Painting on Copper—Origins

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By George O’Hanlon, Technical Director, Natural Pigments

Jan Brueghel the Elder, Singerie: Monkeys Feasting, 1621, oil on copper, 27 x 36 cm, Private collection

The practice of painting in oil on copper had its origins in the sixteenth-century. What is not well understood is where in Europe the practice began. In Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (Italian: Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori) Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) reported that Sebastiano del Piombo (1485–1547) made paintings on silver, lead and copper, likely in the first half of the fifteenth century. Among the first Italian painters to paint on copper was Antonio Correggio (1489–1534) who painted a ‘Penitent Magdalene’ on copper formerly in Dresden Gemäldegalerie but now lost. It wasn’t until the 1560s, however, that copper supports gained wider usage in Italy when Vasari, Agnolo Bronzino and Alessandro Allori painted works on copper for Francesco I de’ Medici in Florence.

That Northern European artists working in Italy adopted this practice and returned home with this new support is corroborated by biographer Karel van Mander (1548–1606). Van Mander writes in ‘Life of Bartholomeus Spranger, painting artist from Antwerp’ in his Book of Painters (Dutch: Schilder-Boeck) while in Rome Spranger (1546–1625) executed a ‘Last Judgement’ on copper, dated about 1570. In the ‘Life’ of Pieter Vlerick (1539–1581) Van Mander mentions that there was a painter named Michel Gioncquoy, who came from Rome and had painted many pictures on copper. In the ‘Life’ of Hans Rottenhammer (1564–1623) Van Mander mentions, that when Rottenhammer came to Rome he started painting on copper, ‘as is the working-method of the Netherlandish painters’.

Joachim Wtewael, Self-Portrait, 1601, oil on panel, 38 1/2 x 29 in. (98 x 73.6 cm), Centraal Museum Utrecht

What is clear from literature is that painting on copper got its start in the sixteenth century and became widespread in Europe in the latter half of the century. What is not established is where the practice of painting on metal supports got its start. Whether it began in Italy, and especially in Rome, as Vasari reports in the biography of Sebastiano del Piombo, or in the Netherlands as Van Mander mentions was ‘the working-method of the Netherlandish painters’ is not certain.

Joachim Wtewael, The Golden Age, 1605, oil on copper, 8 7/8 x 12 in. (22.5 x 30.5 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Joachim Anthonisz Wtewael, Dutch, c. 1566–1638

Surviving works on copper perhaps give us a clue because they indicate that copper was mostly used in the north, especially by Netherlandish and German painters. One of the most prolific and talented painters to have used a copper support is Joachim Wtewael (1566–1638). Wtewael’s work typifies the advantages of copper’s hard smooth surface to create highly illusionistic, brilliantly colored images, filled with minute detail, where brushstrokes could be made nearly invisible.

The new support found a new outlet for its expansion in Antwerp. Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625) returned to his native Antwerp in 1595 to practice painting techniques that he had learned in Rome. What is remarkable is that between 1593 and his death in 1625, Brueghel made approximately 400 paintings, of which some 165 were on copper.

Jan Brueghel the Elder, River Landscape with bathers, 1595–1600, oil on copper, 6 5/8 x 8 5/8 in. (17 x 22 cm), Private collection, Switzerland
Jan Brueghel the Elder, Flemish, 1568–1625

During his time in Rome, Jan Brueghel became acquainted with Paul Bril (1554–1626) and Hans Rottenhammer (1564–1625). Paul Bril was a landscape painter from Antwerp who had moved to Rome. Rottenhammer was a German painter of small highly finished cabinet paintings on copper. Brueghel collaborated with both Bril and Rottenhammer and was influenced not only by their aesthetic work but also the practice of painting on copper.

Brueghel’s collaborations with Rottenhammer began in Rome around 1595 and ended in 1610. Initially when the artists both lived in Venice, their collaborative works were executed on canvas, but in their later collaborations after Brueghel had returned to Antwerp they typically used copper. After Brueghel’s return to Antwerp, their procedure was for Brueghel to send the copper plates with the landscape to Rottenhammer in Venice, who painted in the figures and then returned the plates. In a few instances, the process was the other way around.

