Tempera Paint

Tempera Paint: Overview of Tempera Paint Including its Origins, Composition and Uses


Tempera paint is one of the oldest known painting mediums in the world, dating back to at least ancient Egypt and Greece. It remains popular today both for its versatility and historical significance.

What is Tempera Paint?

Tempera paint, also known as egg tempera, is a permanent, fast-drying paint made by mixing dry pigment powders with a water-soluble binder such as egg yolk. The pigments, usually made from natural earth minerals, provide the color while the binder holds the pigment particles together. Tempera Paint dries quickly to form a hard, durable film thanks to the coagulation and dehydration properties of egg yolk proteins. It is one of the most stable paint media, resistant to cracking or darkening with age when sealed or varnished.

Characteristics of Tempera Paint

Some key characteristics that differentiate tempera paint from other painting mediums include:

– Fast drying time: Tempera dries rapidly, typically within 8-24 hours depending on thickness of application and conditions. This makes it suitable for layered work and detail.

– Permanence: When sealed, tempera retains its color and prevents darkening extremely well over time compared to other paints. Works made centuries ago with tempera remain as vibrant today.

– Versatility: Tempera can be used thinly in washes, glazes or thicker in impasto for texture. It is highly blendable while wet but sets to a matte finish.

– Opacity: Tempera pigments tend to be very opaque, allowing layers or colors to be built up densely for vibrant saturation.

– Water-soluble: Tempera is thinned and cleaned up easily with water, requiring no toxic solvents. Historically it was low-cost and accessible.

– Transportability: Dry tempera powder travels well and can be reconstituted, making it suitable for portable artistic works like illuminated manuscripts.

A Brief History of Tempera Paint Usage

Some of the earliest known uses of tempera technique date back to artifacts from ancient Egyptian tomb paintings from around the 3rd millennium BC. The refined egg yolk binder provided a brilliant and stable surface for pigments even in hot, dry Egyptian tomb environments.

In Europe, tempera rose to prominence as the dominant fine arts painting medium by at least the 4th century AD, as evidenced by the Fayum mummy portraits and early medieval illuminated manuscripts. Renaissance era artists like Cimabue and Giotto in the 13th century are credited for elevating the status and sophistication of tempera painting to new heights.

During the 15th century, the emergence of new binders like linseed and walnut oils, along with developments in oil paint technology, began to gradually supplant tempera’s dominance in the fine arts. However, tempera continues to be prized today for its versatility across a wide range of applications from frescos, illuminated manuscripts to educational arts programs.

Techniques and Applications of Tempera Paint

Here are some of the most common techniques and applications where tempera paint continues to excel:

Frescos – Tempera lends itself well to fresco due to its quick drying properties allowingartists to work rapidly before the plaster dries. The pigments bond chemically with the plaster over time for permanence.

Manuscript Illumination – Tempera is still used today for illumination works requiring brilliant yet lightfast colors on delicate vellum and paper surfaces.

Mural Painting – Large scale tempera murals can be produced through various techniques like sinopia underdrawing, sgraffito and buon fresco. Temperamurals are very durable when properly sealed.

Panel Painting – On rigid supports like wood panels, tempera allows for refined detail and layered glazing techniques emulating stained glass windows and altarpieces.

Educational and Craft Projects – Tempera’s safety, cost and ease of use make it popular for K-12 programs, especially alongside techniques like stippling and scumbling. Craft projects often employ tempera washes or dotting.

Contemporary Fine Art – Many modern artists appreciate tempera’s vibrant color and versatility for realistic or expressionistic works ranging from figurative to abstraction.

With over 5,000 years of history, tempera continues to endure as one of the most versatile and accessible painting mediums. Its stability, brilliance and working properties have sustained its relevance across many applications from easel paintings to murals. Although less dominant today, tempera’s refined techniques continue yielding superb artistic results.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research.
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it.