The Portuguese Oil Painting Medium

The Portuguese School of Painting was chiefly influenced by the Flemish and Dutch schools of painting of the XV, XVI and XVII Centuries. The Flemish tradition was to last longer in Portugal than in the rest of Central Europe and paintings produced in the XVIII Century still show a technique employed by the Flemish and the Dutch Masters of the previous 2 or 3 centuries.

Numerous accounts of the Portuguese techniques exist, namely those mentioned by Sir Charles Eastlake, but by no means not just such accounts. The present medium recipe is believed to have been employed by painters in Portugal for centuries, certainly between the XV and the XVII centuries.

The recipe published here was passed to us many years ago by an Artist Oil Painter and Restorer who was working in the restoration of several works of art in a church.

Ingredients By Volume

Consider 1 Part = 1 3/4 fl.Oz.

1 Part – Sun-Thickened Linseed Oil (replace with Stand Oil)
1 Part – Strasbourg Fir Turpentine

To thin:
Pure Gum Turpentine
1% – Oil of Spike Lavender
3% – Lead Oxide Drier (optional)
· Firstly mix the oil with Strasbourg Turpentine into a very heavy and thick opaque paste.

· Pour in the turpentine (pure gum or double-rectified) slowly into the above, combining it well. Up to 1 part ( 50 ml. ( 1 3/4 fl.Oz.) may be used, but only enough turpentine should be used to thin the mixture to the preferred thickness/consistency. As a guider, this medium should have the consistency of running honey or slightly thicker.

· When all the above ingredients are perfectly well combined, mix in Oil of Spike Lavender.

· Lastly, as an option, incorporate 3% drier (we recommend LeFranc & Bourgeois Siccative of Courtrai Brown or Siccative of Courtrai White).
This medium imparts a high gloss but not excessive. The presence of Strasbourg Fir Turpentine makes the brush strokes disappear while the paint film slowly flattens out into a very flat and smooth surface. Ideal for painting on primed wooden panels, it may also be used on “drum-tight” stretched canvases. It gives colours brilliance and luminance.

The Portuguese Wax Medium Complement

Recipes of Wax mediums can also be found, among them this one which complements well The Portuguese Oil Painting Medium but that we have adapted a little by replacing the original Venice Turpentine content with Damar Varnish (5-Pound-Cut consistency), because as a complement to the other medium, the presence of the balsam would place the ratio of balsams at a higher point than what we consider a desirable and balanced rate.

The presence of wax mediums is well documented in Portuguese Painting, chiefly from the XVIII Century, when Italian Schools of Art had a major influence in Portugal in several areas of artistic expression, such as Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and even Music (the Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti lived in Lisbon as a Court Composer for long years, just to give an example).

Ingredients By Volume

1 Part – Raw Cold Pressed Linseed Oil
1 Part – Yellow Pure Bees Wax Pellets
1 Part – Damar Varnish (5 Pound-Cut Concentrate)

· Combine the raw cold pressed linseed oil with the bees wax pellets in a pan.

· Heat the mix gently stirring a little until the wax pellets melt into the oil.

· Remove from the heat.

· Now mix in the Damar Varnish, stirring

· Place cold water in a basin and place the pan in the cold water, keep stirring the mix in the pan. The mix starts to set into a soft paste. Be patient and keep stirring as this paste benefits from not allowing it to set alone. Stirring while sharply cooling it in the way we indicate above makes it smoother and prevents the forming of hard wax blobs which are difficult to smooth down when combining this medium with the other one.


Simply combine the wax medium at any desired rate with the medium on top of this page. Whereas the first medium imparts a smooth glossy finish, as the Strasbourg Turpentine flats out while drying, the wax medium retains the brush stroke more visible and cuts glossiness just enough.

The two mediums combined make an excellent medium for painting in any style, bring up colour and natural beauty to the paint film.

Keep in mind that both the Portuguese Medium and the Wax Complement are quite fat mediums and therefore should only be used in the last layers of the painting, in-keeping with the fat-over-lean rules. The presence of stand oil in one medium and raw cold pressed in the other medium impart an incredible level of elasticity and toughness to which the balsam on one medium and the Damar on the other contribute to give brilliance of finish and luminance.

As indicated before for the first medium, these two mediums should primarily be used on rigid panels. Use a rigid and stable material.

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Universal Painting Medium

Use it for both layering, and for glazing purposes. Use it in each and every layer that I apply.

1 part Linseed Oil
1 part Walnut Oil
1 part Venice Turpentine
2 parts Oil Of Spike

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