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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Old Masters Medium I

Ingredients By Volume:

1 Part – Venice Turpentine or Strasbourg Turpentine

1 Part – Stand Oil or Sun-Thickened Linseed Oil

1 Part – Pure Gum Turpentine

· Mix Venice Turpentine with oil at room temperature, mix well until the two combine in an opaque thick homogeneous paste.

· Now combine into the above mix Turpentine, slowly and bit by bit until the right consistency is achieved. The above indicated quantity of turpentine (1 part) may be reduced or increased in order to achieve the preferred consistency.

About Old Masters Medium

Studies carried out by many academics and artists painters have produced several proposals for the ever interesting quest for the Old Masters Oil Painting Mediums. Of these, of course, some can be considered unlikely, but other authoritative studies should be taken into account.

Oils Studio made some trials on the probability of such mixes and arrived at some interesting oil painting mediums. The recipes presented here have been tested and the mediums have been prepared at room temperature. Some recipes were adapted to comply with easier preparation.

All 6 Old Masters oil painting mediums discussed should dry within a period of time between 12 hours and 3 days. Drying times depend enormously of the oil paints being used, atmospheric conditions and climate characteristics of the area where you live. You may use a drier to speed the drying process. However, the presence of balsam turpentines imparts a smooth flat glossy finish as the balsams flat out in the drying process. A shortened drying time may not be sufficient to allow the balsam to flatten out completely, so be careful to calculate how long you want the drying time to be.

Both driers below may be used safely in the ratio of 1% up to 5% calculated over the total volume of oil painting medium. To remain 100% safe, an average 3% should be used. Suppose one of the painting mediums above was prepared, making a total
A drier or siccative may be used safely. We do not recommend cobalt siccatives because these tend to dry the surface leaving a softer under-layer. If you decide to use a drier, use a lead oxides based drier.
The French Manufacturer LeFranc & Bourgeois makes produces 2 distinct driers:

·Brown Courtrai Drier: Prepared with suspended manganese and lead oxides, it is the strongest siccative available. This siccative has gained some bad reputation in the past due to abuse from artists. Used in the recommended doses, it is perfectly safe to employ in oil painting.

·White Courtrai Drier: Prepared with suspended lead oxides, it is less powerful and due to its pale colour, it is to be preferred by many painters. Application rules applying to this siccative (illustrated above) are exactly the same as for Brown Courtrai Drier.
Both above driers speed up drying times considerably and help drying and stabilising the paint film from the inside out.

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