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Old 06-13-2011, 08:27 AM
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Painting techniques: Van Eyck, Rubens and Rembrandt

Van Eyck

Support: wooden panels (oak), prepared with animal glue and then animal glue with chalk. Chalk in those days wasn't as white as today (because of purity), so it would be a greyish surface. To prevent the paint from being absorbed too much into the chalk/glue layer, an isolation layer was used. This layer consisted of oil [it doesn't mention what kind of oil, but probably linseed oil or walnut oil] with lead as a siccative. Sometimes this layer contained some red pigment (probably red ochre), so this layer might have had a warmer tone.

Underdrawing: Drawings have been found under and on the isolation layer. It is speculated that a sketch was made directly on the glue/chalk layer, with black chalk, which was then fixed with the isolation layer. On this layer the final drawing was made with black paint/glue, applied with pen or brush.

Mediums: Van Eyck used drying oils with lead ("lead-oil") and protein (probably from eggs) for most colors. Lead-oil has a tedency to turn yellow and to crack, but the emulsification with egg probably prevented this. For the finest details he uses tempera (possibly with egg white). The same medium was found in parts where he used lapis lazuli, probably to prevent this expensive pigment to turn green because of yellowing.
In the glazes he used pure lead-oil (without the protein). These glazes were very thin, to prevent cracking. Because they contained no lead white (which acts like a drier) it did not crack.

The paint layers (examples from "The lamb of God"):
  • Blue in Mary's mantle: First layer consisted of azurite with lead white. Second layer consisted of a glace of pure ultramarine (lapis lazuli).
  • Red in God's Red mantle: First layer consisted of vermilion with a little lead white. Second layer consisted of red lac with lead white. The final layer consisted of a glaze of pure red lac. In some places some black or blue (lapis lazuli) pigments were found, but the top layer always consisted of pure red lac.
  • Green in St.John's mantle: First layer consisted of lead white with carbon black. The next layer consisted of lead white with "cupper green". The final layer consisted of a glaze of cupper resinate. [This probably wrong and should be verdigris.]
In general one can say that the first layers were rather grey, but usually with some of the final color. The next layer contained more color, less lead white and was less opaque. The glaze was applied with pure lead-oil and was very thin.

Stay tuned for "Rubens"
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Old 06-13-2011, 10:27 AM
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Re: Painting techniques: Van Eyck, Rubens and Rembrandt

I love the early Renaissance work, it is magical. Also, most of the ones I have seen are in superb condition.

Here is a pic of an unfinished Ghent Altarpiece from the Met, the artist isn't documented but it's in the Memling/Van Eyck period.



The line work is very fine, I may have a detail close-up at home, will have to check later.
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Old 06-13-2011, 01:34 PM
LGHumphrey LGHumphrey is offline
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Re: Painting techniques: Van Eyck, Rubens and Rembrandt

How AMAZING to see that unfinished altarpiece, thanks so much Jessica.
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Old 06-13-2011, 07:47 PM
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Re: Painting techniques: Van Eyck, Rubens and Rembrandt

here are some details:



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Old 06-13-2011, 11:03 PM
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Re: Painting techniques: Van Eyck, Rubens and Rembrandt

But wait - where are all the dead layers? Just kidding...

This seems like sound info. I think you mentioned receiving this in a college, sounds like a college I'd like to hang out at.

When I've painted in oils on gesso panel, I started with a layer of oil rubbed in and let it soak in for a day or two. Leaded oil I haven't tried yet. Your mention that sometimes a red earth was mixed in makes me wonder if a lead pigment paint might be used instead of leaded oil - I'm thinking of the red lead I've got sitting around, perhaps mixed with an umber. But I'm slightly concerned about it, when I've painted directly on an absorbent ground I had so much oil sucked out of the paint I was able to dust off the dry pigment with a finger. Don't want that happening with the lead...

Thanks a bunch for posting this, I'm looking forward to the other installments! I'm sure I'll have some more questions for you...
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Old 06-14-2011, 12:52 AM
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Re: Painting techniques: Van Eyck, Rubens and Rembrandt

Quote:
Originally Posted by llawrence
But wait - where are all the dead layers? Just kidding...
It seems that the "secret" of the old Flemish masters wasn't anything very complicated. They "just" knew what they were doing.

Quote:
But I'm slightly concerned about it, when I've painted directly on an absorbent ground I had so much oil sucked out of the paint I was able to dust off the dry pigment with a finger. Don't want that happening with the lead...
The text mentions that the isolation layer contained a lot of lead (the most lead of all the layers)which made it dry very fast. So fast that only a part of it could be absorbed by the ground layer. The other part would dry on top of the ground, making it an isolation layer. In fact, when they first examined the layers of the painting, they thought there were two layers. Later research revealed that it was just one layer, partly absorbed by the ground.

Hope this helps.

Last edited by 0chre : 06-14-2011 at 12:54 AM.
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Old 06-14-2011, 12:43 PM
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Re: Painting techniques: Van Eyck, Rubens and Rembrandt

Because the information I have about Rubens is a bit disappointing I won't post it here (unless someone begs me to...). So it will be a diptych about Van Eyck and Rembrandt. Most of you were probably most interested in them, anyway.
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Old 06-14-2011, 01:08 PM
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Re: Painting techniques: Van Eyck, Rubens and Rembrandt

Without knowing the nature of your information -- Rubens is the only one of the three who spent any considerable time away from the Low Countries, with Rubens spending several years in Italy. If the information gives any hint of Italian methods or materials, that alone would make it interesting.

