If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:6:27

Video transcript

[Music] we're up on the second floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art looking at a small panel painting by an Italian artist whose name is Dottie one of the most prolific students of Java this is an egg tempera painting we generally think of old master paintings as being oil paint on canvas in southern Europe we have a tradition dating back all the ways the Middle Ages of painting an egg where as oil painting is really a northern tradition so why egg yolk these artists are very concerned with binding pigments all of these colored powders etc many of them mineral binding those colors to the wood panel the support that these works are often painted on in a way that's going to be durable and they were durable these are over 500 years old these paintings are coming out of a very highly refined tradition of painting guilds the way this would work is that as an apprentice you would train for it often seven years under a master understanding not only how to paint beautifully but how to make sure that your painting last for as long as possible with no visible change and that makes sense given the subject we're looking at an image of Saint Julian is painted on poplar wood a rather soft wood is one that works a lot over time and we can see that the surface does folds towards the center in fact it probably would have done so even more before it was restored in the nineteenth century a lot of these paintings have been planed down from the reverse and mounted on to a cradle of rigid wooden structure in the back that doesn't allow it to flex naturally we tend to think that deforestation is a very contemporary problem but the hardwoods of Italy were already deforested by the early and middle Renaissance so this is why they're painting on poplar they knew it wasn't the best wood they knew it would change they didn't have a choice and that's not the only change it's pretty clear that the lovely Gothic arch that the Saint is surrounded by would have ended with its points but here it's been cut off almost all of the Renaissance paintings that you'll find in museums around the world are only small fragments of what would have been very large altar pieces it would have been part of a multi panels holistic and we need to of course think back to a period before air conditioning where are you supposed to encounter this painting certainly not here at the Metropolitan but in a church in northern Italy a non seeded non cooled environment super humid and then super dry depending on times of the year and this is very harsh environment for any work of art because the wood itself is expanding and contracting and presumably does the potential that the paint itself could loosen wood has this ability to expand and contract again no problem paint does not have that ability however and that's the reason why paints very often cracks so extensively on these panel paintings what is absorbent and so you wouldn't want to paint directly on the wood what these artists and artisans would do is to use rabbit skin glue glue made from the skin of rabbits that's a size material in other words the feeling of that wood it limits the ability of that wood to absorb moisture on top of the rabbits can glue an additional layer of seal is added this is known as gesso the gesso or the ground or the priming of the painting is actually a mixture of rabbit skin glue again and then some gypsum calcium sulfate some white powder in other words this is an absorbent material which is now going to receive the egg tempera paint and also in areas under the gold a material called bole a kind of clay it's often reddish in color it is in this painting and that clay is again mixed with rabbit skin glue so if there's a whole lot of glue all throughout the layer structure of this painting part of the reason why it's so durable let's talk about the paint for just a moment temperate is painted with a very small brush with very fine brushstrokes egg tempera dries quite rapidly and it's very difficult to work wet in wet like you can with oil brushing wet paint into wet paint that's already on your panel here this is much more like a drawing technique because you have all these individual crisp little lines the face here is incredibly well preserved and we see all of these beautiful they almost look like pencil lines and really that's the tip of the brush we can imagine how painstaking this process is to be able to make this degree of modeling and illusionism essentially with pencil lines but while the face is really well preserved the red garment seems to be kind of flat remember that these were in churches for hundreds of years and they were cleaned by non conservators but monks and nuns you know the candles soot tuna grime that would collect on these paintings had to be removed with very strong materials urine and lat leave it or not these are very corrosive substances a lot of the upper brushwork the higher layers of the paint sadly have been scrubbed off and has probably happened hundreds of years ago it's a little misleading to call this a painting because only about 50% of the surface is actually paint the rest of it is gold gold is one of the only noble metals that we have it's a metal that doesn't tarnish the message here is yes it is expensive it's luxurious it's appropriate for a religious painting but deeply embedded in that meaning is also the fact that this is timeless it doesn't corrode the gold leaf which is actual gold that has been hammered very very thinned and applied and varnish a smooth object is rubbed over it and what we're seeing here is just a faint trace of the original gleam that the gold would have had this is water gilding technique the bowl is moistened slightly and that's all the adhesion necessary for this incredibly thin sheet of gold now after the gold is applied there are small metal tools which make all these beautiful little indentations again we're not supposed to be at the met we're supposed to be on our knees in candle light and that light is flickering and refracting off of all those little nooks and crannies it's part of a magic of these paintings it is too easy to forget about the incense the music the lighting the entire point of water gilding is to make it look solid and even though we know there's just a tiny thickness of gold leaf there these craftsmen were so good that they provided the illusion of solid gold so this is really an art of Illusion trying to produce an object costly because of its labor that looked like it was costly because of its material in the early Renaissance we have this great paradox that on the one hand where does this scene take place in a world of goal perhaps that's heaven but at the same time this figures painted quite illusionistic Lee I can imagine talking to that Saint and this artist was the student of Giotto who is credited with dramatically furthering the idea that he could represent figures that looked as if they were in a world that we recognized that they had mass and volume that they cast shadow we have one foot in the Middle Ages this world of gold but we have another foot defiantly here on earth in other words we have heaven on earth and this is a very powerful motif for these devotional paintings [Music]