Confusion of Terms, Megilp is not Maroger

Megilp medium on my palette
Megilp medium on my palette

Artists, especially oil painters, love to talk shop.

Nothing is perhaps more controversial as the discussion of the ‘proper’ medium.  It is often seen as the ‘secret’ ingredient’ in achieving the quality of the Old Masters.  A good painter needs quality materials to express himself/herself properly.  However, no medium is an elixir for creating a good painting.

The purpose of any oil painting medium is to adjust the handling properties of the paints to achieve specific effects.  It is an important element that works in unison with the proper paints, ground, brushes, environment, etc.  The alteration of one of these ingredients can negate the beneficial properties of the others.  Only through experience and experimentation does a properly skilled painter arrive at a satisfactory result.

Most research into oil painting mediums, past and present, is focused on recreating the recipes used by the Old Masters of the 17th century.  Their common denominator is that they are of a oleoresinous nature, meaning that they consist of a drying oil and a resin varnish.  The genesis of this idea is found in the DeMayrne manuscript and is being confirmed with recent restoration documents.

I have studied and experimented in depth with Megilp.  There are lots of different methods of preparing the oils and varnishes.  Over the last 10 years I have tried many different recipes that I discovered in different written sources from the 17th century and after.  In the end I found that properly cleaned cold pressed oil and a limited cooking with litharge produced the best drying oil.  The best varnish should also be aged at least 6 months.  The resulting medium is a blond gel.  This is fundamentally different in philosophy than Maroger with its ‘black oil.’

As a medium, the version of Megilp that I have come up with functions quite well.  Adapted for portraiture, it has good handling properties.  It stays workable for several hours before setting up(perfect for those working from life).  It dries completely overnight(with the proper pigments and ground).  Certain painters are enamored with the fact that it is a ‘thixotropic’ gel.  That aspect is certainly ‘cool’ but has little relevance with practicalities of good oil painting.  Good impastos are not achieved with gel mediums.  One disadvantage of this megilp is that it has limited fusion window for blurring(as opposed to a medium with a balsam).

Here are images of paintings that I did with my version of the Megilp about 10 years ago.  They were both painted on lead primed linen that I prepared myself and a hand ground limited palette of historical pigments.  Neither picture has been varnished.   The Study of Florence was painted in 4-6 sittings.  She has been constantly displayed(exposed to light) and never removed from the stretchers.

Study of Florence, oil on linen, 40cm x 50cm
Study of Florence, oil on linen, 40cm x 50cm

My Self Portrait study was painted in a couple of sessions(never completed) and subsequently removed from the stretchers and rolled.  Once a year I unroll the painting to check its condition.  As you can see the darks have sunk in but there is no yellowing or cracking in the picture film.

Non finished self portrait study, oil on linen, 40cm x 50xm
Non finished self portrait study, oil on linen, 40cm x 50xm

I make a limited production of this medium for Zecchi’s art supplies in Florence, Italy.  Unfortunately they insist on listing it as Maroger medium with the excuse that no one recognizes Megilp.  The specific page can be found here.

7 thoughts on “Confusion of Terms, Megilp is not Maroger

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  1. For what it’s worth…I’ve also conducted extensive research and discovered that the proponderance of 16-17th century painter used primarily linseed oil. The Rembrandt paintings at the London National Gallery, for example, have linseed oil as its main constituent with some instances of walnut oil and limited use of alkyd resin (estimated to be touch up at later dates). Though the author here does not appear to name your varnish, there have been well documented problems reported re: mastic varnish products (I believe this is a constituent of Maroger and Megilp). For these reasons and as these products thin only with turpentine, I prefer to use linseed stand oil with an an alkyd and less toxic gamsol thinner. Though I have not achieved every desired result, so far seems satisfactory.

    1. Thank you for your comment Jeff,
      There is the famous dictum in archeology that in applicable also in this case: “Just because something hasn’t been found doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist.” Restorers are very modish and recently they have fixated on technology. Their chemical analysis of paint films have been invaluable but far from comprehensive. However there are numerous first person sources that cite the use of heat bodied drying oils and the use of varnishes. Were they just lying?

      Mediums, when used properly, only adjust the handling properties of paint. They are ultimately a minor component of the paint film. Both Maroger and Megilp use mastic resin. It is recorded by a first person source that Rubens and his school used mastic varnish. Van Dyck preferred Strausbourg turpentine(another type of resin). When making a resin varnish the majority component is turpentine. There is very little actual resin. That fact combined with a sparing use of medium would make it difficult to find in a paint film.
      It should be added that there were no fixed recipes. The Old Masters would adjust their materials to the specific projects and use. This makes sense since all the materials were prepared in-house. It was the age of the colourman in the 18th century and the collapse of the bottega that brought on the technical decline of oil painting.
      Another thing, using a medium like megilp with average store bought tube paints on a store bought canvas just does not work. That is if you want to produce effects like those of past painters.
      But in the end, your medium should complement your sensibility and personal approach to paint handling. If stand oil and liquin works for you that is great. Good painting.

  2. Thanks J.

    Thank you. I have heard of the Shuler School. It makes sense since Jacque Maroger taught extensively at the Md Institute. The longevity of synthetic resins like Liquin is still questionable and unknown. Incompatible substances over the long haul don’t weather well. I am personally wary of synthetics in oil paint. However there are plenty of painters that swear by it. You can get the same properties(drying times etc.) and so much more with natural materials. But I am a purist in that sense.

  3. Hello Matthew,
    Oh what an appetising conversation! Thank you so much for sharing your skills and wisdom. It’s been a while for me (I’ve squeezed in a whole other profession) since I spent serious time dedicated to my mediums. Reading your description makes one want drop what their doing to get mixing! Thank you again for sharing your practice.
    Your work is beautiful.

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