Medieval Painting

Types of Painting

Subjects

Painting in the late Middle Ages

Today anyone can be an artist – you paint, collect admiration from your friends and, if you wish, try to sell your work.

During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, painting was neither a leisure activity or something carried out by people who were somehow, differently, artistic. Most paintings came into existence solely because a patron (an individual or organization) approached and commissioned a painter to produce a work to meet a particular use. These uses might be for a fresco cycle to commemorate a saint on the walls of a church, for a painted crucifix to be placed over an altar or for a small painting of the Virgin and Child for private prayer.

The medieval artist was, for the most part, a skilled craftsman comparable to a carpenter or blacksmith – someone who had learned the skill of producing pictorial representations. While the names of some of these artists are known many did not sign their work. In fact few artists would work alone – fresco painting, applied to wet plaster on walls would require a plasterer to apply the plaster (intonaco) and perhaps others to build and adjust the staging that the artist would work from.

Painters who worked on wooden panels would need assistance in preparing the panel; especially in the case of a large painted cross or polyptych, and possibly in gilding their work.

Artists in both media might need help in preparing their paints at time when premixed paints were not available.