Saint Luke Drawing The Virgin Analysis

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There is a large class of diverse natural compounds known as lipids. One major subgroup of lipids are fats and oils. These are the main constituents of the storage fat cells in plants and animals. Fats are materials that are solid at room temperature, while oils are liquid, but both are quite similar in chemical composition. Examples are coconut butter, bacon grease, and cooking oils such as corn, safflower, and olive. The oil found in egg yolk and unwashed milk solids is of the same general type. Most of these oils are "nondrying" or "semidrying" in nature: If spread in a thin film and exposed to air, they remain liquid or become somewhat solid. A few other types of oils are "drying" in nature; they can form solid films when exposed to air. The major drying oils are linseed, walnut, and poppy-seed.

That some oils are capable of drying was known as early as classical antiquity, but their application for decorative and artistic purposes seems not to have occurred until much later. The earliest documentary references to such uses for oils are in recipes for varnishes or protective coatings for wood, stone, etc. These early recipes involve mixtures of oil and natural resins. It would appear that drying oils were first utilized in this fashion. Later, in medieval times, they were mixed with colors for decorative painting, and eventually came to be used by panel painters.

The earliest known European oil paintings are a series of late thirteenth-century Norwegian altar frontals. There are some indications that these actually may have been painted with a mixture of drying oil and egg yolk. Analytical work suggests that linseed oil was the common oil in these early oil paintings, as well as in the paintings of the fifteenth-century Netherlandish painters, which are the earliest accomplished European paintings essentially done with drying oils. An example is St. Luke Drawing the Virgin, by Rogier van der Weyden, a painting done mainly with a linseed oil medium (Figure 3.8).

Isometric Flemish Painting

Fig. 3.8. Rogier van der Weyden. Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child, about 1435. Flemish, 1400-1464. Oil on panel.

Like most other early Netherlandish panel paintings, this painting was carried out mainly with oil paints. As here, linseed oil was apparently the most commonly-used oil. Some early Netherlandish paintings contain passages carried out with protein-containing paint, or protein-oil mixtures. This seems to be the case with some of the underpainting on this panel. Glazes used by early Netherlandish painters sometimes were made from drying oils mixed with a little natural resin. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lee Higginson. (Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Fig. 3.8. Rogier van der Weyden. Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child, about 1435. Flemish, 1400-1464. Oil on panel.

Like most other early Netherlandish panel paintings, this painting was carried out mainly with oil paints. As here, linseed oil was apparently the most commonly-used oil. Some early Netherlandish paintings contain passages carried out with protein-containing paint, or protein-oil mixtures. This seems to be the case with some of the underpainting on this panel. Glazes used by early Netherlandish painters sometimes were made from drying oils mixed with a little natural resin. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lee Higginson. (Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Linseed and walnut oils seem to have been the most common oils; the former was pressed from the seeds of the flax plant, a plant that also was the source of linen, while the latter was pressed from the seeds of walnut trees. Later, mainly during the later nineteenth century, poppy seed oil was popular.

All of the drying oils and nondrying oils consist principally of compounds called triglycerides, formed from glycerol (a type of alcohol) and fatty acids. There are many types of fatty acids, and the types and relative proportions found in different oils vary, as even do the amounts between different samples of a particular type of oil that come from different geographic sources.

The drying of paints with glue, gum, egg white, or egg yolk binders mainly involves evaporation of the water in which they are dissolved or dispersed. Drying oils contain no solvent; they dry by a complex series of chemical reactions involving atmospheric oxygen.

Drying oils do not all dry at the same rate. Painters would naturally seek faster drying oils. But the same reactions that lead to drying also result in yellowing as the oil film ages. And unfortunately, faster drying oils also yellow more than do slower drying oils. The yellowing of the oil medium would have a quite noticeable effect on white passages (turning them a dirty white) and blue passages (turning them greenish); effects of yellowing would be much less obvious in passages of other colors, such as green, yellow, or red. Apparently, quite early in the history of oil painting artists were aware of this, and more than one type of oil may be found in a given painting. The slower drying walnut typically is found in blue or white paints. The faster drying linseed is more likely to be found in other passages, where its greater tendency to yellow would not present much of a problem.

It seems certain that "pure" oil painting was stimulated in Italy by the example of Flemish oil paintings. One of the Italian artists who first experimented with oils was Cosimo Tura. His Allegorical Figure, in the National Gallery, in London, dated to about 1460, is a unique document. It appears to have been begun in egg tempera, following the traditional Italian practice. Perhaps a year or two later Tura seems to have entirely repainted it in oil. The layer structures of the oil painting are quite similar to those found in early Flemish oil paintings. The painting may have been done in Ferrara, where some works by Roger van der Weyden are known to have been located. Tura used walnut oil in white passages, linseed in passages of other colors.

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Responses

  • gundobad
    How was saint luke drawing the virgin painted?
    7 years ago
  • Dexter Percy
    What methods are used in saint luke drawing the virgin?
    2 years ago
  • bisrat
    What are the focal point of saint luke drawing the virgin painting?
    11 months ago

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