ONNECTION Lesson Plans
BACKGROUND Theme(s): Trade & Exploration
Egg tempera was the paint used by virtually all artists Science & Technology Arts & Architecture
during the Middle Ages. In fact, the use of tempera paint
can be traced back to ancient Egypt. In the early
Renaissance, artists used egg yolk as a binding agent,
mixing in colored pigments to create egg tempera paint. Egg tempera had
its limitations. It could not be stored, so each color was mixed when it was
needed. Mixing too little paint was a disaster because mixing additional
paint to match the first batch perfectly was very difficult. Mixing too much
paint was a waste of expensive materials. Because egg tempera dries very
quickly, artists had to paint small areas at one time. The fast drying time
made blending one color into another difficult, so artists layered one color
over another dry color to create modeling; a way to give three-
dimensionality to forms by shading or blending.
The limitations of tempera paint did not stop its use in Medieval Europe. Most
artists were painting pictures of religious figures and these paintings were not
meant to tell viewers what the saints looked like. The images were meant to
represent the saints. As the Renaissance took hold, artists became more
interested in describing what the world around them looked like in their
paintings. As landscapes and real people began to appear in paintings, the
problem of tempera became more apparent. Oil paint provided a solution. Giovanni del Biondo
Mystic Marriage of St.
Oil paint was used as early as the 12th century in Northern Europe but its Catherine Alexandria
potential was not realized until 15th century painters in the Netherlands About 1379
used oil paint to combine extraordinary realism with brilliant color. Oil paint Tempera on panel
is very flexible so it can be applied in both thick textured
brushstrokes and thin fine detail. It dries very slowly,
allowing artists to mix larger batches of paint and keep it
for more than one painting session. Slow drying paint can
be carefully blended to make soft, seamless shadows
necessary for the modeling that suggests three-
dimensional form. The oil in oil paint makes pigments
translucent, allowing artists to apply colors in thin layers or
glazes, generating rich, glowing colors. All these
properties make it especially good for communicating
textures of different surfaces from polished marble to
sparkling eyes, from soft feathers to dazzling highlights on
a crystal glass.
Studio of Frans Snyders
Game Stall at Market
As artists traveled between the Netherlands and Southern
Europe, the techniques of oil painting spread and grew.
Oil on canvas
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the Renaissance ONNECTION Lesson Plans
TEMPERA VERSUS OIL PAINT: BACKGROUND (continued)
As artists traveled between the Netherlands and Southern Europe, the
If you've ever seen an old oil painting
techniques of oil painting spread and grew. Many artists used
covered with thin, hairlike cracks, you've
tempera to prepare most of the painting and then applied glazes of
probably wondered -- is the painting
transparent oil paint over the tempera. As more and more artists broken? Oil paint shrinks as it dries. Oil paint
used oil paint, tempera was used less and less. By 1800, artists no that is applied thickly may shrink so much
longer needed to mix their own paints. They could buy pre-mixed oil that it cracks as it dries. So, if the first layer of
colors in tubes. While most painters today do not paint in the style of paint is very thick, and thin layers are
the Renaissance, they still largely prefer oil paint and draw on painted on top of it before it is totally dry, it
techniques and traditions that have been practiced for the last 500 will crack all the layers applied thereafter. As
years. the paint continues to dry, the cracks will get
bigger. As artists gained more experience
working with oil paint, they learned to
prevent cracking by painting thin, fast drying
layers first and leaving the thick, slow drying
layers for last.
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the Renaissance ONNECTION Lesson Plans
TEMPERA VERSUS OIL PAINT (continued)
• One to two 40 minute periods
The students will:
• Understand the innovations in painting as a result of the invention of oil paint during the Renaissance.
• Understand the differences between egg tempera paintings of the early Renaissance and oil paintings of the
middle and late Renaissance.
• Learn to distinguish the stylistic differences between egg tempera paintings and oil paintings.
• Experiment with tempera and oil paint to understand the differences in texture, drying time, blending and
PENNSYLVANIA ACADEMIC STANDARDS
Arts and Humanities
9.1.8 H.. Demonstrate and maintain materials, equipment and tools safely at work and performance spaces.
• Analyze the use of materials
9.1.8 J. Incorporate specific uses of traditional and contemporary technologies within the design for producing,
performing and exhibiting works in the arts or the works of others.
• Explain and demonstrate traditional technologies.
9.3.8 A. Know and use the critical process of the examination of works in the arts and humanities.
• Compare and contrast
• Form and test hypotheses
• Evaluate/form judgements
• LCD Projector or large display-sized reproductions of Adoration of the Magi (Kress Monogramist) and Mystic
Marriage of Saint Catherine Alexandria (Giovanni del Biondo).
• Tempera paint, powdered or pre-mixed, any kind will do, two colors per student
• Oil paint, two colors per student
• Linseed or other oil to thin oil paint
• Cleaning solvent
• Paper towels
• Paintbrushes, no larger than 1/4" flat or round, two per student
• 8" x 10" heavy watercolor paper or canvasette*, cut in half, one per student
• A collection of online or postcard sized reproductions of paintings from the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
The "Background" section of this lesson, reproduced as a student handout.
