View Full Version : Egg tempera ,oil ,or mixed media?

ianos dan
12-28-2012, 04:32 PM
Hello guys! l''ve just wanted to start a new technique of painting ,inspired by the great master of Rennaisance ,Michelangelo Buonarotti ,and l'm verry confused.
Searching about his technique of painting, l found some unfinished paintings in which it's obvious that it's an egg tempera ,because the cross hatching is visible .
Now ,l'll put some images of the Tondo Doni ,a finished painting next to a Boticelli painting ,that was made in egg tempera,just to see the diference.
Please help me solving this enigma ,because in the museum it's described to be made in egg tempera (tondo Doni ) ,but the volume is incredible ,and the form is so blended.....l think he used some resin over the egg tempera.http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/28-Dec-2012/1165823-ref.jpghttp://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/28-Dec-2012/1165823-corsshatch.jpg:clear:

ianos dan
12-28-2012, 04:34 PM
If you guys can find some high resolution of the Tondo Doni ,probably it will help :).l didn't find :)

12-29-2012, 06:21 PM
Hello! It's hard to tell from the photo. Some sources I've found label Tondo Doni as oil and egg tempera on panel.

When my daughter was taking an art history class, she had an access code to a website that had very high res images of thousands of paintings. She'll be taking another art history class in January. I'll get her to let me look at this painting when her class starts up.

I have seen some egg tempera portraits that don't have visible hatching though (at least from photos on the Internet). See for example the egg tempera paintings of Enrico De Cenzo. Some color transitions can be made quite smooth with many small transparent sheets of color, rather than lines.

ianos dan
12-30-2012, 08:10 AM
THank you so much Mayberry ! l am grateful for your effort in my searchings :).Keep in touch ,and maybe this mistery will be solved .
What in intriguing it's that Michelangello worked fast (at least Vasari and others said about him),he dind't spent to much on a piece :)

12-30-2012, 09:21 PM
Art Renewal Center (http://www.artrenewal.com/) might have something like that.

12-31-2012, 10:51 AM
If you can read Italian, take a look at this 1985 book about the last restoration work done on the painting:
Title: Il Tondo Doni di Michelangelo e il suo restauro : Firenze, Galleria degli Uffizi, Sala della Niobe, dal 7 dicembre 1985 /
Author: Meloni Trkulja, Silvia.
Publication: Firenze : Centro Di, 1985

Here are two other books about the painting that will probably provide detail on the technique he used:
--- Title: Mysterium Magnum : Michelangelo's Tondo Doni /
Author: Stefaniak, Regina.
Publication: Leiden ; Boston : Brill, 2008
--- Title: Michelangelo Doni tondo /
Author: Fossi, Gloria.; Boomsliter, Paula.
Publication: Florence : Giunti Gruppo Editoriale, 1998


ianos dan
01-01-2013, 12:47 PM
Thank you so much Studio-1-F about this precious information ,this books are available online ?
ArtSavesLives,thank you,l found the Tondo in Art Renewal gallery ,but they don't have a hi -res image :)

01-02-2013, 09:01 AM
Thank you so much Studio-1-F about this precious information ,this books are available online ?
You're welcome! I doubt these expensive academic books will be available free online. Visit your local library. They may be able to get these for you.


ianos dan
01-17-2013, 04:35 AM
l found Il Tondo Doni di Michelangelo e il suo restauro book and l want to buy it.probably will find some important tips about the medium of this great painting
.so excited to find out the big secret :)))))

Koo Schadler
03-12-2013, 09:48 AM
Hello Ianos,

I have a great interest in this topic too, but so far have not found a clear answer to your question. As noted, different sources say different things regarding the Tondo. You’d think the Ufizzi would have the final say but the last time I was there, two years ago, many of the labels looked very old and not fully trustworthy. The book on the Tondo Doni restoration, which I’ve had on my wish list for years, might answer the question but seems perennially unavailable (if anyone out there has a copy, please let us know what it says!!)

They reason I say the book might answer the question is because the book was written in 1985, and the science at that time wasn’t as sophisticated in identifying certain mediums; and even today conservators are not always able to identify in paintings the various binders in use during the Renaissance.

