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A Brief History Of Easels

Author : Art Forbes-Lee

Submitted : 2010-05-07 19:22:59    Word Count : 607    Popularity:   61

Tags:   easels, art, supplies, studio, history, roman, materials,

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Anyone who has painted with oil or acrylic paints can tell you what an invaluable piece of technology an easel is, and how essential it can be as part of the artistic process.

So it is staggering to think that one day, a long, long time ago, there were no easels – they just hadn’t been invented yet…

Artists would often paint on tables, on floors and on walls until some clever individual decided that in order to get a better view of the painting he (or she) was creating, that they would prop up a piece of board at an angle and called it an easel!

This article explores it’s earliest and strangest history.

The origins of the word, “easel”

Strangely the word, “easel” comes from the Old Germanic language meaning literally, “donkey”, similar in meaning and spelling to the Dutch, “Ezel” and Danish “Aesel”, all derived from the latin for “Ass”, “Asinus”. The historical explanation being that loading up a donkey is in some way comparable to propping up a painting on a wooden stand.

The first easels

Easels go back well into classical history, going back to at least Ancient Egypian times and perhaps further. Roman scholar, Pliny the Elder mentioned a “large panel placed upon an easel” in his writings in the first century A.D.

Monks were known to use easels as part of their scribing during the 12th century A.D., which at the time was akin to both writing and drawing such were the intricacies of the manuscripts that were written (and copied) at the time. However it wasn’t until the 13th century that easels (and early oil paints) were used in replacement of wall murals

Art for the masses

This freed up art to become a much more accessible past time for the masses, who duly took to this new art form with vigour and enthusiasm, particularly within the Renaissance period, with art being developed on canvas in dedicated studios rather than directly onto the walls in situ.

Common easel design and construction

Modern easels are split into two main types:

•“Tripod easels” (or “a frame easels”) are based on three legs and often has a cross bar and a mechanism for changing the surface angle whilst keeping the stability of the easel intact on its three legs.

•“H frame easels” (or “studio easels”) are based on straight edges. Upright posts run in parallel to each other as do the horizontal cross bars. H frame easels also commonly have mechanisms to vary the angle.

Variations on both of these main designs do exist such as “box easels” and “table easels” along with modern studio designs such as “platform easels” – all of which are commonly available to buy online and in art shops.

Easels are commonly created for three main usages:

•Field Easels – where portability and stability on uneven ground is often needed. Field easels are usually small, collapsible and made of light weight materials and usual based on the “a frame/tripod” design.

•Studio Easels – for studios where portability and weight is not a priority. As a result, studio easels tend to be quite solid and durable.

•Display easels – for the display of finished art works in places such as galleries and museums. These tend to be very simple with less need for the stability n necessary during the act of painting. Display easels tend to vary in size, and are sometimes custom built – especially for valuable paintings.

Author's Resource Box

Art Forbes-Lee is a published art history writer working for Pullingers and their online range of art supplies, (http://www.pullingers.com/) and easels (http://www.pullingers.com/C~8~Easels) & more.

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