Home >> Engineer's And Mechanic's Encyclopedia >> Copperas to Furnace >> Encaustic Painting

Encaustic Painting

wax, colours, water, picture, cloth, method, fire, wood, powder and gum

ENCAUSTIC PAINTING. A method ofpainting, much in use among the ancients, in which wax was employed to give a gloss to the colours, and permanence to the work. From the meagre account given to us by Pliny of the method, it is evident he was not in the secret himself; all the information he affords amounts to this — that the colours made use of were fixed by fire, and that wax was employed to give them a gloss, and preserve them from being injured by the air. This ancient art, after having been long lost, was restored by Count Caylus, a member of the Academy of Inscriptions at Paris ; and the method of painting in wax was announced to the Academy of Painting and Belles-Lettres in the year 1753, through M. Bacheleir, the author of a treatise de rHistoire et du Secret de la Peinture en Cire, who had actually painted a picture in wax in 1749, and he was the first who communicated to the public the method of performing the operation of inustion, which is the principal characteristic of the encausting painting. The cloth or wood designed for the basis of the picture is waxed over, by only rubbing it simply with a piece of -bees' wax, the wood or cloth stretched on a frame being held hori zontally over, or perpendicularly before, a fire, at such a distance that the wax might gradually melt, whilst it is rubbed on, diffuse itself, penetrate the body, and fill the interstices of the texture of the cloth, which, when cold, is fit to paint upon. But as water colours, or those that are mixed up with common water, will not adhere to the wax, the whole picture is first to be rubbed over with Spanish chalk or' white, and then the colours are applied to it; when the picture is dry it is put near the fire, whereby the wax melts, and absorbs all the colours. Several improvements in the art of encausting painting were proposed by Mr. J. H. Mune; in a treatise by him on this subject. When the painting is in cloth he directs it to be prepared by stretching it on a frame, and rubbing one side several times over with a piece of bees' wax, or virgin wax, till it is covered with a coat of considerable thickness. In fine linen this is the only operation necessary previous to painting, but coarse cloth must be gently rubbed on the unwaxed side with a pumice stone, to take off all those knots which would prevent the free and accurate working of the pencil. Then the subject is to be painted on the unwaxed side with colours prepared and tempered with water; and when the picture is finished, it must be brought near the fire, that the wax may melt and fix the colours. This method, however, can only be applied to cloth, paper, or other substances through which the wax can pass ; but in wood, stone, metals, or plaster, the method previously described may be observed. In the year 1787, Miss Greenland, an amateur of painting, communicated to the Society of Arts the knowledge of this art which she had acquired during her residence at Florence, and at the same time made a present to the Society of a picture executed by herself in this manner, and for which the Society awarded her their honorary reward of a gold pallet. The following are her instructions. "Take an ounce of white wax, and the same weight of gum mastich, powdered. Put the wax in a glazed earthen vessel over a very slow fire, and when it is quite dissolved throw in the mastich, a little at a time, stirring the wax continually until the whole quantity of gum is perfectly melted and incorporated ; then throw the paste into cold water, and when it is hard take it out of the water, wipe it dry, and beat it in one of Mr. Wedgwood's

mortars, observing to pound it first in a linen cloth, to absorb some drops of water that will remain in the paste, and prevent the possibility of reducing it to a powder, which must be so fine as to pass through a thick gauze. It should be pounded in a cold place, and but a little while at a time, as after long beating the friction will in a degree soften the wax and the gum, and instead of their becoming a powder, they will return to a paste. Make strong gum arable water, and when you paint, take a little of the powder, some colour, and mix them together with the gum water. Light colours require but a small quantity of the powder, but more of it must be put in proportion to the body and darkness of the colours ; and to black there must be almost as much of the powder as colour. Having mixed the colours, and no more than can'be used before they get dry, paint with fair water, as is practised in painting with water colours, a ground on the wood being first painted of some proper colour, prepared in the same manner as is described for the picture ; walnut-tree and oak are the sorts of wood commonly made use of in Italy for this purpose. The painting should be very highly finished, otherwise, when varnished, the tints will not appear united. When the painting is quite dry, with rather a hard brush, passing it one way, varnish it with white wax, which should be put into an earthen vessel and kept melted over a very slow fire till the picture is varnished, taking great care that the wax does not boil. Afterwards hold the picture before the fire, near enough to melt the wax, but not to make it run ; and when the varnish is entirely cold and hard, rub it gently with a linen cloth. Should the varnish blister, warm the picture again very slowly, and the bubbles will subside. When the picture is dirty, it need only be washed with cold water." Almost all the colours that are used in oil painting may be employed in the en caustic method, and many which cannot be admitted in oil painting, as red lead, red or piment, crystals of verdigris, and red precipitate of mercury, may be used here. The crayons used in encaustic painting are the same with those used in the common way of crayon painting, excepting those that are in their composition too tenacious, and the method of using them is the same in both cases. The encaustic painting has many peculiar advantages ; though the colours have not the natural varnish or shining they acquire with oil, they have all the strength of painting in oil, and all the airiness of water colours, without partaking of the apparent character or defects of either; they may be looked at in any light, and in any situation, without any false glare ; the colours are firm, and will bear washing; and a picture after having been smoked and then exposed to the dew, becomes as clean as if it had just been painted. In retouching the new colours unite with the old ones.