1400 to 1500 is a confusing period in art history. Oil painting had been around for centuries but it was only in the late 1300s, in the north, that it became a well-understood and sophisticated medium. Oils paintings of the late 1300 to early 1400s by Van Eyck, Van der Wyden, and other northern painters became very desirable to rich, Italian merchants, and northern artwork (and some artists) traveled south. Italians painters were deeply impressed by the more saturated tones and smoother blending evident in these oil paintings (never mind the north’s greater attention to “realistic” effects, such as dirtying their shadows, painting things to look like gold versus using actual gold leaf, etc).

Italian artists responded in various ways to these paintings. Some artists continued to work in egg tempera as they’d always done. Some stuck with tempera but worked harder to make it look like oil by creating smoother transitions and deeper, dirtier tones. Others did egg tempera under paintings, then finished in oil. Others transitioned fully to oil. Piero della Francesca began as a tempera painter (The Baptism of Christ) but by mid-career was working full time in oil. Botticelli went back and forth…egg tempera, tempera grassa, oil, back to tempera…. It’s a confusing time, for sure.

As I’m sure you know, tempera grassa (literally “fatty tempera) refers to an egg and oil emulsion. It is a mix (like mayonnaise) of egg yolk and one of the drying vegetable oils (linseed, walnut, etc). But the term tempera grassa lacks specificity. If such an emulsion is made with a predominance of yolk (more than 50% in the mix) it is an egg oil emulsion, thins with water, and behaves more like traditional egg tempera than oil. However you can also make a tempera grassa that is predominately oil, i.e. the mix contains 50% or more oil. That would be called an oil egg emulsion, requires a solvent to thin, and behaves more like oil than tempera.

From what I understand, it is unfortunately very hard for conservators to distinguish between an egg tempera under painting with oil paints applied on top; egg oil emulsion; oil egg emulsion; or even be sure that something is 100% oil, without some egg protein somewhere in the paint film. They don’t yet have the science to always figure out precisely which of these mediums is in a 500 year-old paint film. There are several conservators specifically addressing this issue, trying to untangle the mess....but they haven’t quite gotten there yet.

So, regarding the Tondo Doni. Michelangelo painted the piece around 1506-08. By this point I think very few artists were still working exclusively in egg tempera. If they did, they did so selectively; maybe they did an under painting in tempera, to speed up things (tempera dries much faster than oil). Or, since tempera yellows less than oil, they sometimes used tempera for light valued areas of a painting (to keep them bright). Another example is an altarpiece by Raphael in which the lower, small predella pieces are in tempera - perhaps for the brighter tonality and crisper detail that would have made this tiny part of the altarpiece more visible – but the main, larger body of the altar is in oil. Despite such examples, almost no one (except for the loyal icon painters) was working exclusively in egg tempera by the time Michelangelo painted his tondo. Michelangeo was conversant in tempera (as was typical of his time, and evident in some of his under paintings), but I think he would have been primarily painting in oil (when he wasn’t working in fresco, drawing, or sculpting!).

Also, as you noted, the tondo is very smoothly blended. As someone who has worked in tempera for many years, I can attest that hatch strokes are not a requisite part of the medium – with care, a tempera painter can achieve smooth blending. But it is hard to achieve the degree of plasticity and modeling that is in the Tondo piece – it really looks like oil.

It could, of course, be an emulsion – my tendency would say an oil egg emulsion (versus a more tempera-like egg oil mix). Or maybe it was begun with an emulsion and largely completed with pure oil….the latter, in fact, would be my guess…an unscientific guess, to be sure!

I don’t mean to be glib, but if your goal is to emulate the Tondo Doni I’m not sure how much it matters whether you use an oil egg emulsion, or oil, or first one than the other. I’m primarily an egg tempera painter but do have a bit of experience in tempera grassa (both types). I find that if you are working with an egg oil emulsion, your tones are a bit more saturated, you have a wee bit more window in which to blend…but you still essentially are dealing with a medium that has the nature of egg tempera. And conversely, I’ve found an oil egg emulsion to be, well, not too much different from working thinly in oil (some differences for sure, but not huge ones). To take it a step further…I think its interesting that tempera grassa, if it did exist as a medium in the 1400s (some people wonder if it is more myth than fact…I tend to think it was used to some extent) – it never gained traction. By 1500 oil had more or less won the day. In other words, tempera grassa seems not to have had enough benefits over either egg tempera or oil to become a well-established medium in its own right. (Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have good qualities; only that most of those qualities can be achieved with egg tempera or oil. I expect there are tempera grassa painters out there who will disagree with me, and I’d love to hear their views, to counter my own, admittedly limited experience with tempera grassa.) I only mean to say that I think you could successfully emulate the Tondo in either an oil egg emulsion or pure oil; you could use whichever is your preference.

