Get to Know about Painting Like the Old Masters

Get to Know about Painting Like the Old Masters

The phrase “old masters” may not be too familiar to those who are not art students or those who don’t study art history, but they have plenty of significant contributions that shaped the way we do and look at representational art. Even though the period of the Old Masters was between 1300 and 1800 (or 13th and 18th century), it is undeniable that their techniques were beyond advanced and impeccable. Artists such as Francisco de Goya, Sandro Boticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael are familiar names to many people, and they are considered Old Masters. They were given a position of reverence for putting years, dedication, patience, and effort in their paintings to create something that is unbelievable to the eyes– as if it was not created by human hands as their creations captured human anatomy, mannerisms, expressions, perspective, and proportion. If you wanna learn more about painting like the Old Masters, keep on reading this article because we will be unveiling their top secrets that made their artworks soar above everybody else’s. 

The Last Judgment by Michelangelo, c. 1535–1541.

What are “Old Masters?”

The word was frequently used in the 18th century, because of the emergence of art schools and galleries in Europe at the time, who standardized what was considered 'excellent' historical art through collecting and teaching strategies which formed the current concept of the Old Master.

The title "Old Master" refers to a prominent European artist who lived between the year 1300 and 1800, and includes painters from the Early Renaissance era through the Romantic period. The term can also refer to the artwork created by one of these painters, which is often frescoes and oil paintings, but can also include prints and sketches created by master painters.

The Night Watch by Rembrandt, c.1642

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Who are the Old Masters?

Until now, there has been quite a huge debate among art historians and alike as to categorizing artists in term “Old Masters” due to the inexact criterion of skillset and timeline of the period, even though it is generally known sometime between 1300 to 1800. However, we have a list of some of the artists who are renowned and considered as Old Masters. Who are they? Find out in the list below:

Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255–1318)
Jan van Eyck (1390–1441)
Sandro Botticelli (1445–1510)
Michelangelo (1475–1564)
Raphael (1483–1520)
Gentile Bellini (1429–1507)
Caravaggio (1573–1610)
Giovanni Bellini (1430–1516)
Giorgione (1477–1510)
Carlo Dolci (1616–1686)
Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669)
Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675)
Francisco Goya (1746–1828)
John Constable (1776–1837)
Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863)

Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio, c. 1600

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Are There Any Particular Techniques that the Old Masters Used to Paint?

Throughout the period, the orientation was known as representational art. Painting like the Old Masters did during their period requires the combination of several innovative art styles, subject matters, stylistic elements, and techniques. Here are some of the key concepts and techniques that the old masters used:

  1. Accuracy and Precision:

    The most famous Old Masters' works are distinguished by technical and stylistic originality, as well as a desire to create lifelike characters and landscapes via accurate portrayal of proportion and perspective.

  2. Chiaroscuro and sfumato:

    Painters like Da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Vermeer were known for using these two techniques to create realistic images with a play between light and shadows, as well as subtle tonal gradations which avoided harsh lines and edges– these techniques defined perfection in art at the time. Chiaroscuro refers to the use of contrasting elements between light and shadow, typically dramatic contrasts that impact the entire painting. Sfumato, on the other hand, is a painting method for easing the shift between hues, replicating a space beyond what the human eye is concentrating on, or the out-of-focus plane, and is one of the fundamental painting techniques that defined Renaissance. 

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665

  1. Golden rules on perspective, symmetry, ratio, and proportion:

    Paintings of the period demonstrate the application of humanistic ideals learned from the ancient Greeks. Unlike works from the Middle Ages where depictions of Biblical figures and saints were arranged in unnatural, geometric groups, the Old Masters depicted humans and the natural world as realistically as possible. They used science and mathematics to apply perspective, symmetry, proportion, and ratio to accurately display figures and objects. Concepts such as “the golden ratio” were extensively used by master painters to exemplify beauty and define the notion of aesthetics at the time.

  2. Mimesis of human nature:

    The period of the Old Masters was fundamentally about the imitation of humans and nature by depicting the real world as realistic as possible through the use of perspective, proportion, symmetry, and ratio, as discussed above. Moreover, their paintings show an emphasis on precision in details in order to achieve realism. Human figures are often rendered in poses that suggest movements, expressions, gestures, interactions, and emotions. Unlike the style of the Medieval era, the Old Masters technique suggests mass in a realistic landscape, rather than a flat image gilded in a gold background.

  3. School of Athens by Raphael, c. 1509–1511

  4. Study of human anatomy:

    The study of arts actually paved the way to the study of human anatomy, thanks to artist-pioneers like Antonio Pollaiuolo, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo. Master painters like them carefully studied the human anatomy as they attempted to create a portrayal of human figures as lifelike as possible. Due to the lack of studies at the time, painters actually dissected human cadavers to investigate muscles and skeletons that would be useful to their art. Though this particular action is no longer necessary today thanks to modernized anatomy books, artists who want to create a painting like the old masters did need to study human anatomy for a more realistic depiction of movements, gestures, etc.
The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1490

Ideal Painting Like the Old Masters Way: Tips and Tricks

  1. Practice your sketching:

    Painting like old masters requires attention to details and accurate representation of the real world. With that, sketching is a fundamental foundation of painting if you want to create artworks that are as realistic as possible.

  2. Develop your aesthetic sensibilities:

    Beauty, regardless of form, whether human or nature, is the ultimate subject of every Old Masters painting. Find a master painter to copy, assess their aesthetics, imitate their styles, manners of painting, techniques, and incorporate it to your skills.

  3. Study your color palette:

    It is important that you choose hues wisely to create a contrasting play between the light and dark for a more accurate representation of reality. Moreover, a great color palette will not make it difficult for you to blend the colors to create a subtle gradation between tones and prevent unpleasant lines and harsh edges that we do not see from traditional Old Masters paintings.

  4. Be patient and practice:

    Becoming a master takes time, practice, and effort. It might take you tens or even hundreds of paintings before you achieve the aesthetic qualities of the master painter/s you look up to. But this doesn’t mean that you should give up, rather, it’s an opportunity for you to learn and improve your skills as you go down the path of becoming a master painter in the modern era.

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