5 Curiosities About Oil Painting

Discover five curiosities about the world of oil painting that you may not have known

What do Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring have in common? That in addition to being great masterpieces, all three are excellent examples of oil paintings.

Thanks to its rich textures, versatility and visual opulence, oil painting is a very popular choice for many artists around the world. But do you know where oil paintings come from? or do you know the strange and wonderful materials that were used to make them?

Ancient origins

Thanks to how popular the works of Raphael and Leonardo Da Vinci are, many people mistakenly believe that oil painting originated during the Renaissance. In fact, the origin of this technique can be traced back to the 7th century BC in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, where Buddhist monks used to use walnut and poppy oils as a binder for their paintings inside the caves.

A colorful past

At present, the most common is to manufacture oil paints with synthetic pigments; however, this has not always been the case. Some colors in particular have very interesting backgrounds. A good example is Indian yellow, which is said to have been made from the urine of cows fed mango leaves. Another is Tire purple (a favorite of the ancient Romans), which was made from the glands of certain sea snails. And as for the brown mummy? Believe it or not, it was made from the ground remains of Egyptian mummies.

Recipe for success

Technically, oil paints do not dry, but rather set and harden. Depending on the thickness of the applied layers, the pigments and the type of oil used to fix them, this process can take several hours, days or even weeks. The Renaissance painter Jan van Eyck discovered a formula that included a blend of linseed and walnut oils that “dried” at the correct time, and since he had no intention of publicizing his find, he kept it a secret until shortly before his death, when he revealed it to the painter Antonello Da Messina.

The price of the fame

We all know the Mona Lisa, Da Vinci’s famous masterpiece. So, it may not surprise you to learn that it is the most expensive oil painting in the world, valued at $867 million. However, selling it is illegal under French law, as the collections exhibited in its museums belong to public bodies and are therefore considered public property.

If you need more oil painting tips as a beginner, here is a video to help you;

Why do trees inspire artists so much?

An exhibition with more than 200 tree works investigates the powerful meaning they have for all of us

For centuries, trees have inspired us. The strength of this inspiration is not only driven by the infinite possibilities they represent aesthetically but also by their ability to symbolize highly complex concepts and undisclosed mysteries.

Recently, the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris teamed up with the Power Station of Art museum in Shanghai to create Trees , an exhibition coordinated by anthropologist Bruce Albert that features more than 200 tree works by more than 30 artists from China. Latin America, India, Iran and Europe. In this exhibition, scientific knowledge is intertwined with the creativity of artists to convey new and valuable information about trees.

These are 5 reflections extracted from the sample that investigates the powerful meaning that trees have for us.

1.     We are rediscovering plant intelligence

It could be said, without exaggeration, that in recent years trees have been rediscovered. According to the Cartier Foundation, the inspiring power of his figure, especially in contemporary art, has been revitalized by recent scientific advances that have allowed us to see them in a new light.

“Trees have senses like ours and the ability to solve problems,” says the scientist. “For that they have senses equivalent to ours: they can smell, see, hear, touch, but they also perceive electric and magnetic fields or chemical gradients that we do not,” he warns in the presentation text of the Trees sample .

2.      We can be inspired by the harmonious way in which trees live with other species

The fabulous symbiosis and collaboration that trees develop against other plant and animal species contribute to the idea of ​​plant intelligence and inspire, especially, the architectural universe.

The architects Cesare Leonardi and Franca Stagi seek to create a typology of trees, their shades and chromatic variations to apply to the design of objects such as seats and games for urban parks. They seek to explore the poetry and delicacy of these beings, which, however, he explains, are very strong.

3.     Humans are deeply affected by trees

This information is not entirely new for cultures such as the Japanese, in which it is customary to take forest baths to contact trees and engage in silent dialogues with them. However, it was not until recent times that Western science was commissioned to investigate why our body, indeed, feels the comforting effects when walking under the glasses.

Among the proven effects of contact with trees is the improvement of the immune system, lowering blood pressure, lowering the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. The way our body interacts with trees, by color, aroma, touch or mere proximity, is not yet known. It is expected, according to the Cartier Foundation, that artists can bring information to scientists through their sensitive perceptions.

4.     Trees help us to metaphorize very abstract concepts

For people with a great capacity for abstract thinking, such as artists, the tree is an irresistible resource for thinking processes . We use the metaphor of the tree to illustrate the visible and invisible aspects of our lives. Our reality consists of a part that is visible to others and an invisible part, a deep and a superficial aspect.

5.     We are more like trees than we think

The chemical activity of tree roots is, according to Mancuso, very similar to that of a brain. Artists who manage to understand this seek to transmit it by making visible a dimension of reality that seems incredible. This is the case of an installation of lights and another of sounds that the researcher has carried out with Thijs Biersteker, an awareness artist who creates award-winning interactive installations on climate change, ocean plastic, pollution and nature in a sustainable way.

Although throughout the centuries trees have inspired artists for esoteric, mystical or simply based on intuition reasons, little by little the collaboration between the world of art and science allows us to better understand the enormous fascination that they awaken in our imaginary world.