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15th Century Tempera, Oil and Fresco Paintings

            The Christian religion was a major part of Northern European life in the late middle ages (around the late 14th and early 15th centuries). Deceptions from The Bible and other religious folklore was put into works of art during both the medieval and Renascence eras of Europe. Late medieval religious artwork were rendered by three major mediums of the time; oil pigment paint, tempera, and plaster fresco. Furthermore, the type of medium used could drastically change the perception and message of a painting.
             Tempera was a popular medium for religious art in the 14th century. According to Fred S. Kleiner, in his historical textbook titled, Gardner's Art through the Ages: A Global History, Volume II, (14th edition), tempera was a paint made from raw eggs and colored pigment. The use of the egg gave these paintings a high gloss and sheen, however, it also made the paintings more prone to crackling. According to Kleiner, many 14th century paintings were often commissioned or donated as alter pieces for churches and monasteries. Often, these alter pieces were adorned with gold leaf in order to embellish, highlight, and magnify the significance of the painting's spiritual message. The use of the high gloss tempera may have been used with gold leaf because these two mediums complimented each other so well. Additionally, the high gloss of tempera paint and the splendor of the gold leafing provided a great amount of detail on their own, without the need for the exquisite detail, shadowing, and depth that is seen in the fresco and oil paintings of the same time period. Duccio di Buoninsegna's tempera and gold leaf painting, Life of Jesus, comprised of 14 panels on the back of the Maestà Altarpiece, in Seina, Italy, 1308-14, is a good representation of a religious message painted with tempera. Though Duccio was a pioneer for depth and space in 14th century art, there is still a great deal of flatness in the tempera medium meant to highlight the painted character plays of Jesus' life.

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