E N C A U S T I C P A I N T I N G -- A H I S T O R Y O F T H E A R T
painting (from the Greek: "burnt in") was
an ancient method of fixing pigments with heated
wax. It was probably first practiced in Egypt
about 3000 BC. Yet, perhaps the best known
of all ancient encaustic works are the Fayum
funeral portraits painted in the 1st and 2nd
centuries AD by Greek painters living in Egypt
after Alexander the Great's conquest of that
region. These Greek artisans adopted many
of the Egyptian customs, including mummifying
their dead, and the painting of a portrait
of the deceased which was placed over the
person's mummy as a memorial.
of our knowledge of the early encaustic paintings comes from the Roman
historian, Pliny. Writing in the 1st
century, Pliny described how encaustic was used for the painting of portraits,
mythological scenes on panels, for coloring marble and terra cotta, and for
work on ivory (probably the tinting of incised lines). Many of the pieces from this time survive
today, and their color has remained as fresh as any recently completed work.
excellent condition of these ancient works is most likely due to the fact that
wax is an excellent preservative of materials.
The Greeks applied coatings of wax and resin to waterproof their ships. Pigmenting the wax gave rise to the
decorating of warships. In the Iliad,
Homer refers to the painted ships of the Greek warriors who fought at Troy.
the process of producing encaustic art was costly and the medium fell into
disuse after the decline of the Roman Empire.
During the Italian Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci and others attempted
unsuccessfully to revive the technique.
However, it was not until the 20th century that encaustic art
experienced a true resurgence. Through
the availability of portable electric heating implements and other tools,
encaustic painting has once again taken its place as a major artist's medium.