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the Renaissance ONNECTION Lesson Plans
TEMPERA VERSUS OIL PAINT: OPTIONAL RESOURCES (continued)
*Canvasette is plastic or canvas pre-primed "paper" that comes in tablets of different sizes and can be easily cut
with a scissors, available at most art supply outlets.
1. Setting the Stage
(Note: The background section of this lesson might serve as a handout to help students in this activity.)
In the early Renaissance, artists created paintings with powdered, colored pigments mixed with egg yolk as a
binding agent, called egg tempera paint. Egg tempera dries very quickly, so artists had to paint small areas at
one time. If students have ever painted with watercolor paint, the drying time is much the same. Later in the
Renaissance, oil paint was invented. Oil paint is translucent; it lets more light through and dries much more
slowly. Oil paint allowed Renaissance artists to build up layers of color to show light and depth more realistically.
Artists learned techniques with oil paint that allowed them to convincingly recreate the world around them in
their paintings. The success of these techniques encouraged artists to strive for representing reality rather than
religious subjects in their paintings.
Show students reproductions of Adoration of the Magi (Kress Monogramist) and Mystic Marriage of Saint
Catherine Alexandria (Giovanni del Biondo). Ask if they can tell which is painted with egg tempera and which is
painted with oil paints. Explain that they will get another chance to guess after they compare painting with oil
paint and painting with tempera paint.
2. The Renaissance Connection
Instruct students to use their pencils to
draw five squares on their watercolor
paper. Each square should measure
at least one inch by one inch, without
their sides touching. Instruct students to
label one square tempera; one square
oil; one square tempera blending; one
square oil blending; and one square
oil glazing. A teacher-made example
or a diagram on the blackboard will help students complete this step of the lesson quickly.
If students have not worked with oil paint before, they may need to be shown how to use solvent to clean their
brushes and get a safety lesson on working with paint solvent and oil. Make certain students understand that
paper towels soaked with solvent can be combustible and should be disposed of safely. Students should also
understand that prolonged exposure to solvents could cause skin and breathing problems.
Instruct the students to paint the square marked tempera with the tempera paint. Before students paint the
square marked oil, show students how to squeeze a small amount of oil paint from the tube onto the palette.
Thin the paint with a little oil if it's too thick. Instruct students to use their brush to pick up a bit of the oil paint and
apply it to the paper in the square marked oil. Ask students how the two paints feel when they are applied with
the brush? Which is more opaque and which is more translucent? Ask students to notice how long it takes the
tempera paint to dry. Next, have students paint the square marked oil glazing with oil paint, explaining that it will
need to dry a bit before glazing is added.
Demonstrate for students how to blend one color into another with oil paint before students try with their own
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the Renaissance ONNECTION Lesson Plans
TEMPERA VERSUS OIL PAINT: ART LESSON (continued)
paint. Lay down one color in half of the area to be painted. Clean the brush and lay down another color into the
other half of the area, bringing it right up to the edge of the first color. Clean and dry the brush and draw it along
the edge (not across the edge) where the two colors meet, blending each color into the other. Once students
have seen the demonstration, instruct them to try the technique in the squares they have marked, first with oil
paint, then with tempera. Which type of paint was easier to blend? Which type of paint resulted in the most
If the square marked oil glazing has dried to the touch, students can thin another color of oil paint with oil until it
is very translucent and then apply it over half of the oil paint square. Remind students that artists in Renaissance
used oil paint to glaze pictures previously painted with tempera. What effect does glazing have on the original
color that the square was painted? How does it compare with the square marked oil blending?
Show students reproductions of Adoration of the Magi (Kress Monogramist), and Mystic Marriage of Saint
Catherine Alexandria (Giovanni del Biondo) again, or give them reproductions of a variety of tempera and oil
paintings from the Renaissance. Students may work individually, in small groups or as a class. Ask them to sort
the reproductions into paintings made with tempera paint and paintings made with oil paint.
Did the student articulate the differences between oil and tempera paint? Did the student successfully blend both
oil and tempera paint? Did the student produce an example of glazing with oil paint? Was the student able to
discern the difference between paintings made with egg tempera paint and those made with oil paint after
completing the painting activity?
5. Related Activity
Students can make their own egg tempera by following the Egg Tempera science lesson in the Renaissance
binding agent: a substance, such as egg yolk or oil, that binds colored pigment particles together to form paint.
egg tempera: colored pigments, ground into powder, and mixed with egg yolks to create paint.
modeling: in painting or drawing, a method for depicting three-dimensional form. An artist traditionally uses
hatching and subtle gradations of light and dark colors to create the appearance of shadows and highlights.
oil paint: Paint that is created by mixing oil with colored pigments that are ground into powder.
solvent: a liquid, often turpentine, which dissolves oil and oil paint.
translucent: allowing light to pass through, having a glowing appearance as if light were coming through.
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