Oil painting dates all the way back to the Roman, Egyptian, and Greek civilizations. These old civilizations used oil paintings quite often, using a mixture of minerals, bee wax, and tempera as their paint. Vegetable oils were known by the Romans, Egyptians, and Greeks, but it is unknown if they used it in their paintings. No discovered paintings have any trace of it, but tempera was used frequently.
There was a time when painting seemed to be a lost art. This time was from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. During the Renaissance (meaning rebirth), painting was reintroduced and became increasingly popular.
In certain countries such as Greece and Italy, painters used olive oil was used to make mixtures for paint, but they began to realize it took too long to dry. Theophilus, a German monk, cautioned against using this mixture in the 12th century. Aetius Arnideus, a medical writer, used this oil like a varnish for his painting. Lead was added to perilla oil in the 8th century and was widely used by the Japanese. Cennino Cennini invented a technique where a layer of oil was used to cover the painting, and this technique was used for centuries after.
It is believes that Jan van Eyck created the oil painting technique that is used so widely today. Jan van Eyck was a Flemish painter, who came up with this technique around 1410. He supposedly was the first person to use an oil paint made from linseed oil, which was used as a binder. By using this technique, the paintings were more vibrant and an elevated color intensity. Other painters began to follow in his footsteps, creating their art by using this method as well. This technique was innovative, and changed painting for centuries after. We still use Jan van Eyck's basic method today, with small changes made to it.
Antonello da Messina was also another important person in the advancement of painting and art. He introduced a new way to make the pain dry faster, by adding lead oxide to the mixture. Leonardo da Vinci, the artist who created the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, also contributed to the innovation of paint. When the mixture was prepared, it sometimes turned a dark color. Da Vinci realized this problem, and came up with the idea to cook the mixture at a low temperature which prevented this problem.
In Italy, they were constantly trying to come up with ways to modify this paint recipe to make it better and more convenient for painters. The Italian painters would keep their modifications a secret though. By keeping it a secret, the Italian painters were able to produce the most beautiful works of art that painters from other countries couldn't duplicate.
Peter Paul Rubens, a Flemish Baroque painter, moved to Italy in 1600. He resided there for nine years, studying Italian painting techniques and work. He took these findings and improved them, opening a door for each generation of painters thereafter. Now, there are dozens of different types of oils that can be used for painting such as perilla oil, soybean oil, tung oil, sunflower oil, and many others. The art of painting has been modified for centuries, and it will continue to improve and expand for centuries to come.