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?
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;