.

In the ancient world, tempera was the medium of choice where egg yolk was used as a binder while water was used as a liquefier. Tempera was preferred for its quality of allowing coats to placed one upon the other.

The surface to be painted upon was prepared using a thin coat of plaster, which was called gesso. Fresco secco, which involved painting on dry surfaces, was popular from the Roman period right until the Renaissance - Michelangelo used it for his ceiling fresco in the Sistine Chapel. Islamic scholars used tempera to illuminate manuscripts.

With the introduction of an oil base in the 15 Century, tempera moved away from centre stage but there are still artists using it for murals and given the fact that the medium withstood the onslaught of the oil base, the future for tempera seems anything but bleak.


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