Encaustic History

The word Encaustic originates from the Greek word enkaustikos, which means to “burn in” or “to fuse”. Encaustic painting involves layering beeswax that has been melted with crystalized tree sap, tinted with colored pigments and oil paints to create the most unique painting technique I have ever seen. It is painted on wooden panels with natural hair brushes and fused in between layers with fire or heat. The wax can be layered to have a smooth finish or be built up to create unique and mesmerizing textures making the possibilities endless.

 

This technique began in ancient Egypt and Greece as far back as the 5th century B.C. The oldest surviving paintings we know of are the Romano-Egyptian Fayum mummy portraits from Egypt dated around 100–300 AD. There are hundreds of paintings that have survived over 2,000 years without cracking, flaking, or fading. The portraits were placed on the outside of coffins over the head of upper class mummies or were carefully wrapped into the mummy bandages.

 

Encaustics are extremely archival due to the nature of beeswax. It naturally repells dust and water and is mildew resistant, which is how the Fayum paintings have survived this long.

 

Mummy with an inserted portrait panel of a youth; 80–100 CE; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 11.139.

 

A painted wood Fayum portrait of a man. Roman period, c. 80-140 AD.