Have you ever wondered, what were the surfaces old masters painted on?
What did they use?
Why did they use what they used?
Well I am here to tell you some interesting things about the panels used by old masters and the techniques they used to prepare their panels and it is so fascinating!
Duccio, Maestà. Uffizi Gallery
Over the centuries various species of woods have been used depending upon the location, ease of availability and also on the fashion at that time.
For example in Southern Germany and Holland oak was used while in southern Germany they were using linden, pine and fir, in Italy artists were using poplar and America was using mahogany and cotton wood, some of the wood they imported from Europe.
The poplar was very popular because of its high dimensional stability during moisture changes and good strength. It is light weight and easy to dry and process, some other woods were used because of these similar qualities.
Sawing and Cutting Patterns
Panels were made out these wood. There were two types of cutting which were done on the wood :
1. Radial Cut
2. Tangential Cut
Radially cut wood is more prone to cupping( i.e. bending of the wood because of moisture changes) than the tangentially cut wood.
In case of radially cut wood more wood gets wasted, more art panels were made using radial cuts.
In Spain, paintings were done through strict contracts, in which they mentioned the quality of wood, the seasoning time, size , time limit and costs,
Sometimes huge painting contracts were divided into subcontracts, for example one artist will take full responsibility of the entire job and then he will subcontracts various process to other craftsmen, like panel making job was given to carpenters. Often times artists will have their own carpenters, evidence of which is seen in many paintings done by the same artist and same carpenters.
Contracts will sometimes also mention "in case if anything happens to the painting after 6 months of installation, the artist will be responsible and he will have to make the entire painting again at his own expense"!
Seasoning is air drying of the wood once it is cut from the trunk. The seasoning time limit was sometime from 2-10 years. If the panels were made out of the woods which was not seasoned properly, there were gaps in between the panels after few years.
Duccio, Maestà. Uffizi Gallery
Connections between boards
The panels were connected with each other using cheese glue and casin, both of which have to be applied very hot
whereas at the back different patterns were used to allign panels for bigger sufaces
Some of those techniques are
1.Cross beams (cross pattern at the back)
2.Nailed cross beams (joined using iron nails)
3.Glued Crossbeams (joined using glue)
Layers in Addition to Ground Layers
In addition to ground layers, hemp and Lenin cloth were used to cover the wood defects like knotholes and cavities. Both of these materials had to be applied very hot with glue\
In Italy, during 14th century, ground layers were made of glue, cotton and gesso, the cloth was used to cover the entire panel surface and was also applied to the frame.
In 15th centuary the cloth was replaced by parchment and vegetable fibe and were only applied on wood defects.
Aparantly the cloth showed the best results, When there were movements in the wood the cloth will get detactched from the wood along with the painting layers and kept the paintings intact.
In Spain gesso was prepared as anywhere else using calcium carbonate and calcium sulfate.
This is all about the panels in short, isn't it too fascinating?
Ill try to put up more information like these on my website so do not forget to subscribe to my news letters, because i am going to talk about some more things which are really awesome, one among them is which panels we can use in todays day with so much technical advancements! so stay tuned!