Colourless Powdered Glass as an Additive in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century European Paintings

Marika Spring
Technical Bulletin Volume 33, 2012

Abstract

In recent years, during technical examination of paintings in the National Gallery, it has been discovered that many fifteenth- and sixteenth-century artists, all over Europe, used colourless powdered glass to modify the working and perhaps drying properties of oil paint. The earliest Italian work in which it has been found is Music (NG 756) by Justus of Ghent and workshop (probably from the 1470s), while the earliest Northern European painting is Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait (1434, NG 186). A few occurrences in French and Spanish paintings have also been identified. The manner in which it was employed in more than 70 paintings is considered, as is the composition, investigated by quantitative SEM-EDX analysis. The type of glass shows the same general trends already established for vessel glass of the period – soda ash glass in Italian paintings (with only one exception) and wood or fern ash glass in the majority of the Northern European works. The historic documentary sources that mention powdered glass as a paint additive are also reviewed.

Keywords 

powdered glass, glass type, quantitative analysis, documentary sources, siccative, extender, fifteenth-century painting, sixteenth-century painting

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To cite this article we suggest using

Spring, M. 'Colourless Powdered Glass as an Additive in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century European Paintings'. National Gallery Technical Bulletin Vol 33, pp 4–26.
http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/technical-bulletin/spring2012


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