You have certainly heard of artists painting on canvass, but have you ever heard of an artist painting on canvass that was made from spider-silk? Using spider and caterpillar silk in order to create canvass for painting was a popular activity among the lower classes living centuries ago. However, there exists so few of these web-canvasses today that experts think that the practice has been completely forgotten.
During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries monks and peasants would walk the mountainous valley in Southeastern Austria in order to find cobwebs or spiders and caterpillars. The ancient artists would then collect this silk to be used as a canvass for landscapes and portraits.
The activity of finding and converting the arthropod silk into canvass was an art form itself. The craft if considered a peasants tool for creating art, but today it is hardly remembered. In fact, today there exist less than one hundred silk-based canvasses used for painting.
The silk canvass paintings are also referred to as gossamer paintings, and the time and energy it took to make one would test anybody’s patience. Artists would have to procure the silk and then stretch it onto a square plate no bigger than a postcard. And the artists could not just use any old brush on the fine gossamers. Instead artists had to use, and only use, a fine tipped woodcock brush. The first gossamer paintings were hung up in churches because artists during this time felt a strong need to worship their gods through art. Apparently, the more fragile gossamers were also worth more. The silk canvass also allows artists to see objects behind the silk, making tracing other works an easy process. Eventually these gossamer paintings became a regular household item, but sadly, they have been lost to time.
Had you ever heard of spider silk being used in order to create canvases for painting?