Earliest examples reputedly date back as far as ca. 800 B.C. during Greek & Egyptian times, with walls of tombs and sailing ships painted with heated coloured waxes. Following on from a mix of resin and wax being used to weatherproof these early ships, pigmentation was added and the famous painted (if somewhat crudely) ships of Troy described by Homer around this time came into being.
The most famous encaustic works after this time are the Fayum Funeral Portaits produced around 1st to the 3rd centuries A.D. by Greek painters living in Egypt. A number of Greeks had settled in Egypt and eventually took up several of the Egyptian customs, including mummifying their dead.
Commemerative portraits were then painted onto wood (usually lime wood) or cloth, to be attached to the mummies, using encaustic methods. Examples survive today and are on display at Cairo Museum in Egypt and it is suprising how fresh the colour still looks having had the protection of the wax.
Having become virtually a lost art form by the end of the 12th century, encaustic art saw a brief attempted revival around the end of the 18th and early 19th century, but not knowing the ancient methods, new techniques were attempted but due to the difficuly of melting the wax to work did not continue in favour.
In the 20th century, with the advent of easy methods of heating the wax, such as the electric iron, encaustic painting made a comeback. Some of the well known early artists to work in this manner include Robert Delauney & Jasper Johns.
These methods have been simplified further in the late 20th century with the advent of a low temperature painting iron and other tools such as a heated stylus with different attachments, along with pre-mixed wax blocks consisting of quality bees-wax as the carrier for the pigments.