The history of oil painting

Oil painting may traced back to several centuries ago and it is an incredibly far-reaching artistic practice. The earliest discovery of its usage goes as far back as the fifth century A.D. to the Bamian Valley of Afghanistan, where Indian and Chinese artists created hundreds of paintings in the nexus of caves there.

But oil painting art did not achieve widespread prominence and usage until it arrived in Northern Europe in the 15th century. Netherlands artist Jan Van Eyck is most often credited with “discovering” the practice, having experimented with oil painting techniques in his wood panel works, including his famed Arnolfini wedding portrait. Eventually oil painting swept through the rest of Europe, replacing tempera painting as the most prominent medium of choice and becoming the painting practice most closely associated with the art of the High Renaissance.

What initially made oil painting art so appealing was the brightness and richness of its colors. What has allowed it to stand the test of time is its adaptability to an artist’s whims and requirements. For instance, Renaissance oil painting artists tended to use oil paints in layers, working fat over lean (which means adding more oil to the pigment as you go through each successive layer to allow for proper drying or curing so the final surface of the painting won’t crack) and dark to light.

This is usually called indirect painting and allows an artist to build up the painting surface from toned underpainting to finishing glazes.

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