Techniques

I am interested in the art techniques of the past, especially those used in the so-called European ‘dark ages’. You only have to wander around the medieval rooms of the British Museum to realise that the dark ages weren’t dark at all, at least not from a creative point of view.

This cup, for example –

Medieval art techniques - The Royal Gold Cup

The Royal Gold Cup. Photo: British Museum

– with its decoration of translucent enamels, was made in France between 1370- 80.

Many art techniques will have been lost in the mists of time – we will never know every detail of medieval metallurgy, casting and damascening, how glass was embellished with gold…the preparation of gems and the blocking of leather…the preparation of gilded textile threads and all the adhesives and cements, glues, tools and varnishes in regular use.

However, we do have important books such as Cennino d’Andrea Cennini’s ‘Il Libro dell’Arte’. Written in the fifteen century, this is a delicious book full of such esoteric chapters as ‘How to make Minever Brushes’ and ‘How Goat Glue is made’ (I’m sure you may be able to imagine what this latter entails!), together with recipes – for gesso, for example – still used today.

The preparation of pigments and their sources is fascinating, and over the months to come I will be trying to make some of my own. I’m sure the results will be variable, but it is always more satisfying to make something than to buy it from a shop.

 

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