September 13, 2009

The Paintings that Moved Me to Work with Egg Tempera

Sassetta, The Journey of the Magi

The Osservanza Master, Saint Anthony Tempted by a Heap of Gold

Giovanni di Paolo, St John goes into the Wilderness

Fra Angelico, Peter Preaching with Mark

When I visited Italy in the early 1980s, the works that most thrilled me were the small panels, generally a narrative group made for altarpieces, made during the 14th and 15th centuries. The brilliant color, the fanciful yet clear forms drew me into the worlds of these Quattrocento artists. This was a world before perspective, before the realistic depiction of the human form (though Fra Angelico's work was more naturalistic than that of earlier artists). It was also a world of faith, of a convinced rendering of things, an almost magical calling up of object and human figure. There is less reliance on the eye than on the modeling hand of the artist.

The medium of egg tempera is perfectly suited to this style of painting with its crisp handling and clear color. When oil paint became more widely used in the later 15th century, artists were able to blend color for a more naturalistic effect. But it's the lack of visual realism that so enthralls me with these small works; they have a compelling truth that comes from the mind and faith of the artist. It's because I love these paintings that I learned to use egg tempera.


  1. To my surprise, the altar paintngs do reflect to me your recent work. I would have thought they'd remind me more of your landscapes.
    Glad you took that trip to Italy!

  2. Thanks Altoon for sharing your journey to egg tempera painting.I am in the process of learning to use it in a very traditional manner in icon painting. However your paintings have moved into my consciousness. When we drive to our holiday house in Gippsland Victoria Australia we pass many farms. Some of the landscapes are "Pure Altoon Sultan!!!" I love this connection, I see the haystacks & farm machinery in a different way. Knowing a little bit about the medium I am in awe of the way you use it. I can never look at even a humble wheelbarrow now without thinking of the many hours you spend in making it into art.