Encaustic art dates back maybe 5000 years to Classical Greek times when coloured waxes were used to decorate warships and the walls of tombs. Mention is made by Homer (c. 800 BC) of the painted ships of warriors fighting at Troy, and the Roman historian Pliny writes much on its history in the 1st century AD. Roman aristocrats were great collectors of the finest pieces of old encaustic art.
In the Roman period, from around the late 1st century BC onwards, the technique was famously used in the Fayum mummy portraits by the assimilated Greek community living in Egypt. About 900 are known at present, painted onto board, and due to the hot dry Egyptian climate they are incredibly well preserved, retaining brilliant colours largely unaffected by time.
Encaustic techniques were also later used by the Coptic Church and in Constantinople, and also in the lost Kut-kut art of the Philippines, but then the technique largely died out.
The art saw a resurgence in the 20th century in Mexico, in the form of painted murals, and in the work of noted North American artists such as Jasper Johns, Tony Scherman and Fernando Leal Audirac.