The Origins of Oil Paint

The history of oil paint starts out with a big historical question mark.

The beginnings of oil paint are shrouded in mystery. As some inventions tend to live on beyond the memory of the inventor, oil paint’s inventor – as well as the century and country of invention – is lost to our modern world.

the origin of paint as an art medium

Historians place the origin of paint as an art medium somewhere in an ancient civilization along the Mediterranean.

The Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans all used a form of paint created using a type of wax and mineral pigmentation to create a luminous and instantly cooling paint. This paint creation technique was mostly likely lost (along with many other technological advances, such as indoor plumbing and sewer systems) after the fall of the Roman Empire in the late 5th century AD.

how oil paints got their start

Art historians disagree when exactly oil paint was invented. The earliest guesses peg the invention somewhere in the 13th century, the latest: somewhere in the early 15th.

The original inventor of oil paint remains mysterious as well.

Until fairly recently, it had been held as a common believe that the creator of oil paint was Jan van Eyck, a Flemish artist who lived in the 15th century. He is most well known today for his oil painting, The Arnolfini Portrait.

However, now it seems that van Eyck was simply one of the first artists whose dedication to oil paint led to his developing it into a form closer to what we know it as today. It was he whose use of a stable varnishing oil (linseed oil) instead of the slower-drying walnut or poppy seed oils played a major role in popularizing this form of paint in the Middle Ages.

Today, many credit the invention of oil paint for fine art uses to a certain Flemish painter of the end of the 14th century known as the Master of Flemalle. However, not even this painter’s name is known for certain.

oil paint’s rise to fame

Whenever the creation and whoever the creator of oil paint, it’s certain that oil paint had a wild surge in popularity in the 15th century.

After van Eyck, it seemed that every artist wanted to try oil painting, making improvements in van Eyck’s formula and spreading its fame. Some notable painters and artists who followed soon after van Eyck in implementing oil paints to create beautiful masterpieces still enjoyed today include Antonella De Massina, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Titian.

oil paint today

Since that development over 500 years ago, oil paint has remained largely unchanged in formula and still enjoys its spot firmly at the top of the list of favored paint types.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced oil painter, you can head over to my shop to buy your own set of premium quality oil paints and see for yourself why it’s considered to be an essential for any painter!

Tubes of oil paint and artist paint brushes closeup on wooden background. Retro styled.