Egg tempera is merely pure pigment mixed with egg yolk and water. When dry the egg becomes crystal clear and the pigment appears luminescent. Light travels through the suspended pigment, reflecting off the polished white ground, passing back through the tempera paint. Egg tempera tends to be applied through small brush strokes painstakingly layered to produce the desired result.
Egg tempera painting is recognized as the second oldest medium after encaustic. It was used by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks and perfected by the icon painters during the last 100 years of the old Byzantine Empire (400 AD-1202 AD).
After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, egg tempera flourished for about 200 years in the hands of the early Renaissance artists. Egg tempera has seen a revival at the turn of the 19th century and still has an interest amongst some artists today.
20th century masters of the medium include Paul Cadmus, George Tooker, and Jared French.