Tempera painting has been found on early Egyptians sarcophagi decorations. Many of the Fayum mummy portraits use tempera, sometimes in combination with encaustic.
A related technique has been used also in ancient and early medieval paintings found in several caves and rock-cut temples of India. Art with the help of tempera was created in Bagh Caves between the late 4th and 10th centuries AD and in the 7th century AD in Ravan Chhaya rock shelter, Orissa.
The art technique was known from the classical world, where it appears to have taken over from encaustic painting and was the main medium used for panel painting and illuminated manuscripts in the Byzantine world and Medieval and Early renaissance Europe. Tempera painting was the primary panel painting medium for nearly every painter in the European Medieval and Early renaissance period up to 1500. For example, every surviving panel painting by Michelangelo is tempera.
Oil paint, which may have originated in Afghanistan between the 5th and 9th centuries and migrated westward in the Middle Ages eventually superseded tempera.
Tempera is traditionally created by hand-grinding dry powdered pigments into a binding agent or medium, such as honey, water, milk (in the form of casein) and a variety of plant gums.
Tempera painting starts with placing a small amount of the pigment paste onto a palette, dish or bowl and adding about an equal volume of the binder and mixing. Some pigments require slightly more binder, some require less. Distilled water is added.