Egg tempera is a medieval painting method that
requires the addition of egg yolk to pigment in a
water dispersion. This ‘tempering’ acts as a binder
for the adhering of color to the panel.
A wood panel sized, or sealed, with rabbit skin glue
and layered with multi-coats of a powdered gesso
ground, and sanded between and after coats, is the
traditional archival substrate for this technique. The
panel preparation is a tedious task and can take a
longer amount of time that the actual painting itself,
which is why egg tempera is not as popular as other
Cennino Cennini first recorded his methods, recipes,
and techniques for egg tempera painting in 1437 and
his ‘bible’ is still used today in an English translation
by Daniel V. Thompson, Jr.
Egg tempera used to be called la pittura al putrido
meaning ‘the putrid paint’ due to the unpleasant
odors in the medieval art studios which lacked
Traditionally this medium requires small brushstrokes
and is akin to drawing. Gilding is commonly seen in
egg tempera paintings and on the frames, especially
the religious paintings of the 15th and 16th centuries,
some of which are at the Art Institute in
Egg tempera is the precursor to oil painting.