Jump to navigation Jump to search
Hanging reliquary
MFA# 49.480


Any transparent protective or decorative coating. Varnishes are composed of a resin dissolved in a liquid which dries to form a hard glassy film. Varnish recipes from the 9th century contained a natural resin, such as Myrrh, Rosin, Mastic resin, or Sandarac, dissolved in hot Linseed oil. Oil varnishes formed dark, strong, insoluble films. By the early 16th century, spirit varnishes are used. Spirit varnishes contained a natural resin dissolved in an evaporating solvent, such as Ethyl alcohol or Turpentine (oil). By the 19th century, spirit varnishes containing mastic and Dammar were commonly used for picture varnishes while Shellac varnishes were used for furniture finishes. By the mid 20th century, synthetic resin varnishes were used for many types of coatings. Examples of synthetic varnishes are Acrylic resin, Alkyd resin, Polycyclohexanone, Polyvinyl acetate, and Polyurethane.

Synonyms and Related Terms

varnishes (pl.); vernis (Fr.); barniz (Esp.); vernice (It)

Resources and Citations

  • J.Kirby, "Varnish" The Dictionary of Art, Grove's Dictionaries Inc., New York, 1996.
  • Reed Kay, The Painter's Guide To Studio Methods and Materials, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1983
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)
  • ASTM, "Standard Terminology Relating to Paint, Varnish, Lacquer and Related Products", Annual Book of ASTM Standards, Section 6, Paints, Related Coatings and Aromatics, ASTM, D16, 7-Jan, Jul-96
  • Matt Roberts, Don Etherington, Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: a Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 1982
  • The Dictionary of Art, Grove's Dictionaries Inc., New York, 1996 Comment: J.Kirby, "Varnish"
  • Dictionary of Building Preservation, Ward Bucher, ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York City, 1996