From egg to oil: the early development of oil painting during the Quattrocento

Date
2016
Authors
DeGhetaldi, Kristin
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Publisher
University of Delaware
Abstract
This dissertation demonstrates that a more accurate assessment of Quattrocento painting practice can be accomplished only if the original stratigraphy of the paint and ground layers is preserved during organic analysis. The evolution of oil painting in Renaissance Italy must now be re-examined due to advancements in the analysis of binding media and recent improvements in primary source research. Contemporary conceptions of Western European painting techniques stem from a complex history associated with conservation science, treatment methodologies, and connoisseurship. New findings suggest that Italian painters working in and around the Veneto were likely introduced to the oil technique well before 1400 while analysis and visual examination of fifteenth-century works from southern Italy also demonstrate an acute familiarity with the northern medium and aesthetic. The decision to use an egg vs. an oil binder is inextricably tied to an artist’s technique and arguably as important as the conscious selection of certain pigments. Such considerations will help to further elucidate the dissemination of oil painting south of the Alps during the fifteenth century. ☐ In this dissertation I demonstrate that problematic and even incorrect assumptions have been made regarding the characterization of binding media in early Italian paintings. This is shown through the creation of historically representative paint reconstructions that can help in determining the visual qualities and chemical components of traditional egg tempera and oil paint as well as the analysis of actual works of art. In addition, Contamination from restoration materials, the migration of fatty acids, the presence of reactive pigments, and the formation of degradation products are now known to affect the detection of certain chemical markers that are key in helping scientists to identify the binders present in a work of art. Newly recognized inaccuracies relating to early analytical protocols have prompted scientists to develop more sophisticated methods for distinguishing egg tempera from oil paints, and earlier technical studies of Quattrocento paintings must now be re-evaluated. A new discourse is needed to develop a more accurate understanding of Quattrocento painting techniques, workshop practices, attribution, and the diffusion of artistic processes throughout Europe.
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Keywords
Pure sciences , Communication and the arts , Analysis , Art conservation , Drying oil , Egg tempera , Italian Renaissance , Painting
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