Notebook, 1993-


Thompson, Daniel V., Jr., Research and Technical Adviser, The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. The Practice of Tempera Painting. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1936. Fourth Printing, 1946. - Index

The Practice of
Tempera Painting - Preface

The basis of the method that this book endeavors to explain is the account of Giottesque tempera painting given by Cennino d'Andrea Cennini in his Libro dell'Arte ; but Cennino knew that no written instructions are enough to teach a painting method. "There are many," he writes, "who say that they have mastered the profession without having served under masters. Do not believe it; for I give you the example of this book: even if you study it by day and by night, if you do not see some practice under some master you will never amount to anything, nor will you ever be able to hold your head up in the company of master."

Cennino was quite right. His own teaching is sound and complete, but it is not easy to understand, even when one has had some practical experience. I have studied the Libro dell'Arte for eighteen years, since my good friend and teacher, Louise Waterman Wise, first introduced me to it; and am far from having exhausted the instruction that it offers. I cannot suppose that my own writing will be as thorough as Cennino's, but I hope that it may be easier for the modern reader to understand and apply to modern cases. I have tried to expound the fruits of a long and valuable apprenticeship under Edward Waldo Forbes, at Harvard, and another under Edwin Cassius Taylor, at Yale; of practice under Nicholas Lochoff, in Florence, and Federigo Ioni, in Siena; and fragments of understanding which I owe to many friends in many places.

The text of this volume is based upon a dozen years of teaching and practice, seven of them in the School of the Fine Arts at Yale. I have incorporated portions of lectures and demonstrations given at Yale, at the Child-Walker School in Boston and its graduate department in Florence, at the Royal Academy and the Courtauld Institute in London, and other notes which have been used as the basis of practical instruction in these and other places. The illustrations which accompany the text are the work of Professor Lewis York, of the Yale School of the Fine Arts, whose program for intensive [p. v] instruction in the practice of tempera painting is given in his own words as an appendix to this book. References to Cennino are given in terms of my English translation of the Libro dell'Arte, published under the title The Craftsman's Handbook by the Yale University Press in 1933; but these references have been kept down to a minimum, since the intention of this volume is to paraphrase Cennino in modern terms, rather than to comment on his text. No general bibliography is given; for I have written throughout on the basis of personal experience and judgment. The short chapter on Emulsions is, however, based on instruction received from Professor Max Dormer, with whom I had the privilege of studying Malmaterial at the Munich Academy in 1922-23.

I have made no effort to touch upon the significance of Cennino's writing or methods for the history of Italian art. I have left out of account all the theoretical and historical considerations which attach to it, and concentrated upon the application of his tempera medium to present-day practice in painting. This book is intended for painters, modern painters, preferably very modern painters. I shall be glad if it is acceptable to the historian as an exposition of trecento Italian techniques, but that is not its purpose. If I have looked for my material in an old, disused quarry, it is with no wish that the newly quarried stone should be used in an antique style. Parian marble could be cut in modern shapes.

I shall be glad too if this account of tempera practice makes Cennino's writing more intelligible to those who do not paint . The importance, for example, of the preliminary ink rendering on the gessoed panel has often been missed by students of Libro dell'Arte. I myself failed for many years to grasp it, and might indeed never have done so but for the insight into the optical behavior of colors which I derived from the patient training of the late Professor Edwin Casius Taylor, under whom I served in the Department of Painting at the Yale School of the Fine Arts. Professor Taylor's name must head the list of those to whom I am indebted for help and counsel.

To the Yale University Press I owe thanks for the watchful care and helpful interest with which its skilled staff never fails to surround [p. vi] its authors; and for its cooperation in making available for the publication of this volume an appropriation from the Rutherford Trowbridge Memorial Fund given to the University for the benefit of its Press. The name of Trowbridge has long been bound up with the cultivation of the arts at Yale: through the Thomas Rutherford Trowbridge Memorial Lectureship Fund, established in the Yale School of the Fine Arts in 1899 by Mr. Rutherford Trowbridge in memory of his father; and, since 1920, still further through the memorial Publication Fund established in that year by Mrs. Rutherford Trowbridge in memory of her husband. This Fund has enabled Yale University to extend the influence of the Trowbridge Memorial Lectureship by publishing important material first presented in Trowbridge Lectures at Yale. It is an honor that I appreciate warmly that this book [based largely on my work at Yale] should participate in the benefits conferred by a Foundation designed to perpetuate the memory of the magnanimous and public-spirited Rutherford Trowbridge.

To the University of London I owe the opportunity to formulate this work, and to Professor W. G. Constable, Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art, invaluable help in its preparation. A decisive factor in the publication of this study has been the liberality of the Publications Committee of the University of London in allotting to it a generous grant from the University's Publication Fund.

In addition to the active and visible collaboration of my former associate at Yale, Professor York, I have to acknowledge with profound gratitude the no less active but invisible assistance of my good neighbor and fellow painter in tempera, Mr. Henry Winslow, of London, to whose confidence and encouragement this book owes it existence. [pp. v-vii]

D.V.T., Jr.
Courtauld Institute of Art
The University of London
December 1, 1935



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