Overview of Artists' Materials

Naturally occurring pigments such as red, yellow and brown earths have been used as colorants since prehistoric times. Before the Industrial Revolution, the range of coloured materials available for art and decorative uses was relatively limited. Most of them were earth and mineral pigments (inorganic), or pigments of biological origin (organic), but synthetic, man-made pigments were available as well.

Precious metals were also used, both in powdered form and as very thin sheets (‘leaves’), to enrich the decoration of manuscripts.

In order to produce a fluid medium which can be used to paint, pigments have to be mixed with an appropriate organic ‘binder’, the film-forming component of paint. Medieval and Renaissance illuminators used natural gums obtained from plants, glues made from animal sources, and eggs – most commonly egg white (glair), but also egg yolk – as binders.

Explore the different materials used by illuminators by clicking on the images to the right.