The Role of Chemistry in History

The Role of Chemistry in History header image 2

The History

April 27th, 2008 · No Comments ·

Introduction  The History Tempera Paints vs. Oil Paints Drying Oils The Extraction of Linseed Oil Linolenic Acid So What? Oil Painting and History Bibliography


Although the invention of linseed oil as a painting medium is attributed to Jan Van Eyck in the fifteenth century, the use of drying oils have an earlier and more gradual development in the history of art.

  • Galen (131-230 CE): mentions nut, hempseed, and linseed oils as drying oils
  • Actius of Amida (in Mesopotamia), a physician in 540 CE, notes the importance of drying oils to painters
  • Theophilus (11th/ 12th Centuries) states the value of linseed, olive, walnut, and poppy-seed oil in painting and varnishes; he did not know how to purify or refine the oils or how to speed up the drying process
  • The writings of Eraclius and Petrus of St. Audemar in the 12th and 13th Centuries mention methods for the extraction and refining of the oils
  • Drying oils as protective agents and as painting mediums are used in England, France and Germany in the 13th and 14th Centuries; in Italy, tempera paints still remain as the primary painting medium
  • The paintings of van Eyck (15th Century) are said to have convinced the Italian painters of the merits of oil painting
  • In the 16th Century, oil painting became widespread; in the 17th Century, it has become the universal medium
  • Oil painting continues to remain popular to the present day

Tags: Alpha-linolenic Acid (Linseed Oil)