Our visual powers

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Michelangelo, Creation of Adam, detail. Circa 1508–1512. Fresco.

Michelangelo’s world-famous frescoes in the Sistine Chapel have been cleaned to reveal intense, brilliant colors. This detail from the ceiling reveals the long-lasting nature of fresco painting. The period 1508–1512 marks the High Renaissance in Italy.


Oil painting uses a mixture of pigment, linseed oil, varnish, and turpentine to produce either a thin or thick consistency, depending on the artist’s desired effect. In the fifteenth century, oil painting dominated because of its flexibility, the richness of its colors, and the extraordinary durability and long-lasting qualities. Because oil paint dries slowly and can be put on in thin layers, it offers the artist remarkable control over the final product. No medium in painting offers a more flexible blending of colors or subtle portrayal of light and textures, as in Parmigianino’s The Madonna with the Long Neck (Figure 4-4). Oil paint can be messy, and it takes sometimes months or years to dry completely, but it has been the dominant medium in easel painting since the Renaissance.

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