Farm Road (A Helga painting), 1979
Tempera on masonite
27 1/8 X 28
REBIRTH OF THE TEMPERA TECHNIQUE
One of the earliest types of painting known to obtain a high degree of technical accuracy was tempera. The medium engages water with a base of glue: either animal (egg, honey, gelatine, cheese, or vegetable), or gum (gum arabic, gum of the cherry tree and fecula). Its uses date back to the primitive paintings of the Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. Tempera was also used by the early Florentines in the 15th Century, and famously mastered in works such as The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli.
Subsiding with the Great Masters of the Renaissance, the technique was perceived as impossible to produce realistic effects of the third dimension. It proved difficult to control: due to its rapid evaporation of water, an artist could not work quickly enough to sustain a figure in the atmosphere. The paint dried too fast for the artist to blend or glaze, leaving the image in a flat tone. It was Jan Van Eyck (1382?-1441?), that popularized a new era of incorporating oils into tempera, which allowed for a more pliable medium, freeing the artist from time and dimensional constraints. Thereafter, the popularity of tempera was left behind as primitive.
Diminished for centuries, the awakening of tempera has been on the rise. The Pre-Raphelites, a small group established in 1848, made efforts to explore it, hoping to return to the ways of classic art. However, it wasn’t until the past few decades that the medium began to gain in popularity.
There is an enchantment possessed by the tempera medium. The limitations in the technique offer a flat decorative quality that stands in great contrast to the masses of heightened color variation and form not found in oils. Present day artists are captivated by this, hoping to obtain and recreate the medium’s mastery.
Head of the Empress Josephine
Charcoal and graphite highlighted with white on blue paper
42 x 26.5 cm
I appreciate how in this drawing on blue paper, famously utilized by Prud’hon, one can actually get a clear sense of the shade of blue he used. The paper color appears to be visible in the area that was once a frame where it has not faded to brown alike so many of his other drawings.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal
Pen and brown and black ink with wash
12 x11 cm
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Siddal was Rossetti’s favorite painted and poetic muse, pupil, mistress, and later his wife. ‘She can be seen as Viola in Deverell’s Twelfth Night, Sylvia in Hunt’s Valentine Rescuing Sylvia from Proteus, and most most famously, Ophelia by Millais.’ (see previous post)
‘Millais had Siddal lie fully clothed in a full bathtub in his studio at 7 Gower Street in London. As it was winter, he placed oil lamps under the tub to warm the water, but was so intent on his work that he allowed them to go out.’ From this, Siddal caught a severe cold that never fully subsided, and as a result she became addicted to laudanum which eventually played a part in her own death.
She also wrote somber poetry in the style of Rossetti’s sister:
Dim phantoms of an unknown ill
Float through my tired brain;
When she was put to rest, Rossetti buried his own poems with her.
John Everett Millais
Ophelia (detail-just before drowing)
Oil on canvas
76.2 cm × 111.8 cm (30.0 in × 44.0 in)
“Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia,
And therefore I forbid my tears.”
~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Study of Trees
Drawing—Italy—16th C. A.D
Girl in profile, 1894
oil on canvas
43 x 38 cm
“The countenance is the portrait of the soul, and the eyes mark its intentions.” ~Marcus Tullius Cicero
The Oval Fountain in the Gardens of the Villa d’Este, Tivoli, 1760
red chalk over graphite
For the past few months, I’ve dreamed of forest passageways leading to tranquil gardens, crystal blue lagoons, and sculptures high atop of architectural structures. And so, when recently finding this piece by Hubert Robert, I felt as though I was gazing into my dreams from a waking form.
About this work:
“The gardens of the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, a small town in the hills outside of Rome, had been designed in the 1560s. By the end of the seventeenth century they had fallen into neglect and had reverted to a half-tamed wilderness that held special appeal for the young artists at the French Academy in Rome. The Oval Fountain was one of the many water features for which the gardens were known. ” via NGA
Charles Joshua Chaplin
A Song Silenced
Oil On Canvas
124.5 x 81.3 cm
“In 1840, Chaplin studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He taught art classes exclusively for women at his studio. Among his students were Mary Cassatt and Louis Jopling.”
Thomas Wilmer Dewing
Head of a Young Woman, 1895
Silver point on gesso-coated wood-pulp paper board
10 1/4 in. x 8 1/4 in. (26.04 cm x 20.96 cm)
It’s interesting that Dewing used silver point for this drawing. Silver point ‘is an archaic medium which reached its peak in the Renaissance period.’ It was not the only drawing and writing medium employed by artists and scribes during medieval and Renaissance times; chalks and ink were also employed. But was superior in some very specific ways - it was fine enough to capture exquisite detail and would not smudge (unlike chalk) and was completely permanent, inert and fade-proof (unlike ink). It could be used on any prepared surface/support; thus, it made an excellent underdrawing for paintings and frescoes. Unlike charcoal or ink, it would not stain or otherwise impart any of itself to painting that followed, an important characteristic for egg tempera use, the dominant method employed during the medieval and early Renaissance periods.’
Read more about the technique here.