Well, a long answer, but I really like this topic – it is such an interesting period in art history. Hope it helps you sort out your working method.


ianos dan
03-12-2013, 10:46 AM
Wow...for this answer Koo !!!!
It's very complete ,and it cames from a very experienced person :)
The first thing about Michelangelo's work and philosophy,in my opinion, was that he was very attached to the traditional techniques from his time (compared to Leonardo who always experimented with mediums,but hardly finished pieces),and he admired Masaccio,Francesca,Ghirlandajo(his master),therefore he painted that huge fresco of the Sixtine Chapel,which l think ,none of his contemporary painters could made.
That is one of my clues in solving "the mistery " of Tondo Doni ,and the most important one.
I will put a print screen of an unfinished painting by Michelangello ,just to see his underpainting ,and that green earth color for the flesh ,that is also used in icons,and from there Koo ,l think you will solve the mistery ,becasue ,in my oppinion ,he used the same technique on Tondo painting ,being a master of this technique.
Thank you again Koo for your time and for this wonderful episode in the History of Art !

ianos dan
03-12-2013, 11:02 AM
Here's a fragment of the Manchester Madonna .
The 2 figures from left are painted only with a green earth color (verdaccio?),unfinishedhttp://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/12-Mar-2013/1165823-verd.jpg

ianos dan
03-12-2013, 11:04 AM
The figure of the Virgin is almost finished in egg tempera ( l think )http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/12-Mar-2013/1165823-v2.jpg:rolleyes:

ianos dan
03-12-2013, 11:07 AM
Some detalis of the folds ,there you can see the dense cross hatching ,and also the rocks ,that looks like a base :thumbsup:http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/12-Mar-2013/1165823-v3.jpg

ianos dan
03-12-2013, 11:20 AM
If you are looking very closely at the face of the Virgin ,you can see in some areas of highlights and halftones, a very subtle crosshatching,but l didn't find anywhere a hiresolution image of the Tondo Doni :(

ianos dan
03-12-2013, 11:27 AM
You're right Koo ! Probably ,he used egg tempera for ,let's say, 70% of the painting,and then he worked on top with some more oily medium ,for glazing .

ianos dan
03-13-2013, 09:05 AM
Here's an experiment l made on a cardboard ,very small one, when l discovered the unfinished paintings by Michelangelo.
I used egg tempera ,for the first time in this method,using just a very small brush and making crosshatching ,l tried to emulate the volume form the reference photo.
It'a only an experiment,the pigments are not the best quality ,but for this purpose ,it's ok.
I used black ,white and some yellow ocher ,to make a green earth color underpainting for the face,an after that l made a pinkish hue to make the lighter parts of the face,blending them into that green underpainting.
The hair it's made from vermillion and a touch of yellow ocher.
Not finished,and scratched,but my purpose was to learn,so forgive me guys for the presentation ,but l believe that somethimes it's helpful to share your mistakes and unfinished pieces,or fails,becasue this is how you can learn,not being selfish and hypocrite to show only the finished pieces .:lol:
The reference image l found on Google ,don't know the name ,but anyway,here's the experiment l made for this very interesting thread.:clap:
So ,as Koo sais before,you cand make almost invisible the crosshatching ,but it requires a lot's of skill ,and l am almost a beginner in this media :)http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/13-Mar-2013/1165823-001.jpg

Koo Schadler
03-13-2013, 03:09 PM
Hello Ianos,

Smooth blending without hatch marks is achievable but challenging in tempera - for your first effort this is excellent.

In addition to learning how to control your brushwork and mark making, there are other "tricks" to achieve smoothness. Here's one. Because tempera is generally built up in many, many thin layers, it can help to occasionally apply thin, glazes and/or scumbles over parts of or even the entire image - sort of like laying a mist of transparent white, or a cellophane-like veil of color, over everything. If done smoothly and thinly, these unifying layers of paint will help minimize brushstrokes...but they generally take practice to do well.

