Kings, Queens & Courtiers:Art in Early Renaissance France.
I had the privilege of briefly perusing the new exhibition at the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago over Easter Weekend. This survey of French art during the Gothic and Early Renaissance was comprehensive displaying tapestries, sculpture, costume, architectural plans and paintings. Being a painter it was the these works that struck me the most. Reproductions do not do them justice, the detail and color after 600 years is breathtaking.
My primary fascination however is the fact that these were the first oil paintings. The workshops of the Gothic painters had to experiment with new pigments and mediums that had only recently been brought to Europe after the Crusades from the Middle East. They were making this up as they went along! Looking closely you can see artists experiment with medieval tempera techniques and then explore to use glazes and mottling and blending to create lustrous effects only possible in oil. There were no classes to take, it required a hundred years of trial and error to refine the techniques. These paintings must have been astounding new revelations at the time that challenged a thousand years of medieval training. Just as the camera effected painting in the 20th Century and the Computer in the 21st, I try to remember that in the 15th century, oil painting was a brand new and revolutionary medium, and the one thing about art that never changes, is that artists will always embrace The New.