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History of Encaustics

Greek Ships

Encaustic painting is an ancient medium, having been used by Greek artists as long ago as the 5TH century B.C.E. It is believed to have evolved from the use of wax as a preservative in shipbuilding. From making the ships watertight, it was a natural step to use the wax as decoration. Pigments mixed into the wax allowed the shipbuilders to decorate their warships. Homer mentions the painted ships sailed by the Greek warriors to fight Troy. The crude paint applied with tar brushes to decorate their ships evolved into the art of painting on panels.

Encaustics ability to both preserve and color facilitated its use on the stonework in both architecture and statuary. The white marble we see today in the monuments of Greek antiquity was once colored, probably delicately tinted like the figures on the Alexander sarcophagus in the Archeological Museum of Istanbul.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, encaustics became for the most part a lost art. It was viewed as too cumbersome and too painstaking and the cost was too high as compared to tempera, which was cheaper, faster, and easier to work.

Encaustic painting is now enjoying a revival of interest from modern artists, who recognize its exquisite visual properties.