Tempera Techniques in the Modern World of Fine Art
Before the emergence of oil painting as a revolutionary new approach to art in early 16th century Europe, there was a preceding technique known as tempera. Artists such as Botticelli, Raphael and Michelangelo are known for their masterpieces of tempera, as are many beloved artists whose work dominates the definitive eras prior to 1500 AD. In certain circles of artists who are committed to recreating the great masterpieces of these early periods, tempera techniques and materials are still used today as a means to achieving the most authentic representations of history’s most important works of art.
What is Tempera?
In today’s society, tempera paint is commonly – and mistakenly – a term used to refer to poster paints. But authentic tempera paint – the painting medium used by the masters of pre-oil eras – is a different material altogether.
Tempera paint is created using powdered color compounds, derived from natural materials, which are mixed with an organic base that acts as a binder. The most common binder used in traditional tempera techniques is egg yolk. Because of this, you will also hear, from time to time, this painting technique referred to as “egg tempera.” The powdered color compounds are transformed into paint when mixed with the binder. The unfortunate quality of tempera is that some of the color compounds are derived from sources considered to be toxic. This is not a health concern associated with the finished painting, but rather a concern for artists working with the medium, who must exercise caution against accidental inhalation of the compound in its powder form.
The techniques used in tempera painting differ significantly from those utilized in oil painting, as do the results. Tempera paint is a much thinner, more transparent medium than oil paint, and, as such, tempera paintings tend to exhibit very fine brush detail and delicate layering techniques. The nature of tempera does not allow for the thick layering afforded by oil paint, however, so the results tend to be of a lighter or more pastel shade. Tempera can be darkened slightly, though, with the application of a finishing layer of varnish. Tempera is also known to stand the test of time without fading or yellowing, as can occur with unvarnished oil.
The Relevance of Tempera in Today’s Art World
Tempera techniques, while superseded by oil paint long ago, still have their place in today’s world of fine art. For artist’s wishing to create modern day masterpieces in the particular styles of the very early periods, where tempera was the preferred medium, then tempera must be used to achieve the desired effect. The same holds true for replica art. To accurately represent a work of art that was originally created with tempera, then the tempera medium, as well as its accompanying techniques, must be used in the reproduction of the work.
Though tempera might seem a medium of the past, it has seen periodic revivals in modern day art, and stands out as the medium of choice for accurate, authentic replication of many of the world’s greatest paintings.