Ageing and deterioration of traditional oil and tempera paints

Authored by: Annelies van Loon , Petria Noble , Aviva Burnstock

Conservation of Easel Paintings

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9780367023799
eBook ISBN: 9780429399916
Adobe ISBN:


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Paintings do not look the same as when they left the artist’s studio. This is the result of drying and natural ageing processes that begin the moment the paint is applied and slowly progress over time, apart from changes caused by human interventions. These processes are inherent to the composition of the paint and thus are dependent on the materials that the artists have chosen. Differences in quality as a result of variation in the raw materials, manufacture, washing, and purification processes, as well as adulteration and particle size can affect the stability of the paint materials. Furthermore, specific pigment combinations, type of binding medium and its proportion to the pigment in the paint, the use of additives and or extenders, layer build-up and thickness – variables that determine the chemical environment of the materials – can influence their reactivity. Finally, ageing processes can be triggered or accelerated by environmental conditions such as light, moisture, heat, atmospheric and internally generated pollutants, and by conservation treatment. This chapter provides insight into the different aspects associated with the ageing of paint, such as underlying mechanisms, identification, interpretation, and consequences for conservation.

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