Numerous hypotheses have been put forward about the genesis
of Theodoric s style, and no unanimity has been reached.
There is a dominant conviction that it was of West
European origin. Analysis of the painter's technique confirms
this. There exists relatively little comparative material
from the period that can be of interest to us, nor is
there any direct analogy. The technical data at disposal
tend to refer to general features whereby the region north
of the Alps differs from southern and eastern Europe.
As has been said elsewhere 1,
with Theodoric ' s arrival certain technical features
appeared which, until that time, were exceptional or entirely
unknown in Bohemian Gothic painting. It is the aim of
this study to draw attention to the origin of these features
and trace those of local origin, following local traditions.
The technical data and their assessment are given in the
order binding for the origin of a work of art.
Support – The panel is usually
made up of four or more pieces of beech-wood with strips
of canvas glued over the joints. Hard woods were common
in Western Europe. The absence of a canvas cover
over the whole area was unusual even there in the 14th
century. The traditional construction of a panel
of soft wood with canvas cover was binding at the given
time, for all other European regions; there are isolated
exceptions even in our country.
The optical base of painting is formed by two layers of
priming. The composition of the lower one, a warm
grey silicious layer, is specific in ingredients for Bohemian
Gothic painting. In France and the German lands a silicious
layer of different shade was found, in Italy and in the
East it does not occur in this form. The top layer of
the ground, made of chalk, containing cocolites (fossil
shells), was common in all countries north of the Alps.
The material of the priming is clearly of local origin,
as was the custom. It was prepared not only by the artist
it appears.This type of priming in two layers is very
frequent in the Czech Lands and lasted until the early
16th century. It seems to be an analogy to the Italian
combination of gesso grosso and gesso solile.
Preparatory drawing –
Striking brush drawing in black plays an important role
in the preparation of the painting. In this form it appears
in our country for the first time, and its analogy can
be traced to West European painting from the early 14th
century. In intensity it differes entirely from contemporary
Italian drawing, which is so fine that it merges with
the paint and can be safely identified only by infra-
red reflectography. The character of drawing on Theodoric's
panels has several versions, which differ in application
and quality and point to the work of several hands. Frequent
changes and deviations in comparison with the painting
prove the creative process but are no direct proof that
the artist who did the drawing and the painting are always
the same. The drawing is linear, the modelling of volume
is shown in hatching only in exceptional cases in one
variant of the brushwork.
The layer of lead white –
The striking brushwork of this lay er, clearly visible
on an X-ray photo, is a characteristic feature of
Theodoric's technique. The appearance of the layer is
related to the intensity of the drawing. Apart from its
function of insulation and its optical function its purpose
is to subdue the drawing, which shows through in blue
ish tone. The combination of the chalk ground and the
layer of lead white, bonded with oil or oil tempera, used
as insulation of the glue coating for oil painting, was
found in panel painting in northern Europe already from
the 13th century. In 14th century Italian painting the
existence of a separate layer of lead white is limited
to cases where it has an optical function – forming a reflective
area for glaze pigments, especially blue and lake red.
In our country a continuous coat was found for the
first time in the technique of the Vyšehrad and the Zbraslav
The manner of placing the layers of paint has many variants,
ranging from soft bonding medium of oil tempera or oil
on its own. 2 Microscopic
sections show a rich combination of layers, whose
optical sum-total gives the requied resulting tone. The
required task to distinguish almost 130 figures by coloured
draperies led to highly sophisticated shades of colour
that came into being by adding umusually differing colours,
such as red glaze on a bright green or violet red
and pink on a blue-greenish lower layer. In this
sense we are dealing with stratifying technique that was
valid in the whole of medieval Europe without regard to
the bonding media used. A specific feature that was drived
from the possibilities of early oil painting (still with
an admixture of proteins) is the painting of carnation,
characteristic with its soft transitions of colour mixture,
containing in semi-shades and shades some additions of
This led to covering grey semi-tones, quite different
from optical grey achieved by weakening the skin colour
layer on a deep coloured green or brown underpainting,
as can be found until the time of Theodoric in Bohemian
Gothic. The differentiation of character of the figures
is achieved simply by the intensity of semi-glaze tones
of the preparatory modelling of the face, predominant
are pink and ochre shades. A similar system of painting
carnation is current in West European painting, and this
contrasts with the method that was still binding, in the
southern and eastern regions
3 throughout the 14th century and which was
based on green and brown underpainting.
The simplified system of carnation by Theodoric' s technique
provided new effects in combination with the traditional
optical additions. The bonding medium of the paint, in
which oil plays a considerable role, is of northern
type, as shown by analyses of Norwegian and English panel
painting of the 13th century, but it was not used consistently.
It would seem that the uneven share of egg protins is
caused by the accidental dilution of the oil paint, as
assumed by certain scholars in pre-Eyckian Netherlandish
The predominance of the oil painting appears at Karlštejn
Castle also in the technique of mural painting, which
imitates, as has been shown, panel painting 5.
The manner of gilding and the application of relief ornaments
deserves a special chapter. According to surviving
contemporary reports, gilding and the relatied use of
pastiglia was a separate specialization. This division
of work was clearly applied also in the Holy Rood Chapel
6. In the
work the identical method was not always adhered to, as
shown by certain incongruities between the paint and the
plastic background The same applies to the pastiglia on
the area of the painting proper. It has been convincingly
shown that the relief treatment of the picture is of eastern
origin 7 and was
related to the art of the goldsmith. In the 13th century
it appeared in Italy and in Spain, in the early 14th century
we can find pastiglia even in Eng land, later this spread
to the Netherlands, to the Rhineland and the Westphalia.
Even if relief decorations are an intergral part of Theodoric's
painting, it is our opinion that they are not a determining
element of his style. Not do they provide any support
for stipulating the origin of the style.
All this shows that Theodoric's technique is a unique
synthesis of western and local elements. It follows the
medieval tradition and brings new solutions to the given
task. This situation was fittingly characterized by J.
Pěšina who stated that »the pictures in the Holy Rood
Chapel can be understood only through the special function
of this sanctuary, the general spiritual and artistic
purpose of the decorations... and as only one, though
very significant part of the decorative system, to which
the autonomous artistic component was subordinated«8.
Mojmír Hamsík, AHVT B 026
1 M. Hamsík, J. Tomek, Malířská
technika Mistra Theodorika, Umění XXXII, 1984, s. 377-387.
2 J. Tomek, D. Pechová, I. Vernerová, Důkaz obrazového
pojidla Mistra Theodorika tenkovrstvou chromatografii,
in: Restaurátorské umění 1948 až 1988, katalog výstavy,
3 M. Hamsík, K technice české deskové malby 14.
století. Malba inkarnátu jako vývojové kriterium. Technologia
artis 1, 1989, s. 39-43.
4 L. Kockaert, Note on the painting technique of
Melchior Broederlam, ICOM 7th Triennal meeting, Copenhagen
5 M. Hamsík, J. Tomek, Technické paralely deskové
a nástěnné malby 14. století. Umění XXXI, 1983, s.
6 M. Hamsík, Theodorik a dílna – addenda k technice
malby, Umění XXXIV, 1986, s. 64-68.
7 M. Frinta, Relief imitation of metallic sheating
of Byzantine icons as an indicator of east-west influences,
The High Middle Ages, Acta, Vol. VII, 1980.
8 J. Pěšina, Mistr Theodorik, katalog č. 303, in:
České umění gotické 1350 až 1420 , s. 221, Praha 1970.