Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science

The preparation and application of modified linseed oils in late medieval painting

Historical sources, analytical data and reconstructions

Linseed oil is the most widely used binding medium in Northern European painting. Although it can be used in its raw form, sources and analytical results indicate that in late medieval practice it was commonly processed, as a way to optimize the characteristics of paints.

The aim of this study is to investigate the relation between historical oil processing methods and the behavior of paints. By combining source study with practical experiments and scientific analysis, insight is gained in the way these modified oils were prepared and applied in late medieval practice. After a series of case studies focused on particular processing methods, the longstanding art historical question will be addressed whether and to what extent stylistic developments can be explained by innovations in the use of processed oils, as has often been suggested.

The outcomes of this study may also contribute to a better understanding of analytical results while yielding valuable insights concerning the relation between oil processing and particular degradation phenomena. Finally, we hope this study will inspire and facilitate the growing number of scholars that uses historically informed reconstruction experiments as a method to approach art technological questions.


Digital compilation of the recipe for ‘A substance that serves all paints’. British Library Ms. Sloane 345, fols. 24v and 25r.

Principal researcher

Indra Kneepkens (University of Amsterdam)

Type of project


Participating researchers

  • Arie Wallert (supervisor)
  • Claudine Chavannes-Mazel (supervisor)
  • Henk van Keulen
  • Art Ness Proaño Gaibor
  • Wouter Pfeiffer

Participating institutions

  • University of Amsterdam
  • Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands
  • Rijksmuseum

Expected completion date

End of 2018.

Published by  NICAS

14 November 2017