From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments that are bound with a medium of drying oil—especially in early modern Europe, linseed oil. Often an oil such as linseed was boiled with a resin such as pine resin or even frankincense; these were called 'varnishes' and were prized for their body and gloss. Other oils occasionally used include poppyseed oil, walnut oil, and safflower oil. These oils confer various properties to the oil paint, such as less yellowing or different drying times. Certain differences are also visible in the sheen of the paints depending on the oil. Painters often use different oils in the same painting depending on specific pigments and effects desired. The paints themselves also develop a particular consistency depending on the medium.
Although oil paint was first used for the Buddhist Paintings by Indian and Chinese painters in western Afghanistan sometime between the fifth and ninth centuries, it did not gain popularity until the 15th century. Its practice may have migrated westward during the Middle Ages. Oil paint eventually became the principal medium used for creating artworks as its advantages became widely known. The transition began with Early Netherlandish painting in northern Europe, and by the height of the Renaissance oil painting techniques had almost completely replaced tempera paints in the majority of Europe.
In recent years, water miscible oil paint has come to prominence, to some extent replacing the usage of traditional oils. Water soluble paints contain an emulsifier which allows them to be thinned with water (rather than with paint thinner), and allows very fast drying times (1-3 days) when compared with traditional oils (1-3 weeks).
Most Renaissance sources, in particular Vasari, credited northern European painters of the 15th century, and Jan van Eyck in particular, with the "invention" of painting with oil media on wood panel, however Theophilus (Roger of Helmarshausen?) clearly gives instructions for oil-based painting in his treatise, On Divers Arts, written in 1125. Early Netherlandish painting in the 15th century was however the first to make oil the usual painting medium, followed by the rest of Northern Europe, and only then Italy. The popularity of oil spread through Italy from the North, starting in Venice in the late 15th century. By 1540 the previous method for painting on panel, tempera had become all but extinct, although Italians continued to use fresco for wall paintings, which was more difficult in Northern climates.
- The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques, comprehensive reference book by Ralph Mayer (1940)
- Faux painting
- History of painting
- Lists of painters
- Oil sketch
- Old Master
- Paper marbling