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Who could have thought that the delicate, fine, silky threads of a spider’s cobweb could be woven into a canvas strong enough to withstand the abrasive strokes of an artist’s brush? But the hundred or so paintings that survive today in museums and in the hands of private collectors bear testimony to this incredibly ingenious, painstaking and time-consuming craft that the Austrian monks of the Tyrolean Alps practiced in the 16th century.

Cobweb painting, sometimes also called gossamer painting, are made on fabrics made of spider cobwebs or caterpillars' silk. The cobwebs are collected from the wild, and great care is taken to remove twigs, insect parts, spider droppings etc. that become trapped and entangled in the web. After carefully cleaning the webs, they are stretched over a cardboard to form a thin canvas. Over this canvas a coat of diluted milk is applied to add strength. The canvas is now ready to paint, but it is still extremely fragile. Even a gentle poke of a finger can completely destroy a cobweb painting.

cobweb-painting-2

A watercolor portrait of Philippine Welser, wife of Archduke Ferdinand II, made on an ultrathin canvas made out of cobwebs. Photo credit: Charles Deering Mccormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Library

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© Amusing Planet, 2018.


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