The Rise of Canvas in Art: From Oil Paintings to Photo Prints

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As an artist, one of the best ways to display your talents is on canvas. From masterful oil paintings to photo canvas prints, there's just something about this material that gives a sense of prestige. But did you know that canvas is a rather recent development in art history?

Historically made from tightly woven hemp—the word canvas comes from the Latin cannabis—it came into common usage in the 16th century during the Italian Renaissance. Venetian painters were especially keen on utilizing canvas because it was easier for them to use in a humid environment than frescos (which dried poorly in the lagoon) or wood panels (which absorbed moisture and warped). They also had a large, cheap supply readily available—given that the material was also used to make sails and the Venetians were known for their naval fleet.

There are several other advantages of canvas that made them slowly replace wood panels. One important fact of the material that holds true today is that canvas allows for larger formats with easy portability, as they are lightweight and can be rolled. They are also less prone to the warping and cracking that can occur with wood panels.

These factors, amongst many others, led to the continued diffusion of canvas. Soon, the Spanish began to take up canvas art, following the Italian example. In fact, Diego Velázquez's iconic painting Las Meninas is dominated by a large canvas on the left-hand side of the painting, proving that the canvas was fitting even for royalty.

Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez

‘Las Meninas' by Diego Velázquez. Oil on canvas. 1656-1657

By the 17th century, the canvas had spread throughout Northern Europe, superseding panels as the dominant support for paintings, a trend which continues today. Not only used for oil painting, artists have expanded its use to everything from acrylic paint and embroidery to photo canvas prints. Still an affordable option, canvas allows photographers and painters alike to professionally display their art. - Cheap Canvas Prints

How is canvas made?

While hemp and linen were classically used to make canvas—and can still be found today—most industrial canvases are created using cotton. Keeping the price of canvas economical, cotton also stretches, meaning the artwork is less prone to cracking and damage. The cotton is woven using a plain weave, which increases its strength and artists can select canvas based on how tightly the cotton is woven.

The canvas is then wrapped around wooden stretchers, and prepared for paint using gesso. The gesso layer ensures that oil paint won't come directly in contact with the canvas, which would cause decay. Throughout the Renaissance, artists went to great lengths to ensure their preparatory layers hide the texture of the canvas. While pre-prepared canvases can be purchased, some artists prefer to do the treatment themselves, as it gives greater flexibility about how much of the canvas weave shows. Many artists enjoy incorporating this texture into their artwork.

Photo Canvas Prints for Wall Art

The Rise of Photo Canvas Prints

As printing technology has continued to develop, it's no wonder that more and more artists are turning toward digitally printing their art. Giclée, or fine art inkjet printing, has allowed photographers to present their work with unprecedented color and quality. Since the 1990s, photographers have also been creating canvas prints, presenting their photographs in the same manner as master painters.

Even if you aren't a master painter, technology has made it easier than ever to create cheap canvas prints. High-quality printing means that photographs from the special moments in your life can be placed on canvas and hung directly on your wall, for a beautiful way to decorate your home with a touch of class.

Easy canvas prints can be created from anything—whether a photograph, piece of digital art, or a scan of your child's favorite drawing. Durable and available in many different sizes, these affordable canvas prints allow everyone to feel like a master artist without having to pick up a brush. offers cheap canvas prints in a wide range of sizes and styles. With XXL wood stretchers available and a selection of different edge designs, it's quite simple to order your next ready-to-hang piece of wall art. Using HP latex printing technology, the canvas prints are also environmentally friendly, as the inks are water-based and solvent free.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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