Tempera is a painting technique in which colour pigments in powder form are mixed in a binder, normally with a water-soluble binder medium, usually the yellow part of the egg and then diluted with water, as a thinner. Sometimes these tempera paints are made using an artificial emulsion using gum or glue. The colours are usually applied to a rigid support such as a wood panel, and the paint quickly dries to form a hard film.  

What is Tempera?  

Also known as ‘Egg Tempera’, Tempera is a technique of painting which uses permanent, fast-drying colours and painting medium. The name comes from the Latin word ‘temperare’, which means ‘blending or mixing’.  

Hence, as the name suggests, the colours or pigments to be used or Tempera is first mixed with some suitable water-soluble binder, which is normally a glutinous material. The most common binder used is the egg yolk, hence sometimes; it is also called Egg Tempera. The resultant colour is then applied to a gesso - a white, smooth, fully absorbent preparation made of burnt gypsum (chalk or Plaster of Paris) and hide glue.   

The mixture is fast drying and permanent. As a result, the Tempera paintings are very long-lasting. As a testimony to this, there some Tempera paintings, which are as old as the first century AD, and these paintings still exist. This technique works the best on absorbent surfaces such as paper, poster board, and cardboard  

Origin of tempera

For ages, Egg tempera has been the primary method of painting. And this trend continues till the 15th century when oil paintings came into the scene. It was only then, that the tempera paintings were superseded by the invention of an oil painting. A paint consisting of pigment and binder commonly used in the United States as poster paint is also often referred to as "tempera paint", although the binders in this paint are different from traditional tempera paint.  

Much before this, some Tempera painting has been found in early Egyptian culture in the form of early sarcophagi decorations. Similarly, a technique closely related to tempera was in use in the ancient and early medieval paintings found in several caves and rock-cut temples of India. High-quality art with the help of tempera was created in Bagh Caves between the late 4th and 10th centuries and in the 7th century in Ravan Chhaya rock shelter, Orissa. The murals of the 3rd century Dura-Europos synagogue were created in tempera.  

During the period of Renaissance, Tempera as a technique became very popular. Almost every artist used this technique during this period. Some of the notable artists, who used this technique, include Duccio, Giotto, Fra Angelico and the ‘Egg Tempera’ master Botticelli. The works of these artists, especially their earlier works, suggest that the artists need to possess not just the ability and desire to create, but much more than that.  

What Is Tempera Paint Used For?

The paint created by mixing a colour pigment with egg yolk is can then be used for a variety of purposes. But most commonly it is used for creating classroom projects, craftwork, theatre props, posters, colour mixing exercises, painting windows, and more.   

How is Tempera painting made?

A genuine tempera is made by mixing the pigment with the yolk of fresh eggs. Though some manuscript illuminators also used the egg white, while some easel painters have used the whole egg. In addition to using egg, some artists have used other emulsions like casein glue with linseed oil, egg yolk with gum and linseed oil, and egg white with linseed or poppy oil, among others.   

Many other recipes have also been attempted by some individual painters, but only a few of them have been successful. However William Blake’s tempera paintings on copper sheets, for example, have darkened and decayed, and it is thought that he mixed his pigment with carpenter’s glue.  

How to do tempera paintings?

The tempera paintings are created in the following manner:  

  • Several planks of wood are glued together and secured with beams across the back. The use of several planks reduces warping. The assembled panel is planed smooth.  
  • The panel is covered in layers of white gesso (liquid plaster) to refine the surface and make it non-absorbent.  
  • The artist then maps out his or her composition on the gesso.  
  • Ground pigments (from minerals, plants, and insects) are blended with water and egg yolk to create paint.  


Tempera is a technique of painting with pigments bound in a water-soluble emulsion, such as water and egg yolk, or an oil-in-water emulsion such as oil and a whole egg. As a technique, Tempera may appear a bit odd. But that fact is that egg is stable and gives good consistency to the painting. It adheres to the gesso. Tempera’s big plus point is the richness of colour achieved. Where fresco is pastel, tempera is punchy. The strong colour stands out even in a dim church interior. Of all the colours in the tempera, jewel-box blue is the most prized: made from semiprecious lapis lazuli (quarried in modern-day Afghanistan) our name for it (ultramarine) still derives from the Italian “oltre marina” (over the sea).   

Some notable artists who have done extensive work in tempera paintings are Indian artist Jamini Roy, who is known to draw inspiration from Folk arts of Bengal. He has used tempera on cloth, paper and cardboard as a medium in some of his most famous works like Gopini, Santhal Dance and Bengali Woman.