History of Easels

One of the essential attributes of the artist is easel. And today we’re going to talk about history of easels.  The word easel is an old Germanic synonym for donkey. In various other languages, its equivalent is the only word for both the animal and the apparatus, such as Afrikaans: esel and earlier Dutch: ezel (the easel generally in full Dutch: schildersezel – painter’s donkey).

The first mentioning of easel dates back to the I cent. AD. In his Natural History Pliny refers wrote: “Protogenes was not at home, but there happened to be a large panel upon the easel ready for painting, with an old woman who was left in charge.” So, successor of the contemporary easel was already familiar to Romans.
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Middle Ages transferred paintings from the walls of the temples on the canvases, so somehow they needed to be placed vertically and at the comfortable angle. Thus, easels and the art painted upon them became more and more ubiquitous.  Moreover, according to some evidence, monks started using easels for illuminating manuscripts since the 12th century. Little table easels with 40-45 degrees of angle, are used even today for calligraphy.

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During the Renaissance art has reached new level. Easel often can be seen on numerous paintings, mainly on the self-portraits, becoming a symbol of the artistic craft. In 1635, Pierre Lebrun, in his “Collection of Essays on the Wonder of Painting” describes the easel as being an essential tool for painting. There are also certificates that in the XVI age similar to the easel, constructions were used by weavers and lace makers for production and demonstration of their works.

Canvases and engravings of the 16th century demonstrate the artist prefer simple wooden easels similar to contemporary ones. However, later, in the 17th-18th centuries such styles as baroque and rococo add lavish décor, bending lines and incrustations to it. The features of neoclassicism of the beginning of 19th century can be seen in the elegant simplicity, combined with gilding of easels.

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Towards the end of the 19th century plein aire painting grew popular, shaping the demand for portable easels, so the artist could take them to depict landscapes.

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