Perino del Vaga, The Holy Family. By permission of The National Gallery, Melbourne.

Oil-based pigments revolutionized painting techniques through the many subtle effects they allow. They dry slowly, and allow the artist to combine transparent layers with darker, more opaque textures.

The interplay of light and dark, especially in such paintings as this which use the technique of "chiaroscuro" ("light-dark"), was made possible by the oil paints which became widely used in the fifteenth century. Of course the paintings darkened over time, especially with the use of candles for lighting, but modern techniques have revealed the often brilliant colouring used by Renaissance artists. (Click to read about the artist* who painted this picture.)

Perino del Vaga (1501-1547) followed the style of Raphael, and worked with Giulio Romano. Like many of his peers he studied early Roman sculpture and architecture as a guide for his own style. Unlike Giulio Romano, however, his style remained largely decorative, avoiding the strong drama and emotion many other painters of his time were seeking.

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Another great improvement was the discovery that canvas could be used in place of wooden panels: it was lighter, cheaper, and easier to prepare.

How Titian used oil paints

One of Titian's students left this description of the way he worked with oil paints:

"He laid in his pictures with a mass of colour which served as a groundwork . . . With the same brush dipped in red, black, or yellow he worked up the light parts and in four strokes he could create a remarkably fine figure . . . Then he turned the picture to the wall and left it for months without looking at it . . . The final touches he softened, occasionally modulating the highest lights into the half-tones and local colours with his finger."

Footnotes

  1. Perino del Vaga

    Perino del Vaga (1501-1547) followed the style of Raphael, and worked with Giulio Romano. Like many of his peers he studied early Roman sculpture and architecture as a guide for his own style. Unlike Giulio Romano, however, his style remained largely decorative, avoiding the strong drama and emotion many other painters of his time were seeking.