While in his collaborations with Rottenhammer, the landscapes were made by Brueghel, the roles were reversed when he worked with Joos de Momper (1564–1635) . There are about 59 known collaborations between Brueghel and de Momper making de Momper his most frequent collaborator. Hendrick van Balen the Elder (c. 1573 to 1575–1632) was another regular collaborator with Brueghel.

Antwerp was a burgeoning printing and publishing center in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, so it is not surprising that copper plates were not only readily available but affordable. Jørgen Wadum’s study of Antwerp coppersmiths, and the relative costs of panels, artists’ materials and paintings on copper revealed that prices for copper plates were roughly similar to those for wooden panels.

Comparatively few copper printing plates were used as a support for oil painting. In an examination of 325 paintings on copper from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries by Isabel Horovitz, 50 had qualities required for printmaking.

Largest painting on copper from the seventeenth century by David Teniers the Younger.
David Teniers the Younger, The Archduke Leopold William in his Picture Gallery in Brussels, 1647–1651, oil on copper, 41 3/4 x 50 3/4 inches (104.8 x 130.4 cm), Prado, Madrid
David Teniers the Younger, Flemish, 1610–1690

Most paintings on copper were small when compared to other supports, the majority no larger than 15 3/4 by 23 5/8 inches (40 x 60 cm). There were notable exceptions, such as the painting on copper ‘Archduke Leopold Willem in his Painting Gallery in Brussels’, which measures 41 3/4 x 50 3/4 inches (104.8 x 130.4 cm), by Brueghel’s son-in-law, David Teniers the Younger (1610–1690).

The practice of painting on copper was widespread in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Northern European artists, especially in Netherlands and Germany produced the bulk of these paintings. By 1650 the popularity of copper supports for oil painting began to wane, until the eighteenth century copper plates were seldom used for painting.

NAMTA Show Specials

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We will offer show special at Art Materials World 2015 for new and existing customers. We offer free shipping on orders of Artefex Panels, Ceracolors, Kolibri Brushes, Rublev Colours Artists Oils and Watercolors. With minimum orders of Ceracolors, Rublev Colours Artists Oils and Watercolors an additional 10% will be taken off the total order.

Basic Show Special

When ordering a minimum stocking order of Ceracolors, Rublev Colours Artists Oils or Watercolors an additional 10% off will be given on the total order.

Preferred Show Special

When ordering a minimum stocking order of all five product lines–Artefex Panels, Ceracolors, Kolibri Brushes, Rublev Colours Artists Oils and Watercolors–free shipping applies to all items and an additional 10% off will be given on the total order.

Special Deals at Art Materials World 2016

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Special Offer

We will offer show specials at Art Materials World 2016 for new and existing customers. We offer free shipping on minimum stocking orders of Artefex Panels, Ceracolors, Kolibri Brushes, Rublev Colours Artists Oil and Watercolor paints. With minimum stocking orders of three or more lines more discounts will be applied.

Special Offers for New Retailers

Basic

When you order the minimum stocking order of any line, get 5% off the net order when purchased at the show. This offer excludes Kolibri Brushes. Minimums for each product line must be met.

Preferred

When you order the minimum stocking order of three product lines, get 5% off the net order and free shipping when purchased at the show. This offer excludes Kolibri Brushes. Minimums for each product line must be met.

Premium

When ordering the minimum stocking order of five product lines, get 10% off the net order and free shipping when purchased at the show. This offer excludes Kolibri Brushes. Minimums for each product line must be met.

Special Offers for Existing Retailers

Net Orders $1,000 or More

Take 5% off of the net order placed at the show or with Artefex from February 29 to March 9, 2016 with a net total of $1,000 or more. This additional discount applies only to product lines that are currently stocked in the store.

Net Orders $3,000 or More

Take 5% off of the net order and free shipping when placed at the show or with Artefex from February 29 to March 9, 2016 with a net total of $3,000 or more. This additional discount applies only to product lines that are currently stocked in the store.