Regarding the traditional, Italian green underpainting, called a "verdaccio" (which means a messy, dirty green) - the main purpose was to begin to establish the value pattern in a painting, and to create cool halftones in pale flesh. There wasn't one version of verdaccio; the color ranged from a relatively clean green earth, to a very dirty green earth, to a bluish dirty green. It can be made by combining other colors (as you did) or you can buy certain earth tones that approximate it (two of my favorites are Verona Green Earth, and Raw Umber German Greenish Dark, both from Kremer in NYC). The verdaccio in the Manchester Madonna is relatively clean and tends toward blue.

Because you are building up thin, opaque paint on top of your verdaccio underpainting, you are getting a "scumbling" effect. By that I mean the same cooling of the underlying colors that happens, for example, in atmospheric perspective (when thin veils of atmospheric mist turn distant hills blue). Combine that scumbling with the already blue, cool version of the verdaccio you used (if you emulated the Manchester Madonna), and it leaves the halftones in your portrait, Ianos, perhaps a bit too cool and grey - giving your otherwise lovely red-head a slightly unhealthy pallor. I mention this only because its something to be aware of in tempera painting; as you build up the layer after layer, a scumbling effect can unintentionally occur and cause some unwanted coldness to creep in. The key is to either start with a warmer underpainting; or occasionally glaze more warmth as needed (not so much that you lose cool halftones...but just a bit, to control the degree of coolness you are getting).

If you are working with genuine vermillion, please be careful - its made from mercury and a very toxic color. Its modern replacement is often made from cadmium - not as bad as vermillion, but still a pigment that should be handled carefully.

Hope that all makes sense and helps.


ianos dan
03-14-2013, 03:31 AM
Thank you so much Koo :clap:!
Glazing in tempera seems to me very difficult to achieve because it dries so quickly ,and it can lift or damage the already painted surfaces (l've done this on a icon ,but it looked messy ),l think l need more experience in that :))).
Yes ,the Manchester Madonna has a clean coolish green ,and it seems to me that he covered the drawing on the figures left unfinished,probably he had a preparatory drawing at his side,because from this image ,l can't see incised design ,that he could use ( I saw that in icon paintings) ,so probably had a sketch or a more developed drawing from whitch he worked (or probaly used some tracing paper to use over this verdaccio layer?),because otherwise,you can't draw without a contour (but he was a master :)).
l'll read some more of this in your book Koo,at the glazing chapter,an make some more experiments ,to learn this beatiful technique.
I know that Botticelli used warm underpainting (like an yellow ochre) ,and if l look to a close up of a painting made by him ,the underpainting is still visible in halftones ,maybe shadow areas,because his paintings are still very bright ;)
Thank you for your advices and care:heart:

Koo Schadler
03-14-2013, 10:09 AM
Hello Ianos,

I appreciate that you are gracious and enthusiastic with comments. Given the challenges of tempera for newcomers (it is unlike any other medium), your first portrait in tempera is truly excellent

The incising into the gesso that icon painters often do, to affirm the drawing, was not generally done by Renaissance painters - it is too much of a visual "interruption" to the greater realism they sought. I don't know how Michelangelo worked on the Manchester Madonna, but I know for frescos he made drawings and then transferred them via pouncing (holes were punched in the drawing lines; then a pigment pouch pounced on top of the holes, leaving a trail of small dots - i.e. the drawing - on the surface). I would image he did some sort of transfer as well on top of his green underpainting. I work similarly in that I block in large areas of color, than transfer my drawing on top. I use homemade transfer paper, since I can customize the color. I generally use earth pigments.

Smooth glazes and scumbles in tempera are difficult - but very useful. I use them continually while painting. With practice you will learn how to do so smoothly, without lifting, I'm sure. My preferred method is to use a sponge - Pietro Annigoni worked this way as well.


ianos dan
03-14-2013, 11:10 AM
l read about him ,and he was a master in tempera grassa :).he used more oilly medium ,you have wrote about this medium in your book ,and someone described his method of painting ,as a multilayer technique ,but l didn't understood what was the lake he used between the dried layers( kind of varnish?)?
l also use transfer paper ,made by myself, just a piece of paper,same size as the painting or panel,rubbed with some charcoal ,or some pigment, on the back .
I saw preparatory drawings of Michelangelo,but never a carton for his frescoes (to bad he burned almost all of them ).
A sponge? if you want to make a glaze on the face,how do you use the sponge ,it's full of irregularities and gives texture to the painting!I thought that only on a landscape or something that allows you to play with its texture ,you can use it.
Very curious how you use it ,without a mask or something :)

Koo Schadler
03-16-2013, 06:24 PM
Hi Dan,

Its Dan, right? I've been calling you Ianos, thinking it a Romanian name, and because it was listed first...but now I think it must be Dan. Please let me know, which is correct?!

