Tempera (or egg tempera) is the primary type of artist's paint
and associated art techniques that were prevalent in Europe's Middle
Ages. It is paint made by binding pigment in an egg medium However,
the term tempera in modern times is also used by some manufacturers
to refer to ordinary poster paint, which is a form of gouache that
has nothing to do with real egg tempera.
Tempera was traditionally created by hand-grinding dry powdered
pigments into egg yolk (which was the primary binding agent or medium),
sometimes along with other materials such as honey, water, milk
(in the form of casein) and a variety of plant gums. After the invention
of oil paint in the Late Middle Ages, tempera continued to be used
for awhile as the underpainting (base layer) with translucent or
transparent oil glazes on top. This transitional, mixed technique
was followed by a sole oil painting techniques, which for the most
part replaced tempera in the 16th century.
Tempera paint dries rapidly. The techniques of tempera painting
can be exacting when used with traditional techniques that require
the application of numerous small brush strokes applied in a cross-hatching
technique. The colors, which are painted over each other, resemble
a pastel when unvarnished, or the deeper colors when varnished.
Tempera is normally applied in thin semi-opaque or transparent
layers. When dry, it produces a smooth matte finish. Because it
cannot be applied in thick layers as oil paints can, tempera paintings
rarely have the deep color saturation that oil paintings can achieve.
True tempera paintings are quite permanent.
Place a small amount of the pigment paste onto a palette, dish or
Add about an equal volume of the egg medium and mix well making
sure there are no lumps of pigment. Some pigments require slightly
more egg medium, some require less.
Add distilled water (usually less than a teaspoon per egg yolk),
trial and error will dictate just how much water is required.
Only the contents of the yolk are used. The white of the egg and
the membrane of the yolk are discarded. After isolating the yolk
and drying the membrane slightly by rolling it on a paper towel,
pick up the yolk gently by the membrane, dangle it over a receptacle
and puncture the membrane with [for instance] a toothpick to drain
off the liquid inside.
If the paint contains too much yolk, the paint will look greasy
and clumpy; too much water makes it run. So makers of paint have
to finely adjust the amount of water and yolk to achieve a consistent
paint. As tempera dries, the artist will add more water to preserve
the consistency and to balance the thickening of the yolk on contact
Many of the pigment used by medieval painters, such as Vermilion
(made from mercury ore), are highly toxic. Most artist nowadays
use artificial pigments, such as the quinocronones are less toxic
but have similar color properties to the older pigments