Oil paint

Painters in the Renaissance customarily employed tempera, a paint consisting of pigments dissolved in a binder (often egg yolk). Tempera dries quickly, so that layers of paint can be superimposed on one another. The advantages of oil paint were only discovered by artists during the course of the fifteenth century: first, oils dry more slowly and can be thus mixed on the picture support; second, they have higher opacity. Oil paints were already in use north of the Alps; Bellini belongs to the first painters who took them up in the south. He might have exchanged information on oil paints with painters from the north visiting Venice during their travels. Mantegna experimented with different kinds of paint of course, but in contrast to Bellini he largely remained true to tempera paints.

Attributed to Giovanni Bellini: Portrait of a Humanist (Andrea Mantegna?), detail, about 1475–80, oil on board, 35 x 28 cm
© Comune di Milano, tutti i diritti riservati

Andrea Mantegna: Saint Jerome Penitent in the Desert, detail, 1448–51, egg tempera on panel, 51 x 40 cm © Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand / Photo: João Musa