From the funerary portraits of Fayum, through the work of Jan van Eyck, to Leonardo, Rubens and Botticelli, many of the greatest paintings are on wood panels.
Since the decline of egg tempera and fresco in the Renaissance, oil paints have predominated. They rely on drying oils as their binder, which give them longevity and versatility.
From Jan van Eyck’s trompe l’oeil, through Tanner’s fiery cross, to the modern young Polish woman of Jacek Malczewski.
The standard blue pigment for the Renaissance and on, until about 1710, it was used in many Old Masters before disappearing by 1800.
A beautiful, intense green used by the van Eycks, Tintoretto, Domenichino, and Renoir, it was never popular in oil paints, and quietly died out.
The most famous of all, with its origins in Afghanistan, the most precious and beautiful pigment. But it has caught out some of the best forgers too.
Used since Roman times, it was common in the dress of saints. Highly toxic, it was progressively replaced by cadmium red in the late 19th century.
In the hands, and brushes, of great artists, a religious set-piece becomes a succession of marvellous and highly innovative paintings.
Are they part of a narrative, or staffage? Do they provide scale, or enhance the effect? Are the figures part of the landscape, or even the landscape itself?
Painters of the early northern Renaissance founded modern Western landscape painting, and developed the first examples of staffage.