Most (all?) Renaissance painters on panels (versus fresco) were painting in many layers, so Michelangelo's layering wasn't unique per se (although he certainly was!). It is how egg tempera paintings were made, and initially how oil painting was done too.

A lake isn't a layer of paint - its a sort of pigment. Certain colors come as dyes (soluble; they dissolve) not pigments (insoluble; can be reduced to an individual particle). You can't paint with dyes because they would forever bleed through your paint layers. However its possible to attach a dye to an inert, uncolored particle and, by doing so, turn a dye into a pigment called a lake. So when you buy, for example, red lake pigment it is actually a red dye precipitated onto a mordant. So its not accurate to think of a lake as a layer of paint.

In egg tempera, there is a technique called "petit lac" (which means little lake, of course) in which you float a small puddle of tempera paint onto a painting, then let it sit and dry. Its often done in icon painting. I'm sure Renaissance painters used petit lacs once in a while, but I don't think it was critical to their working method.

But I don't think you are referring to either "lake" or "lac". I think - and please correct me if I am wrong - you are thinking that the Renaissance artists applied their paint in layers (yes, that is correct - sometimes a few, sometimes many) and occasionally inserted in between paint layers, a layer of varnishes (a resin, oils, something along those lines). The latter is probably not correct. In fact, from what I've read, there doesn't seem to have been many (if any) options for resins or varnishes in the 1400s & 1500s..they hadn't yet been sufficiently refined or developed for panel painting. And rarely is there a good reason to periodically insert layers of anything but paint into a painting. Layers of varnishes could yellow, cause brittleness, and introduce inconsistency into the paint layers. I doubt they did it.

However they did layer transparent pigments over opaque pigments... over and over in a painting, sometimes many times - and this sort of layering, known as glazing, can create luminosity, depth and atmosphere. I know you are an experienced painter, so apologies if this is already known to you.

Sometimes people think that the luminosity in a glaze comes from the medium in which the glaze is suspended - so, wanting more luminosity, they add more medium (be it oil, or a resin, or whatever) to glaze. But luminosity comes from transparent color over opaque color - it is the pigment that is important. The medium is just the vehicle by which you disperse the pigment. Does this make sense?

This isn't to say the medium is irrelevant, because mediums have inherent qualities. For example most transparent pigments will appear a bit deeper and even more transparent in oil versus egg yolk, because oil has a higher refractive index than egg yolk. So the medium has an impact, and is essential in helping to disperse the color thinnly - but in and of itself it doesn't create luminosity.

This is a fun topic and I could prattle, but that is enough. By the way, I do use sea sponges for texture, but for an even application of paint I use a cosmetic sponge - they are smooth. Next time you go shopping for lipstick :) ask for some - I especially like the wedge-shaped varieties. It takes practice, but its a great way to apply tempera paint.


ianos dan
03-17-2013, 07:51 AM
Dan is my name,yes ! Ianos is my family name (but it's hungarian because of the Austro -Hungarian empire that took a the vestern part of Romania under its rule ,so the name from Ioan was transformed in Ianos),so you can call me Dan :)
I think l didn't understood corectly the term used in that text ,about Pietro Annigoni ,because probably referred to that izolating sort of varnish ,between the layers , l think that was the meaning of lac.
l've read about "petit lac" in yout book ,and l think it's also a kind of glaze( that requires experience in tempera),but that it's a "secret" that ,in order to respect your work and effort in writing this book ,l want to keep it for me and encourage other people willing to learn this technique,to by your book and read about it :)
Whe always learn techniques ,especially me ,so ,l know what means a glaze ,but l'm always amazed by it's properties ,and never say that l know to much about this almost mystical technique.
Yeah ,l'll use lipstick only to make a Joker face :))))
Thank you Koo for your time in solving some of my great questions about the lost techniques of painting