Conservar Varnish

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Conservar Varnishes

Conservar varnishes are a series of isolating and final picture varnishes and varnish kits based on materials and formulations used in current conservation practice. All these varnishes contain UV stabilizers

All Conservar varnishes contain hindered amine light stabilizers (HALS) or UV stabilizers. These act by interfering with oxidation reactions in the varnish that cause embrittlement and aging of the varnish. By incorporating HALS in Conservar varnishes a much more stable varnish is obtained. Accelerated aging experiments indicate that the lifetime is extended greatly. Monitoring of natural aging so far indicates that the stabilizer works as predicted by accelerated aging.

The HALS used in Conservar prolongs the lifetime of the varnishes dramatically. HALS are stable by themselves for a number of years, but once mixed with varnish in solution they are best used within a short period. For this reason we offer Conservar as kits so that all ingredients can be mixed fresh for use immediately. For artists reticent about preparing their own varnishes, we have also made these varnishes available as ready-made solutions in metal cans for maximum longevity and with the date of production printed on the label. The date lets artists know that they should use the varnish as soon as possible for best results.

Conserver Picture Varnish

Conserver Picture Varnish is a colorless, reversible varnish made from hydrogenated hydrocarbon (Regalrez) resin dissolved in pure, low-aromatic solvent and UV absorber and stabilizer. Conservar will not cross-link or yellow over long periods of time—much longer than natural resin varnishes. Conservar achieves optimum wetting of the paint surface to enhance colors, has minimum solvent action on paint, and maximum resin content for best coverage. It dries to a film that levels well and can be rubbed when dry just like traditional mastic or dammar varnishes.

References

E. Rene de la Rie and Christopher McGilinchey, “New Synthetic Resins for Picture Varnishes”, IIC Preprints to the Brussels Congress, pp. 168-173.1
Robert L. Feller, “Standards in the Evaluation of Thermoplastic Resins”, Preprints of ICOM in Zabreg (1978), pp. 78/16/4.

Picture Cleaning Kit

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Mini Picture Cleaning Kit

The Mini Picture Cleaning Kit contains supplies for removing surface dirt and the oxidation products from both unvarnished and varnished oil paintings. It contains both dry cleaning and aqueous cleaning materials.

Included in the Mini Picture Cleaning Kit:
Cotton-tip Applicators
Cotton Balls
Dry Cleaning Sponge (small)
Micro-Mesh Sheet
Picture CleanGel (4 fl oz)
Purified Deionized Water (4 fl oz)
Odorless Mineral Spirits (4 fl oz)

Dusting and Dry Cleaning Paintings

There are several methods to clean paint surfaces including the use of a soft hair brush to brush away dust into a vacuum.

If these methods do not clean a paint surface well enough, the next step is to use dry cleaning methods that clean the surface more aggressively. Using materials such as a microfiber cloths and dry cleaning sponges, you can safely remove dirt from the surface of the painting. If dusting and dry cleaning methods do not succeed in removing soil from paint surfaces, only then use an aqueous cleaning method.

Mini Picture Cleaning Kit
The Mini Picture Cleaning Kit contains supplies for removing surface dirt and the oxidation products from both unvarnished and varnished oil paintings. It contains both dry cleaning and aqueous cleaning materials.

Aqueous Cleaning Methods

Picture CleanGel is a solvent-free aqueous gel cleanser that is gentle to both varnished or unvarnished paint surfaces. The gel cleanser is designed to remove soil, proteinaceous and carbohydrate materials from varnished and unvarnished oil paint surfaces. It is also useful as a cleaner for paintings that have collected dirt and dust immediately prior to varnishing.

Read Tutorial for Picture Cleaning

Ceracolors Retail Display

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The Ceracolors retail display is completely modular. Each display consists of yellow hexagon units that can be arranged into nearly any configuration. The units are easy to assemble using clear, u-channel mouldings or fastening clips. Create any custom shape out of the Ceracolors display to fit your space. Stack them high to create a tall display. Stack them across to make a low, horizontal display.
Continue reading Ceracolors Retail Display