Materials & Tools of a Renaissance Artist

Renaissance artists were highly skilled in utilizing a diverse array of drawing and painting tools and materials, ranging from inks, pens, brushes, different types of paper, panels, gesso, water, oil and glue based binders, and much more. Each tool was specifically designed for a particular purpose, making the artist’s choice of tool crucial to the success of their work.

Invention of Oil Painting (Color Olivi), Hans Collaert IIc. after Johannes Stradanus, 1590, Engraving, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Invention of Oil Painting (Color Olivi), Hans Collaert IIc. after Johannes Stradanus, 1590, Engraving, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
In this engraving we can take a glance into a XVI century painter’s studio and a variety of tools, materials and related tasks that surrounded the creative process

During the Quattrocento period in Italy, colors, grounds, varnishes, and other materials were typically produced within the artist’s workshop itself. The responsibility of mixing colors, applying gesso, and performing other manual tasks often fell to apprentices or assistants (garzone), while the artist, who had previously been an apprentice themselves and had acquired an extensive understanding of all processes, methods, tools, and materials within the bottega, oversaw and directed the production process.

The Renaissance masters’ remarkable results were a result of their deep understanding of these processes, methods, tools, and materials, extensive hands-on experience under a master-artist, as well as their study of anatomy, perspective, optics, and ancient Roman art. Their expertise and knowledge of these fundamentals allowed them to achieve extraordinary levels of skill and produce works of art that continue to inspire and awe to this day.

Renaissance Art Materials:

The course encompasses a variety of tools and materials essential to Renaissance art-making. Throughout the course, students will have the opportunity to create most of these materials and tools from scratch or using raw materials in the studio.

The basis of the profession, the very beginning of all these manual operations, is drawing and painting. These two sections call for a knowledge of the following: how to work up or grind, how to apply size, to put on cloth, to gesso, to scrape the gessos and smooth them down, to model with gesso, to lay bole, to gild, to burnish; to temper, to lay in; to pounce, to scrape through, to stamp or punch; to mark out, to paint, to embellish, and to varnish, on panel or ancona. To work on a wall you have to wet down, to plaster, to true up, to smooth off, to draw, to paint in fresco. To carry to completion in secco: to temper, to embellish, to finish on the wall. And let this be the schedule of the aforesaid stages which I, with what little knowledge I have acquired, will expound, section by section.

The craftsman’s handbook by Cennini, Cennino, active 15th century; translated by Thompson, Daniel Varney, 1902- ed