Art Encyclopedia - Overpainting
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Overpainting is a layer of paint applied over an underlayer, or a painting over a painting. In this latter case it is dangerous in oil painting without an intermediary coat or two of white oil paint. The underpainting will always eventually come through the overpainting and destroy the purity of the colours of the overpainting unless there is the intermediary coat.
Overpainting was used extensively in many schools of art throughout art history. Some of the most spectacular results can be seen in the work of Jan van Eyck. It can be difficult to distinguish overpainting from underpainting in finished historical artworks in the absence of scientific tests. X-rays are often used to examine paintings because they allow the conservation technician to see what is hidden underneath a surface without having to damage it. By using different intensities of x-rays, experts can see different layers of paint and therefore know whether or not a canvas was ever painted over.