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Video: Making Renaissance-Era Varnish for Wet Plate Photography


Wet plate photography master Markus Hofstaetter—a frequent guest author on PetaPixel—recently embarked on another photography experiment. Using pebbles of sandarac resin, he made his own Renaissance-era varnish for his finished wet plates.

Sandarac was used to make the original varnish. Sandarac varnish was popular in the Medieval period and especially in Renaissance-era Italy, where it was used to protect paintings and antiques. By melting it down, combining it with oil and alcohol, and filtering the mixture, you can produce a varnish that’s described as “hard, lustrous and durable.”

In other words: the perfect protection for precious (and expensive) wet plate photography.

A pebble of sandarac resin
The glossy results

In the video above, Hofstaetter takes you through the whole process: grinding the resin into a powder, dissolving it in 95% alcohol, mixing it with lavender oil, and then filtering the mixture over and over and over (and over) again until all of the impurities have been pulled out. Finally, he shows you the effect of the varnish by coating a newly captured self-portrait.

Check out the full video to see the process in action. Like all of Hofstaetter’s wet plate work, it’s somehow soothing to watch an artist at work, taking his time to do things “the old fashioned way.” In this case: really old fashioned.

Image credits: Photos by Markus Hofstaetter and used with permission.