Van Eyck seems to have had a sinecure all his productive life, with perhaps little incentive to learn new things. Rembrandt's roller-coaster income may well have goaded him to constant experimentation, making him more interesting. But only Rubens goes to the heart of the Renaissance, and he pals around with those at the source of new pigments and methods...
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Old 06-14-2011, 01:42 PM
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Re: Painting techniques: Van Eyck, Rubens and Rembrandt

Rembrandt

Support:
  • Wooden panels (oak) were prepared the same way as mentioned in the part about Van Eyck. But in this case the isolation layer put on the glue/chalk layer consisted of residus from the jar in which painters put there brushes when they were painting to prevent them from drying. The paint from the brushes (oil and pigment) dripped into the jar and over time dried a little, making it viscous and quick drying. Most pigments in this isolation layer were lead white, umber and ochres.
  • Linen canvases were prepared with glue on which one or two additional layers were applied. If two layers were applied, the first layer was mainly used to fill the structure of the linen and consisted of oil with a red/orange earth pigment. The second layer was quite dark, usually grey, light brown or a greyish yellow and consisted of lead white, ochres, umber, charcoal (or other black pigments) and oil. When just one layer was applied, it consisted of quartz, lead white, a little brown ochre and oil. The colored ground was often used in the painting, shining through in the shadow areas.
Mediums: Rembrandt mainly used linseed oil, although occasionally he used walnutoil.

Method: Rembrandt didn't use a real underdrawing. He made a sketch with transparent brown paint with a thin consistency, with which he indicated the most important lines and shadows.
After this sketch he painted a dead layer in browns. The sketch and the dead layer often aren't very strictly different.
The painting was finished with colored layers. Rembrandt used different palettes, only using a few colors at a time.
He cleverly used a lot of different applications of paint (rough thick impasto, sleek thin layers, different transparancies, scratching into the paint). Whatever worked to get a desired effect.

Pigments:
  • White: Lead white
  • Earths: Rembrandt used, ochres, umbers and siennas (together with lead white) most often.
  • Yellow: Lead-tin-yellow.
  • Red: For red in the skin around the eyes, the ears and jewelry he used vermilion. But most other reds are red ochre glazed with red lac
  • Blue: Ultramarine, azurite, indigo and smalt
  • Green: malachiet and verdigris
  • Black: bone black and charcoal.
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Old 06-14-2011, 02:13 PM
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Re: Painting techniques: Van Eyck, Rubens and Rembrandt

FWIW, Rembrandt's paintings have a lot of cracks. But they are AMAZING in person, really truly astonishing.
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Old 06-14-2011, 02:48 PM
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Re: Painting techniques: Van Eyck, Rubens and Rembrandt

I agree. Rembrandt is definitely worth a study. "The Rembrandt Book" by Schwartz is fairly straightforward with some of the nicest reproductions I have seen. I am almost certain that Rembrandt often must have used a technique in which he glazes over a dry furrowed impasto layer, wiping the glaze slightly to achieve the deeper colors in the "pits and grooves". In other areas, there is nothing at all, the ground color shining through.
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Old 06-15-2011, 07:57 AM
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Re: Painting techniques: Van Eyck, Rubens and Rembrandt

Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveGhmn
Without knowing the nature of your information -- Rubens is the only one of the three who spent any considerable time away from the Low Countries, with Rubens spending several years in Italy. If the information gives any hint of Italian methods or materials, that alone would make it interesting.
I will see what I can find about Rubens that's interesting enough to post. Overall, the part about Rubens is less detailed about actual painting methods used. There are some references to Italian practices, but it's not much...
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Old 06-15-2011, 08:06 AM
DaveGhmn DaveGhmn is offline
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Re: Painting techniques: Van Eyck, Rubens and Rembrandt

Thanks, Ochre.

There's an interesting Rubens tech page that I stumbled across, "Painting Materials of Peter Paul Rubens": http://www.lalaragimov.com/research

I have not poked through the bibliography to see if any of the articles are online (though I suppose the Web page owner would provide links, if so).
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Old 06-16-2011, 09:00 AM
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Re: Painting techniques: Van Eyck, Rubens and Rembrandt

Rembrandt also painted many works on copper panels and paper.

There's a book by Waldemar Januszak called "Techniques of the World's Great Painters" where he examines a single painting by each of these artists as well as a few others. There's not a great deal of information presented in some cases and he doesn't say where he gets it, but it's interesting reading.
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Old 06-16-2011, 05:49 PM
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Re: Painting techniques: Van Eyck, Rubens and Rembrandt

I have read many accounts of Old Master pigments and painting procedures, and the summaries you present so far seem as good as any. One thing I cannot believe is Rembrandt ever used ultramarine. The word implies "as far overseas as you can go," and that fitted the distance of Afganistan at the time, where the lapis lazuli stones came from to Europe. The stuff was expensive as gold, and Rembrandt used the cheapest materials available that did what he wanted to do. Other than that, an informative thread you have going.

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