Encaustic is an ancient medium; combining beeswax, tree resin and pigments.
Purhaps the best known of all encaustic work are the Fayum funeral portraits painted in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. by Greek painters in Egypt. A significant Greek population had settled in Egypt following its conquest by Alexander, eventually adopting the customs of the Egyptians. This included mummifying their dead. A portrait of the deceased painted either in the prime of life or after death, was placed over the person’s mummy as a memorial. Many of these pieces have survived to our own time, and their color has remained as fresh as any recently completed work.In the great period of economic instability that followed the decline of the Roman Empire, encaustic fell into disuse. Some work, particularly the painting of icons, was carried on as late as the 12th century, but for the most part it became a lost art. The process was cumbersome and painstaking, and the cost of producing it was high. It was replaced by tempera, which was cheaper, faster, and easier to work. In the 18th century the idea of encaustic painting was revived, initially by amateurs as a novelty to rediscover the techniques of the ancient painters. It was further explored in the 19th century, to solve the problem of dampness faced by mural painters in northern climates. The success of these efforts was limited, and encaustic remained an obscure art form.