The Seven Most Luxurious Art Materials in History

Luxurious Art Materials

Back to the Basics

Brittany Arrendondo

Throughout history, the notion of luxury has remained central both to artists and collectors. Although artistic practices have diversified in techniques and materials in the last century, especially since the introduction of synthetic pigments and colorants into the art world, certain materials remain as a symbol of luxury for its rich history, versatility and its visual power.

Here’s the list of the top seven materials that still remain as the highest symbol of artistic achievement:

1.     Oil Paint

While oil paint dates to the seventh century, it became the dominant painting medium after the 15th century. Oil paint is a medium that consists of particles of pigment suspended in a drying oil, very often linseed oil. The control over its viscosity allows this kind of paint to be very versatile with many kinds of finishes and results.  

2.     Gold Leaf

Carefully hammered into thin sheets, gold leaf usually ranges in quality from 22 to 24 karats, defining its distinct yellow color. Gold gilding has a very long past, dating to 5,000 years in Egypt. Throughout history, its mesmerizing quality to project light has been used in painting, sculpture and many other objects to convey divine power.

3.     Cochineal

This very tiny, but potent insect has the capacity to produce natural carmine (deep red). The color is so profound and durable that it became a very important commodity for many empires after the 16th century, naming it “red gold”.  Cochineal red is still in use for its versatile color spectrum including orange, red and purple. Since the Renaissance, cochineal became popular worldwide and many painters have used it in their work.

4.     Silk

There are different kinds of natural protein fibers, including wool; however, no fiber is as rich and beautiful as silk. This fiber is produced by the silkworm in the form of cocoons which is then spun into threads and woven into incredible cloths. Silk is also very versatile and its shining quality combined with its capacity to absorb color makes it the most desirable form of wearable art.

5.     Silver

Silver, like gold, is one of the most desirable chemical elements. It is known for its value as a precious metal while also for its softness and malleability. It is more abundant than gold, which makes it more affordable. Silversmiths have manipulated this material for centuries, dating back to 4600 B.C., creating incredible jewelry, beautiful everyday objects and amazing treasures.  

6.     Indigo

The most deep and beautiful blue you will ever encounter is indigo. Extracted from indigo plants (Indigofera Tinctorea), this natural dye has been in use since 4000 B.C. Its history has been quite controversial, as indigo has been constantly associated with political power and also slavery. Although the process to produce such incredible blues is quite complicated, this natural dye has been used in fabric, ceramics, and other mediums, remaining as one of the most desirable colors.  

7.     Porcelain

Its white quality, translucency and resistance have made porcelain one of the most luxurious and desirable materials. Its history dates back to Asia, specifically China, then spreading out into Japan and Korea. Since the 17th century, European consumers have favored porcelain, and through the Dutch East India Company, it reached many different parts of Europe. This high-quality ceramic is produced using kaolinite heated until reaching a temperature between 1200 and 1400° C (2,200 and 2,600° F), making it highly resistant.

Published by Subverting Mobility

Navigating Artist Residencies. Subverting Mobility is a source to understand the experience of artist in the ecosystem of artist residencies.

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