Preparing the canvas

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An oil painting begins with a base or support, which, for the Feast of the Gods, consisted of canvas stretched upon a frame. Around 1500, painters like Bellini began using canvas rather than the traditional wood panels. Canvas was easier to work with, lent a more natural look to the picture and looked less flat than wood panels. Bellini painted only 5% of his paintings on canvas; his student Titian painted 95% on canvas.

To prepare a canvas, the artist would first stretch it on a wooden frame, as shown at right. Next, a smooth layer of gesso (white calcium sulfate, plaster of Paris, bound with animal glue) would be applied to seal the canvas. That would be followed by the pigment lead white, to secure the upper pigment layers. Without this priming, paint directly applied would soak into the surface and be difficult to control.

The Feast of the Gods was painted on a flax canvas, with an unusually fine weave for the time (24 threads/cm warp, 23 threads/cm weft). The canvas consisted of three strips of unequal width (77.5, 82.6, and 33 cm).