Art Chowder May | June 2022 Issue No. 39 - Page 48

Botticelli , “ Annunciation ,” 1489
Piero Della Francesca both experimented with oil . But it took the Sicilian master Antonello Da Messina ( 1430-1479 ) to unite the best of Mediterranean and Nordic techniques . During a brief visit to Venice , he introduced the painters of that city to the new medium , and their techniques soon caught on in Florence . Giorgio Vasari , the biographer of great Italian painters , wrote in the early 16th century that oil paint was invented by “ Giovanni da Brugge ” ( Jan Van Eyck ) and spread to Italy by Antonello , but oil was in common use well over a century earlier .
Lippi was far surpassed by his star pupil , the sublime Sandro Botticelli ( 1445-1510 ). Although he is best loved today for such pagan works as “ The Birth of Venus ” and “ Primavera ,” he was a deeply religious man who came to disown the secular work of his youth , even to the point of throwing his own paintings on Savonarola ’ s bonfire of the vanities . He painted several annunciation scenes , but none were as elegant as the “ Cestello Annunciation ,” from 1489 . An angel bearing a lily has just fallen to his knees , and his upraised right hand flows into that of the young Virgin , who swoons in the graceful S-curve the Italians call contrapposto . The swirling curves of the drapery , wings , lily , and halo contrast sharply with the rigid straight lines of the floor and the wall moulding . Behind them is a landscape more Netherlandish than Italian , with a graceful sapling giving the composition a nice vertical accent .
Botticelli ’ s generation was the last of the great Renaissance tempera painters . Oil paint , with its slow drying time and capacity to make subtle tonal changes , was rapidly taking over . It was already standard in Northern Europe and began to catch on in Italy even in Cennini ’ s day . One chapter of his book begins , “ I want to teach you how to work with oil on a wall or panel , as the Germans are much given to do .” Botticelli ’ s contemporaries Antonio Del Pollaiuolo and
Oil paint was the standard medium all over Europe by 1500 . One rare egg tempera painting from the 16th century was the 1539 portrait of Anne of Cleves , by the Swiss painter Hans Holbein the Younger ( 1497-1543 ). The court painter of Henry VIII , and a master of oil paint , he seems to have chosen the medium out of expediency . Having divorced his first wife , beheaded his second , and outlived his third , Henry was once again in the market for a queen . Hearing that a young German woman named Anne was available , he dispatched Holbein to her hometown , wishing to see what she looked like as soon as possible . Taking advantage of the fast-drying time of tempera , Holbein promptly completed his portrait , which he painted on parchment instead of his usual wooden panel so it could be rolled up and whisked off to the king . Legend has it that he was entranced by the painting but disappointed when he finally met the subject . He married her , but they got a divorce within the year .
Egg tempera remained a curio of art history for about 400 years . It was revived in , of all places , the United States . At the Yale University School of Fine Arts , Daniel V . Thompson , Jr ., taught one of the first classes in the exotic old medium . Among the first 20th century painters to adopt it was the conservative regionalist Thomas Hart Benton , who rebelled against modern art in general . He first painted in tempera in the 1920s , and his example was soon followed by George Tooker , Paul Cadmus , Jared French , Jacob Lawrence , and several others . Mark Tobey , Morris Graves , and William Cumming , of