An Unusual--and Extraordinarily Rare--Intact Painting Done on Cobweb

PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN FROM THE LOWER INN VALLEY IN HER TRADITIONAL COSTUME.

(Innsbruck: ca. 1870). Folder: 240 x 206 mm; (9 1/2 x 8 1/8"); painting: 133 x 102 mm. (5 1/4 x 4").

Matted and housed in a black cloth-backed folder with black paper boards. Front pastedown with a sample of the cobweb material and a large paper label in three languages; lower right corner of mat stamped with the name "F. Unterberger / Innsbruck." Edges and head and tail of spine slightly worn and bumped, light foxing to the mat and interior of the folder, a hint of toning to the lightly colored sky, a tiny hole just grazing the hairline of the subject, small closed tear at the bottom of the image, but all of these imperfections quite trivial, the fragile painting IN ESPECIALLY FINE CONDITION, with the colors very bright, and an altogether remarkable survival.

Featuring a well-fed, wistful young peasant woman, this highly unusual piece of art redefines our notion of the term "fine," being both skillfully executed and painted on a whisper thin canvas consisting of actual spider webbing. While the earliest such cobweb paintings are purported to have been done by monks and nuns in the 16th century, the form later became a kind of peasant art geared toward the tourist trade in the 19th century. It seems to have been a particular specialty in the areas near the Tyrolean Alps, where the Agelenidae, or "Funnel-Web," spiders produced webs that were gathered, then layered, wound, and stretched, producing a fabric that was then strengthened by the brushing on of diluted milk. The result was a very fragile fabric, but one sturdy enough to withstand delicate brushstrokes applied by the careful hands of skilled artisans. Our piece almost certainly passed through the hands of one of the most successful purveyors of these paintings, Franz Unterberger (1838-1902). Best known as a painter in oils of Italian scenery, Unterberger also ran a small workshop located in Innsbruck, where he commissioned and sold cobweb paintings done by accomplished locals. Anonymously painted, the present piece is characterized by particularly fine brushwork, a bright color palette, and charming subject matter, no doubt chosen to appeal to tourists seeking a cheerful memento of their travels. Due to the obvious fragility of the material involved, these kinds of paintings are quite rare on the market, and when they can be obtained, they are typically defective in significant ways. The present painting is significantly larger than the few other examples we have been able to find. There are two paintings in the McCormick Library at Northwestern, each measuring 4 x 3", and the only one we could trace at auction (offered, in damaged condition, by Forum in 2020) measured 3 1/4 x 2 1/4". According to Lauren Hock's article on the McCormick Library website (22 July 2008), there are fewer than 100 known extant cobweb paintings, and most of them reside in private collections.
(ST11417)

Keywords: Cobweb, Peasant Art

Add to Cart Price: $6,500.00

PJP Catalog: 75.195

PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN FROM THE LOWER INN VALLEY IN HER TRADITIONAL COSTUME. PAINTING ON COBWEB, "GEMÄLDE AUF SPINNENGEWEBE."

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