5th May 2000 at 01:00
THE CHEMISTRY OF ART. Pack. Edited by John Johnstone. Royal Society of Chemistry. Tel: 020 7437 8656. pound;19.95.

How do you make egg tempera? What would you do with a cloth of honour? This resource produced by the Royal Society of Chemistry and the National Gallery, London, tells us.

It contains four booklets and 10 A3 prints from the National Gallery. The paintings span 500 years of western European art, though only a few, including Renoir's Boating on the Seine, will be familiar. The guide includes a glossary of almost 100 terms from alizarin crimson to yellow lake. A more technical glossary briefly describes destructive and non-destructive analytical methods, used by the National Gallery.

Another booklet explains the physical structure of paintings as well as telling the stories behind them. For example, Nardo di Cione's painting, dating from about 1365, shows three standing men - Saint John the Baptist with Saint John the Evangelist and Saint James. The floor beneath the saints was painted using sgraffito, which in this case involved laying gold leaf on bol - a smooth clay containing iron (III) oxide. This was painted over with red lead in egg tempera, which has been identified by X-ray diffraction and by laser microspectral analysis.

Using the instructions in the experimental section, students can make pigments and use them to make egg tempera and oil paints. Some experiments are appropriate for key stage 3 although others are more suitable for older students.

A fourth booklet, aimed at post-16 students, explains a range of related phenomena including the science of colour vision, colour mixing and colour in organic and inorganic compounds.

Overall, this is a sumptuous and elegant set of materials. The chemistry and the art are integrated well and, from an adult's point of view, the pack is very satisfying. However, the images and the text seem a long way from the day-to-day existence of many of today's youth and I also wonder just how teachers will be able to use the materials in this format.

JUSTIN DILLON Justin Dillon is director of the International Education Unit at King's College London.

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