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Sixteenth century tempera painting on wooden panel
Sixteenth century tempera painting on wooden panel

Under the layers of a sixteenth century painting

An interactive look at how paintings were produced in the sixteenth century

Below is an example of a sixteenth century painting on a wooden panel showing typical materials and techniques developed by artists in Italy during the Renaissance. Some are still used by artists today.

There are many processes required in producing these paintings; from bare panel to finished work of art.

Click on the links below to find out about each seperate layer that make up this sixteenth century painting.

1. Wooden panel

This panel is made from a hardwood called poplar. Italian artists often used this type of wood. It is planed and sanded to make it flat.

2. Glue-size and canvas preparation

Glue-size made from animal skin and water, is brushed onto the panel and a thin canvas is stuck on. This makes a better surface for priming. The glue-size also stops the panel being too absorbent.

3. Gesso priming and under-drawing

White gesso made from gypsum and glue-size is painted on in layers. After sanding, the surface is soft, smooth and ready for painting. On top of this the artist makes a detailed design or under-drawing.

4. Egg tempera and oil paint layers

The paint layers used here are made from egg tempera. Some oil paint is also used. Tiny brushstrokes and thin, see-through layers create the image. The paint is very smooth. Can you see how the white priming makes the paint layers seem bright?

5. Varnished painting

The paint is left to dry for at least a year before adding a coat of clear picture varnish. In the sixteenth century it was made by dissolving the resin from a tree in hot linseed oil and rubbed on while warm. It protects the paint and makes the colours brighter.

Next, look at an example from the seventeenth century