Canvas Paintings – A Cultural Milestone

by | Apr 5, 2018

Venezia in Rosa by Guido Borelli

When you think about a painting, what comes to mind? For many, the idea of a stretched canvas covered with paint is the image they receive. This is normal – for many of us, this is the concept of “painting” that we carry with us. Using canvas as a painting material has, for centuries, been the most popular method of creation for artists. Has it always been that popular, however, and what are some benefits to using it? There are a variety of questions that you might have about the creation of canvas art and why it has dominated the art scene for hundreds of years. Let’s take a look at the history of the medium and how it helped inspire a cultural revolution that changed ideas about artwork, ownership, and humanity that stick with us today.

What is canvas?

Canvas is a type of material that is extremely durable in nature. It is a plain-woven fabric that is used in a variety of ways. It is not only a medium for artwork! In fact, canvas was used for other items long before it became a staple in the arts. You might find canvas as the main material for your backpacks or other items that are intended for outdoor use, including things like tents, sails, and marquees. These are all items that are out in nature in any kind of weather imaginable, and they have to be able to stand up to the wear and tear of wind, rain, and sun. Luckily enough, canvas is up for the challenge! This is, in fact, one of the reasons why it is such a popular medium for artwork. Assuming the canvas is stored and treated properly, it can last for many, many years, thus preserving the artwork it harbors with minimal fading or breakdown.

When was canvas first used in paintings?

While canvas was first used in paintings in 14th century, particularly in Italy, it did not become a popular medium until the 16th century in that same country. In Europe, canvas paintings rose to prominence in the 17th century. Before this, many artists used wood panels as the surface upon which to paint their work. Venetian sail canvas, so named for its popular use as a material from which to create sails for boats, was largely considered the highest quality canvas around. Canvas, it should be noted, provided both cost-savings as well as convenience to the artists in question and, as another added benefit, was also long-lasting and more readily available than many of the wood panel options they were using before.

Jon Neidert

Why is canvas art important to our culture?

The widespread use of canvas for painting was an important moment in history for a variety of reasons. First of all, prospective artists could acquire this material more readily than the specialized wooden panels that were previously in use. This, in turn, lowered the cost of the profession and made it a more viable option for more potential artists. Additionally, canvas paintings could be completed quickly and then easily transported from location to location. This is notable for a few different reasons all on its own. Artists were able to take canvas with them to many different places, including those where it was difficult to maneuver a wooden panel. This increased the locations where artists could work and draw inspiration from, subsequently giving artists more freedom regarding subject matter, inspiration, and movability. And because canvas can be so easily moved, art ownership became a more common aspiration that was attainable for more than just the highest class of nobility.

The impact of canvas painting is hard to definitively quantify simply because it is so large. Canvas painting was a turning point in art history that led to greater, more affordable paintings that also lasted longer due to the durable nature of the fabric itself. The paintings that you often see in museums are only available for view because the canvas upon which it was created has held up well to the ages. Less durable material tends to break down much faster, which can lead to a painting literally rotting away into nothing. In a way, humanity today understands its past primarily because of the canvas paintings that depict everything from daily life to battles to religious beliefs and motifs of the era in question.

At Fine Art America, we have canvas prints that cover almost any category you can think of. Much like the inspiration that artists in the 16th and 17th centuries used to create masterpieces that live on today, contemporary artists have truly made the medium their own. Partake in the cultural phenomenon that is canvas artwork and order your piece today!


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