Surface Level

Paintings aren’t just made on canvas with oil! Next time you’re in the galleries, check out some paintings created a bit differently.  

Johann Georg Platzer, The Artist's Studio, 1740s-1750s

On view in Gallery 214, The Artist’s Studio was created with oils painted on a sheet of copper. Copper is more rigid than stretched canvas, so artists found it worked well for paintings with highly intricate details. Platzer’s painting depicts a busy artist’s workshop, and it definitely has a lot of fine detail—even the paintings hung on the wall in the background show recognizable subjects. 


Henry Bone, Bacchus and Ariadne, 1808-1811

This painting’s surface is glossy and bright because it was made using enamel paint, which doesn’t just dry: it needs to be fired in a kiln. Each new color layer has to be fired separately at a specific temperature, so it’s an intense, time-consuming process. This enamel by artist Henry Bone is the largest ever made. See it in Gallery 202. 


A Bishop Saint with a Donor, early 1400s. Spain, Catalonia, early 15th century

Look at the surface of this painting closely and you’ll see that it isn’t all flat. Some of the details of the bishop’s robes, miter (his hat), and crozier (his staff) stand out from the surface. These details were created by applying gesso, a substance made of animal glue, chalk, and white pigment. It was usually used as a primer for panel paintings, but could also be applied thickly to create raised areas like the ones on this painting. Find this on view in Gallery 110B. 


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