Dublin Core




Mastic is a soft resin from the mastic tree, Pistacia lentiscus. The mastic tree is a bushy evergreen which exudes mastic from its bark. The tree has aromatic leaves and fruit. The resin is used as a gum and adhesive and as an ingredient in varnishes. It is also used medicinally, in making chewing gum, and as a flavoring. Mastic has a balsamic odor and an astringent taste.


The mastic tree is native to the shores of the Mediterranean. Specifically, mastic resin is known to be produced from Chios, an island in the Aegean Archipelago. Throughout history, the resin was highly prized. In 1346, the city of Chios was conquered by the Genoans who later established the stock company of Maona. The Genoan government introduced a new system for the international trade of mastic, splitting the distribution of each year’s harvest equally between four regions: 1) the Greek territory, 2) the West (Italy, France, Spain and Germany), 3) Asia Minor, and 4) north and west African (Syria, Egypt and Barbary). In 1566, the Ottomans took over the occupation of Chios from the Genoans and maintained control into the early twentieth century. Under Ottoman rule, Chios continued to be the primary source for mastic trade with Europe.


In Ms. Fr. 640:
Fol. 3r - “Counterfeit coral”
…For counterfeiting your coral, you can mix a quarter part of mastic into your purified resin to render it more firm and more beautiful, & if you were to take a single tear of mastic, it would be all the better, but it would be too long…
Fol. 3r - “Thick varnish for planks”
…But it is used to heighten colors which have soaked in and to keep them from dust. Mastic varnish does not resist rain, whereas that of oil and rosin does…
Fol. 4r - “Varnish of spike lavender oil”
…You can put in pulverized mastic extracted in tears or otherwise, & it will be more desiccative, in place of sandarac…
Fol. 7r - “Doublets”
Good dragon’s blood soaked in eau-de-vie carries its mastic or glue in itself, as do sap green & saffron.
Fol. 31r - “Varnish resistant to water”
Flanders varnish, made with turpentine & oil of turpentine or mastic, can come off and does not hold up in the rain…
Fol. 39v - “Colors for illumination on glass”
In order that your turpentine colors do not spread, & hold together, mix in a little of tear of mastic together with the turpentine.
Fol. 39v - “Tracing some history on glass”
…then you shall fill the background with azur d’esmail or verdigris or fine laque platte tempered with clear turpentine, mixed with a little of tear of mastic if you want that the colors are more even & do not spread…
Fol. 40v - “Cross of the commanders of Malta”
…tempered with clear turpentine & tear of mastic & laid down on a silver leaf, not the kind which the painters use, but a thicker kind…
Fol. 42r - “Wax for seal and imprint”
…You can carve the figures & gild them, silver them, & paint them with colors in varnish, & transfer them onto a base of glass painted with colors in turpentine & mastic. And if you want to apply these plates by incrustation, do it with gum ammoniac tempered with vinegar, and you will have good glue.
Fol. 42v - “White varnish on plaster”
Give two or three coats of quite white glue for painting. Next, varnish with varnish of sandarac, spike lavender oil, and a little mastic. And in the evening put it into a vessel, all pestled well together, without fire, which would turn it yellow. Then with a paintbrush, it is dry immediately. Pour the oil, which will have taken the substance.
Fol. 60v - “Varnish dry in an hour”
Take white turpentine oil & turpentine & mastic, pulverized & passed delicately through a sieve, & boil together, stirring continuously with a stick until it is dry. And put in two liards' worth of good eau-de-vie. And if you extract the tear of mastic, it will be whiter & clearer. There is no need to put in turpentine, but only its white turpentine oil & mastic pulverized at your discretion, until it has enough body. Which one knows when, being placed on a knife in the wind, it does not run. This one is excellent for panels and is dry within an hour and does not stick like the turpentine one.
Fol. 71v - “Varnish”
To a half lb of spike lavender oil, put in 4 ℥ of sandarac & mastic subtly pulverized…
Fol. 74r - “For making varnish”
…And then after, you will take mastic & arabic, two ounces each, which will both be well ground, and you will put everything together, & will make it boil while stirring continuously, for the space of five hours…
Fol. 77v - “Another approved varnish”
Take two ounces of linseed oil & two ounces of petrolle oil and two ounces of mastic, the whitest you can find, and of glass alum, & grind it, and take a little bit of white copperas, and put all these drugs together into an earthen pot that should be new, and lay it on hot ashes for a bit, and you will see a beautiful varnish.
