|(From lat. encaustĭcus, from Greek gr. Eγκαυστικoς, "to burn into").
|1. adj. Pint. Painting. Said of a painting: Made with encaustic art.
|2. fr. Painting with heat or with fire, whether it be with coloured, melted wax applied with a hot iron, or by previously heating the colours and applying them to a painting with a brush, painting on ivory with a heated burin or graver, or with enamel on glass, clay or ceramics.
The invention of encaustic
art is attributed to Polygnotos. But with the discoveries of the tombs of ancient Thebes, in Egypt, many of the tools and pigments that were used in their paintings came to be known: stones to grind the colours, millstones, reeds with a soft, fibrous end for the reproduction of the paintings and applying the colours, palettes with holes or cavities, etc. The colours that were used were cobalt blue, Egyptian blue, vermilion, red, Indian yellow, ocre, brown, green and black; which were mixed with wax and dissolved in oil; they also used wax and various varnishes to protect the painting and made use of different resins dissolved in non-volatile and volatile oils.
Paillot de Montabert, pupil of David, supposed that the Egyptians, who were so worried about the permanence of their work, knew about the properties of oil painting and if they did not make use of this procedure was because of the little solidity that they appreciated in it.
The Greeks continued using this technique, and although Pliny was the only one who briefly and vaguely mentioned the procedure, it has been investigated with complete certainty, that the white beeswax was mixed with powdered pigments, formed into bars that were kept in small boxes; when painting, they arranged them in front of themselves in small vessels separated by wood or terra-cotta and with a type of heated burin they took and applied the colour on the wall or a board. The heat of burin, liquefying the wax, made it so that it adhered to the surface and immediately afterwards, the artist turned the burin around, using the other end, which was flat, to expand, combine and soften the different inks.
In ancient Roman Empire, encaustic art conserved the characteristics of its Greek origins, being developed in its entirety, as shown in the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii.
Throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, this technique was practically forgotten. However, it was continued to be used as a medium, according to Leonardo De Vinci’s notes, to diminish the dark colour of Antonello’s medium, forming a mixture of oil and white of lead with an equal part of water boiled over a low heat and then, so that the resulting paste was more flexible and ductile, they added five or ten percent beeswax when the mixture was just about to be finished boiling. The new medium of thick oil and the addition of wax to the pigments opened up a whole new area of improvisation and impulsive action without limits. Many of the works of Veronés, the most refined and least decorative, were done using the classical methods.
Rubens grinded his colours with black oil. To this and all the colours he added beeswax dissolved in oil to a proportion of a third of the volume of colour.
Van Dyck, a great pupil of Rubens, studied deeply the chemistry of the colours, being very prudent in their use and in the material he used. However, he substituted the thick medium of his master for another that was more fluid. Naroger says that the medium that Van Dyck used was the same as Rubens’, even though less boiled and with less lead.
Rembrandt’s technique was the same as Rubens, although he used the maximum amount of wax in his impastings. The Dutch Teniers, Vermeer, Steen, Chegers, etc., used Rubens’ medium but with a very small amount of wax, eventually its use was lost by the end of the 17th Century.
De Caylus, a scholar and a great investigator of art, revived this old method of painting and made the results of his investigations known in a thesis presented to the Académie on the 29th of July 1755. His were rather imperfect, but had the virtue of calling attention to the procedure and motivating new investigations on its practice, to which later on, in the 19th Century, the painter Paillot de Montabert dedicated part of his artistic life.
Vilbert used the tempera method of wax and water or glycerine with excellent results. Artists such as Sartorio, Hiler, Heaton, Gambier, Parry, Taubenheim, Muller, Brangwyn and Laurie used the oil-wax method. The lovely matte quality of wax, being mixed with oil, produces a beautiful and excellent substance that elevates and conserves the intensity of the different tones. The works done by these artists made with this material achieved surprising and extremely beautiful results, with a great endurance including when outdoors.
Currently Mexican artists have revived this method and use it in the painting of their murals.
Requena Nozal began his first works with wax and with encaustic art in 1968, progressively abandoning oil painting.