Proteins as Hidden Ingredients in Art of the Old Masters


According to recent research, “Old Masters,” including Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, and Rembrandt, may have employed proteins, particularly egg yolk, in their oil paintings. 

Classic oil paintings have long been shown to contain minute amounts of protein residue, yet these findings were frequently attributed to contamination. 

The inclusion was probably deliberate, according to recent research that was published in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday. This finding provides insight into the technical proficiency of the Old Masters, the most accomplished European painters of the 16th, 17th, or early 18th centuries, as well as how they prepared their paints.

According to study author Ophélie Ranquet of the Institute of Mechanical Process Engineering and Mechanics at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, who spoke during a telephone interview, there are very few written sources about this and no scientific work has ever been done to investigate the subject in such depth.

The researchers conclude that their findings “demonstrate how it may have been advantageous for the artists.” Even just a very tiny amount of egg yolk, oil paint may undergo an astounding shift in characteristics.

It appears that just using egg yolk in their works may have long-lasting effects that go beyond basic aesthetics.

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Color Dynamics and Drying Paces

Oil paint produces more powerful colors, allowing for extremely smooth color transitions, and dries much more slowly than tempera, the medium invented by the ancient Egyptians that consists of egg yolk, powdered pigments, and water. 

Oil paint may also be utilized for several days after it has been prepared. However, oil paint, which substitutes linseed or safflower oil for water, has disadvantages as well, such as a greater propensity for color fading and harm from light exposure.

A well-known component, egg yolk, may have been used in the newer type of paint since it was an artisanal and experimental procedure. This newer type of paint initially appeared in Central Asia in the seventh century before moving to Northern Europe throughout the Middle Ages and Italy during the Renaissance. 

In the study, the researchers mixed lead white and ultramarine blue, two historically significant and popular hues, using four ingredients: an egg yolk, distilled water, linseed oil, and pigment.

Ranquet claims that “the presence of egg yolk is helpful as it may significantly change the characteristics of these paints, for example, by showing different aging, it takes a longer time for the paint to rust due to the antioxidants present in the yolk.

The oil, pigment, and proteins in the yolk all interact chemically, and this has a direct impact on how the paint behaves and its viscosity.

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Source: CNN

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