Ancient Minoan artists (2500 b.c.e.) used the fresco method, coating walls with lime and painting them before they were dry. By 1500 b.c.e., paint making was developed in the Mediterranean cultures of Greece and Crete. Most interior walls were whitewashed. A major development around 1000 b.c.e. was the use of gum from the Acacia tree for paint. Between 600 b.c.e. and 400 c.e., Greek and Roman cultures developed varnishes also using gum. Colors were still very limited with white lead, iron red, and whatever could be found from soil, minerals, and plants. Artists at the time worked with tempera paints made with egg yolk as the binder, powdered pigments, and water. Their pigments came from earth soil, sands, and plants. Ancient Romans in Pompeii used paint in the trompe i’oeii technique to trick the eye. They used perspective well to create the illusion of larger spaces that looked like garden scenes.
In the late Byzantine era, walls were decorated with frescos. Fresco walls were covered with several coats of plaster, and the last coat of plaster had mixed pigment colors with the wet lime plaster. Frescos were used in Italy during the Renaissance. A well-known example of a fresco is the Sistine Chapel in Rome painted by Michelangelo Buonarroti from 1508 to 1512.
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Oil paint had been used since the first century c.E. for decorative purposes. By the 1600s, decorative painting was popular in England, where oil paint was applied to plaster walls. In this century Flemish painters developed paint made with linseed oil pressed from the seeds of the flax plant. During the 1700s and 1800s, the paint industry evolved into a large industry. Pigments were ground by hand until the 1700s. The grinding process exposed many painters to lead powder, a source of lead poisoning. In 1718, a machine for grinding pigment colors was invented.
By the early 1800s, an alternative to lead was invented in Europe, a nontoxic zinc oxide. The process for nontoxic zinc oxide did not come to the United States until 1855. Linseed oil was used as an inexpensive binder in paint, but it was also a superior protector of surfaces. Paint had reached the point of becoming the protector of surfaces, rather than just decoration. The Sherwin-Williams Company in Cleveland, Ohio, worked on perfecting the formula where fine paint particles would stay suspended in linseed oil. In 1873, Sherwin-Williams released ready-to-use linseed oil paint. A few years later, they produced paint in tin cans spirit-based paint called Magna. Water-based acrylic paints were available in the 1950s, sold with the name “latex” house paint. The paints used acrylic dispersion, and did not use latex, which comes from a rubber tree. Interior “latex” paints use either vinyl or acrylic vinyl as a binder.
The late 1900s saw more developments in paint. First, the formulas had to be changed. Since 1978, lead has been illegal in paint used in a residence. The white lead was replaced with titanium dioxide. Next, there was an explosion of color. Benjamin Moore introduced its computerized color-matching system in 1982. All paint companies benefited from the color technology and multitudes of colors became available to consumers. Technology improved water-based paints for exterior use and latex paints became the majority of paints sold.