April 22, 2008, 01:32 PM
George, what is your experience, with regard to the various theories as to the usage of egg tempera (oil emulsion or otherwise), as used by van Eyck for under/over painting. I have read so many various expert opinions on if or where he used it at all. It seems to me that features of the face and the fineness of the hair of his figures must well have been done with tempera. I would be very,very interested in your thoughts on the subject. I would really like to take a shot at replicating maybe some details of his Ghent Altarpiece imagery. In fact if anyone at all has anything to share in this regard, I think this subject could be the core of an enlightening discussion.
April 22, 2008, 05:23 PM
My research of van Eyck's work and discussions with conservation staff members at two museums lead me to the conclusion that van Eyck's painting medium consisted of basically oil with some use of resins and that his mastery of the medium allowed him to develop the results we find in his work today.
There is some speculation about his use of egg tempera and it may be possible, but there is no evidence of the presence of egg in the upper painting layers of his work.
A good discussion of the so-called "Van Eyck Medium" can be found in "The Van Eyck Medium,"
A. P. Laurie, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 23, No. 122 (May, 1913), pp. 69+72-76.
You may also want to read, E. Melanie Gifford, "Van Eyck's Washington 'Annunciation': technical evidence for iconographic development - Jan van Eyck's painting." Art Bulletin, March 1999. In it she wrote:
"Using high-pressure liquid chromatography Susana Halpine found no evidence of any protein binder, such as glue or egg, in any of the samples."
The difficulty with making any conclusion about van Eyck's work is that few and very small samples are ever allowed to be taken of his paintings, so we cannot be sure whether or not an emulsion technique was used by van Eyck that incorporated egg, collagen glue or gum.
August 15, 2008, 09:50 AM
"There is some speculation about his use of egg tempera and it may be possible, but there is no evidence of the presence of egg in the upper painting layers of his work."
In 1934, the "Rechtvaardige Rechters" from Van Eyck were stolen here. Jef Vander Veeken, a famous restorer OR "forger" made a copy of that panel for the Cathedral. In fact he made dozens of other Flemish Primitives, which he restored or forged. That was during the 1940's. He was quite good in it (experts have these days problems with examining those works). Van Eyck worked very in detail (hairs). For coming to the point: if I remember me correct, Vander Veeken said about this, that the Primitives or Van Eyck used to work with tempera IN an oil paint layer to get this effect for the tiny hairs. Otherwise they would never become such details. I look for reference, I have the book at home.
August 16, 2008, 08:22 AM
Of course, I've read this, too, but in discussions with the conservation staff at the National Gallery (Washington, D.C.), this was not proven by analysis. If you find someplace where there is evidence of the use of egg tempera in the upper painting layers, I am very interested in it.
Egg tempera in the upper layers of an oil painting are not only possible, but advantageous in adding fine details to the painting.
November 3, 2009, 01:07 PM
How do you add the tempera layers in the top oil layers?
November 4, 2009, 05:45 AM
The egg yolk tempera is prepared by mixing pigment (either dry powder or aqueous dispersion) with a mixture of equal parts of egg yolk and water. More egg yolk may be required to properly bind the pigment, depending upon its water absorption. Apply the paint thinly over the oil paint layer. If there are problems with surface tension (paint beading up), then gently abrade the surface first.
November 4, 2009, 01:12 PM
I have used egg yolk as a direct additive to oil paint experimentally. The paint was remarkably smooth and had a very full body and great adhesion, not to mention it's thixotropic subtleness. I suggest to use it sparingly.
Michael A. Yount
November 5, 2009, 01:31 AM
There is considerable description in an old painting book by Max Doerner, in his section on notes from the Old Masters, in which he details graphically, how to employ egg tempera and egg/oil emulsions into wet oil paint glazes. It was his theory that this was one of the great secrets of the masters which included Van Eyck. It is a most interesting read and fun to try these techniques which can replicate some of the Van Eyck detail. Yet this book and theory is largely considered to be antiquated thinking at best and generally flat wrong. But as stated, it is a great read and fun to experiment with.
One of the best articles that I have read on the technique of Van Eyck is in a book called "The National Gallery Ivestigating Jan Van Eyck" edited by Susan Foister, Sue Jones and Delphine Cool published by Brepols.
In the article part I and part II by Askok Roy of the National Gallery, London he goes into the details of the issue of egg in relation to Van Eyck's work. His article is called "Van Eyck Technique:The Myth and the Reality I and II.
Although it is dangerous to summarize such a lengthy and complex article, it states that as to Van Eyck there is no evidence of any widespread use of tempera, not glue, not egg, not any medium that employs it or any usage into the wet oil layer.
They have found some evidence of glair in the formulation of the azurite pigment and pine resin was found in the formulation of a green pigment. His conclusion was that the addition of these materials were pigment specific and not any overall scheme toward formulating an emulsion or complex medium. In nearly all cases the medium was simply linseed oil.
I have thought over the years, that it would be logical to underpaint in tempera and to overpaint in oil and to use an emulsion for textured details into a wet oil glaze. This apparently is not the case. However they have found in Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden extensive use of underpainting in tempera. Glazes were again in oil. Sometimes a white egg tempera paint was covered over with a white overpainting in walnut oil.
But if you are interested in Van Eyck this is a fascinating article to read.
November 5, 2009, 05:12 AM
Im glad you mentioned that book kenneth as I just found it on the web the other day and was wondering if it was a good read.
I have worked in tempera and oil seperatly for awhile and have wanted to try combining the two, but first trying to find out more. thanks for your help!!
Although I must ask what are the benefits of oil glazes over tempera? Alos adding it directly to oil as gadfly mentioned?
November 5, 2009, 05:32 AM
Tempera is a very stable media and is not prone to becoming more translucent like oil paint (saponification). So as oil paintings age and become more translucent and slightly yellow, an underpainting will remain much more stable. Also tempera can be made to be very lean and a good base to use oil on top of. In addition, as Max Doerner points out, you can use egg tempera or an egg/oil emulsion into a wet oil layer or glaze and it has a tendency to sit pretty much in the configuration that you left it.