Where Oil Paintings Originated

by timoteo koohar

What is the commonality between the classical paintings of Rembrandt or Da Vinci, the adorned shields used by ancient Mediterranean warriors, and a few caves in Afghanistan? The answer is simple: oil paintings.

Contemporary paintings still use oil to this day. The effect that oil has on the canvas makes it one of the few materials that can genuinely pass on the emotions of the modern painter: the gentle and loving strokes gifted to the painting of a lover, the anger and rage seething from a distraught father?s bold use of the shades of red, the curves and lines marking the valleys and mountains that the landscape artist captures on canvas. But where exactly did oil paintings first originate?

“In the Old Days”

Before oil became the art medium of choice in contemporary and ancient paintings, warriors used oil on their shields to make paintings there. These paintings were more practical than aesthetic, because oil painted surfaces were more durable and were tougher than those that weren’t painted. They were also less likely to crack under pressure and use than unpainted shields were.

As time went on, oils’ different colors and textures began to appeal to artists. Instead of simply being a medium that hardened shields, oil became an artistic and creative medium of expression. Sculptures and paintings began to be colored with oils. Soon after, oil as a medium became a favorite artistic touch and spread through the Roman, Greek, and Egyptian empires.

During the dark ages, the beauty of oil paintings was all but forgotten due to the loss of the ancient techniques to use oil as an aesthetic medium. This made oil paint difficult to make and use until Jan van Eyck revived the art by using siccative oil to develop a varnish stable to be used as painting. It all goes downhill from there, with the painters of legend all creating their masterpieces. But these origins of contemporary paintings all came to a screeching halt in 2008.

What Is Known Now

Archaeologists began to explore the cave complexes in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, recently, and the Taliban attempted to wipe out so-called “un-Islamic” symbols within the region.

Two Buddhist statues, massive in size, were destroyed in Bamiyan, and by their destruction revealed that there were large networks of caves that had been used by Buddhist monks to pray and live in. This led to the discovery of oil paintings on cave walls, with the wells themselves possibly made from walnuts or poppies native to the area. This changed everything previously thought to be true about oils, and made Afghanistan the earliest known place of origin for oil paintings in the modern era; in fact, Afghanistan now beats out the Romans and Greeks by at least several hundred years in this particular arena.

What’s the Conclusion?

Whether oil paintings come from the Middle East or from Europe, oil as a medium gives paintings life most mediums can’t, which is an indisputable fact. If the painting is made up of grasses and weeds, or some synthetic oil from today, oil remains a medium where an artist can express his soul and speak from within the canvas itself.

Simply put, contemporary art utilizes the same basic principles with oils as a medium that is thousands of years old does. Surely, this is a lasting testament to oils’ longevity and, indeed, magic.

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