Tempera Painting

4,303 artworks, 613 artists
Tempera is one of the oldest painting techniques, which has been known to artists for at least three thousand years. The Latin word “temperare” — “to blend” — gave its name to both the technique itself and the paint with which it is performed. Tempera paintings adorned the walls of temples and houses, pictures and icons were painted with this paint. The famous Fayum portraits, posthumous images of Egyptians, which were created in the 3—4th centuries and retained their brightness, expressiveness and matte texture, were made with tempera. Egyptian artists used tempera to decorate royal tombs and sarcophagi; this technique was also known in ancient Rome. Until the invention of oil paints, tempera remained the main technical solution for painting both pictures and wall paintings.

Tempera paint is an emulsion of pigment, water and a binder. As the latter, the Old Masters used egg yolk, whole eggs, as well as beer, vinegar, honey, milk and even wine. Glue or resin was added to the finished paint to give it strength. Artists made their paints and varnishes themselves, so everyone had their own recipe, carefully preserved and passed on to students. Modern industrial tempera paints are made using more durable artificial binders such as polymers (for example, PVA) or quick drying oils with glue. This paint dries up and makes a durable layer. Tempera paint is much hiding opaque; it can be diluted with water and applied in thin layers. It dries very quickly and fits well on various surfaces. The tempera paint layer is well preserved for many years and does not require a protective coating, however, when working, it must be borne in mind that paints change colour after drying.

Almost all ancient icons were painted with tempera. At first, the masters applied the background to a prepared board covered with a plaster primer, gesso. Then they drew outlines and large colour spots — clothes, and the background landscape. At the final stage, they painted faces, small details and added highlights. When painting with tempera, the layers of paint must have dried well. The final step is coating the finished work with linseed oil or oil varnish. The famous Russian icon painters Andrei Rublev, Theophan the Greek, Daniil Cherny, Dionisy used tempera.

In the Middle Ages, tempera painting contributed to the flourishing of the Sienese school, this technique was used by artists of the early RenaissanceMichelangelo and RaphaelCorreggio and Leonardo da Vinci worked with tempera. As a basis for the picture, they used panel boards that were covered with primer. After the invention of oil paints, quickly drying tempera was used to work out underpainting.

One of the famous masterpieces painted in tempera is The Last Supper (1498) fresco by Leonardo da Vinci. The artist painted it on primed dry plaster. Less than 20 years later, the paint began to deteriorate affected by moisture. In 1726, Michelangelo Belotti restored the painting with oil paint and thus created great problems in the subsequent restoration of the legendary fresco.

Among the famous masters of the 19—20th centuries who heartily used tempera are the artists Giorgio de Chirico, Edvard Munch, Andrew Wyeth, Thomas Benton, Bridget Riley. Due to its main properties — covering power, quick drying and bright colours — tempera has not lost its applicability and is still loved by masters, though it is not particularly popular.