Friday, June 19, 2009

Part 1: History of Watercolor

Watercolor is a tradition that spans the chronicles of history.

Primitive man used pigments mixed with water to create cave paintings by applying the paint with fingers, sticks and bones. Ancient Egyptians used water-based paints to decorate the walls of temples and tombs and created some of the first works on paper, made of papyrus. But it was in the Far and Middle East that the first watercolor schools or predominant styles emerged in the modern sense.

Chinese and Japanese masters painted on silk as well as exquisite handmade paper. Their art was filled with literary allusion and calligraphy, but the primary image was typically a contemplative landscape. This characteristic anticipated what was to be a central aspect of Western watercolor traditions in later centuries. In India and Persia, the opaque gouache paintings created by the Moslems depicted religious incidents derived from Byzantine art.

During the Middle Ages, monks of Europe used tempera to create illuminated manuscripts. These books were considered a major form of art, equivalent to easel painting in later years. Taking many years of service to complete, the monks copied the scriptures by hand onto sheets of parchment made from sheepskin, or vellum made from calfskin. Sometimes, entire pages were decorated with elaborate scroll work and symbolic images.

The most famous illuminated book was by the Limbourg brothers, Paul, Herman, and Jean (Flemish, c.1385-c.1416). This calendar, "Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry" or sometimes called "The Book of Hours," was created about 1415.

Medieval artists also worked in fresco which continued throughout the Renaissance. Fresco is a method by which pigments are mixed with water and applied to wet plaster. This method was used primarily to create large wall paintings and murals by such artists as Michelangelo (Italian, 1475-1564) and Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, 1452-1519). The most famous fresco is Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel of the Vatican painted from 1508 to 1512.

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