The properties of canvas as a material make it much easier to stretch it onto a rectangular frame than any other shape. Canvas is a woven fabric which is made from warp and weft threads at right angles to each other. The easiest way to make sure that the painting surface will be taut enough to paint on is to stretch the fabric on a rectangular frame.
Rectangles are the most common shape, but famous artists such as Raphael and Matisse sometimes used different shapes for their works. Shaped canvases became more widely used in the twentieth century, especially in the 1960s.
Red Canvas by Richard Tuttle, 1967
I believe that it is because it is simple and also symmetrical. It allows the artist a good building block to begin his or her work.
I’ve seen other formats, but I suppose this is the most popular. I would say its because the rectangle is a clean, simple shape with hard lines that create a good, firm base to create something on or in.
At this point it is probable that tradition also plays a big role in this, as well as classical rules of composition that rely on symmetry and right angles.
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