Fol. 79v - “For making varnish”
Take some mastic, sang darac, gum arabic & spike lavender oil, as much of one as the other, & make them melt all together, & before coating it, lay a coat of glue quite clear, & let it dry.
Fol. 97v - “Mastic varnish dry in a half hour”
Some take 2 ℥ of mastic, a half ℥ of turpentine, & a half ℥ of turpentine oil, & eau-de-vie, a little at your discretion because it evaporates when heated & nonetheless makes the varnish more desiccative. But I made it thus: I take turpentine oil at discretion & put in a good bit of turpentine, because it remains always humid & attaches itself if one puts in too much, & eau-de-vie, & heat in a varnished bowl the said oil, & when it begins to be very hot, I put in some subtly ground mastic & passed through a sieve, around one-third of the oil, and let reheat until it is melted, which will be soon on hot ashes. Once all melted, try it on the knife, and if you see that it has too much body, add in a little turpentine oil, and if it does not have enough, add in mastic, and thus it will be done. And keep it well covered so that no filth gets in. When you want to make it, be careful to sort & choose the mastic that is white & purified of any dirt & dust & black dross. And when you wash it & dry it to render it very white & clean, it will be even better. For if you do not purge it well, these straws & marks, pulverized into it, will remain within the varnish, & when you set it on white or flesh color, it will seem that they are fleas & blemishes. Once well chosen, pulverize it in a mortar and pass it through a very fine sieve, and next mix it in oil, as is said. But if you want to make it more carefully, extract a tear of mastic, as you know, pulverize, pass, & mix, and you will have something very singular for small works. Take heed when varnishing not to breathe on it, for this will make the varnish whiten & take body.
[marginal notes]
It almost dries when working.
One knows that this varnish does not have body enough when it does not take well on a panel in oil, for it is like water. Therefore, add in pulverized mastic & heat until it is good. This varnish is very white & beautiful, & does not go to your head like that of spike lavender.
For some, instead of turpentine oil, put spike lavender oil, which is not as good. This varnish is laid down cold on the panel with a very clean fingertip, & one needs to spread it vigorously.
The Italians scarcely varnish their paintings because they layer their paintings very thick, & they are a long time drying on the inside, though on top they make a dry skin & crust.
One lays the varnish with a finger so as make a lean layer, because when thick, it yellows.
Fol. 98r - “Varnish for lutes”
They take a little turpentine, & oil of turpentine or of spike lavender, & amber pulverized & passed very subtly, & make like that of mastic, & add in a little dragon’s blood to color it and make it reddish, and others some terra merita for yellow.
Fol. 99v - “Varnish”
Some make the one of mastic with two ounces of mastic and one of clear & white turpentine oil & eau-de-vie as above. Heat it on ashes until it is melted, then let it rest & put it in another vessel to purge it of dregs.
Fol. 100r - “Gemstones”
You need to pestle your materials in a mortar of thick glass & encased & stuck with mastic into another mortar of wood, in order that it does not break. This can serve for perfumers. & the pestle, also of glass.
Fol. 120v - “Keeping dry flowers in the same state all year”
…Flowers are also kept in their same beauty in distilled vinegar in a well sealed vessel which does not allow any wind, which should be well sealed with wax & mastic. Carnations & roses, the residue of common vinegar makes them rot…
Fol. 133r - “Marks from the points of iron wire which are found on the head of the animal”
…& on this end place there a little hard wax or a little mastic or cement and, by means of the hot iron wire, hold in place the throat of the animal…


Angus Stevenson, ed. “Mastic,” Oxford Dictionary of English (3 ed) (Oxford University Press, 2015),

Dimitrios Ierapetritis, “The Geography of the Chios Mastic Trade from the 17th through to the 19th Century,” Ethnobotany Research and Applications (8 June:153-67, 2010),

Ian Chilvers, ed., “Mastic,” The Oxford Dictionary of Art (3 ed) (Oxford University Press, 2004),

Image: Anonymous, Johannes von Cuba, and Peter Schöffer, “Mastic," in Gart der Gesundheit, published 28 March 1485, Artstor, From Artstor: The Illustrated Bartsch. Vol. 90, commentary, German Book Illustration through 1500: Herbals through 1500; retrospective conversion of The Illustrated Bartsch (Abaris Books).

Elia Zhang, Columbia University




“Mastic,” om+ka, accessed September 23, 2023,

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