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Tempera Painting

Tempera paintings appear to have originated in classical times. There are references to this sort of painting throughout Latin, Greek and ancient Egyptian literature. Numerous important works of art were said to have been made using this medium, so it appears that was quite popular with artists of the time. Some examples of tempera painting from antiquity do survive, such as the ‘Severan Tondo,’ which is a portrait of Septimus Severus, the Roman emperor. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, tempera gradually overtook encaustic as the main painting medium. Encaustic painting is the technique of adding heated beeswax to coloured pigments. Tempera painting became wildly popular throughout Europe and Asia and was favoured by many top artists. However, with the advent of oil painting in the 16th century, tempera painting gradually became less popular, though it is still favoured by some and enjoys revivals from time to time.

One of the main properties of tempera paint is that it’s not a flexible painting medium. What this means is that it needs to be applied to solid surfaces; wood panels were commonly used, for example. If it is applied to a softer surface, such as a canvas, it will end up cracking. This paint medium dries very quickly and the colours stay the same over time. Tempera paint can’t be applied in really thick layers, so it can’t produce the same richness of colour that oil paints can. Artists have to work with tempera paint quite quickly as once it’s been prepared, it can’t be stored and has to be used up.