Centuries of Handcraft
The art of frame making has an extensive and rich history. Around the 13th century painted bands were taped around frescoes serving as a frame. This way of framing continued up to the first representations painted on panel where the ledges often acted as the frame.
During the 14th century frames developed into real architectural sculptures, carved in the same way as the painted wooden panels and were often used as altarpieces. The painting and the frame were so entwined that it was hard to see where one stopped and the other began.They soon discovered that constructing a frame apart from its painting would benefit the conservation of the painting in the long run. As a result, during the 15th century, the architectonical character of frame making gradually disappeared and made way for separate, smooth, gilded and painted mouldings; yet still under the strict supervision of the artists themselves, who often furnished the frames with additional painted words and other fine details.
During the 16th century, Renaissance artists, especially in Italy, returned to constructing real pieces of art, where frames would match the painting inside. Artists like Botticelli and Michelangelo even took it a step further and designed their own frames to fit their art. They hired the best wood carvers they could find to carry out their ambitious designs. This particular period characterizes the beginning of a new and fundamental way of framing that we see in the centuries that followed.
Different Hands, Different Frames
At the beginning of the 17th century, European artists no longer designed their own frames. Slowly but surely cabinetmakers took over the business. Whereas Italy had so far set the precedent on style, the French soon took over leadership. French designers began to dominate the art of framing and typical styles like Louis XII featuring a continuation of ornaments, and Louis XIV where this continuation is interrupted by corners and centers, emerged.
In the Netherlands framing also experienced a development during the 17th century. The ebony frame became very popular as they complimented the paintings of that era better than the exuberantly decorated frames, which were usually preferred by the well-off. It seems that even in those days people were very sensitive to social status.
To Develop Or Not To Develop, That Is The Question
During the Régence, in the 18th century, the mouldings became deeper, with corners and centres but without the Louis XIV style ornamentation. This style continued to develop throughout the Louis XV period up into the well-known Rococo style.
Loud but elegant, with flowing lines and open ornamentation, a real treat to bestow. Towards the end of the 18th century, the Neo-classical frame appeared. The sections were more austere, plainly decorated with pearl and ribbon motifs, and only occasionally enriched with garlands on top or along the sides.
During the 19th century the style of framing went through yet another change: the Empire style. Until now frames were almost always sculptured and now we see a different type of frame occurring with ornaments moulded in stucco or made of pate. Mass production became increasingly available and this changed the entire character of frame making. People appeared to become more indifferent to their choice of frame. During these times most paintings were bordered in hard gold gilded frames, the gilded feathered scrolls became particularly well-known. It’s as if people were not very concerned whether a frame actually glorified the picture inside.
Fortunately, later on in the 19th century, the interrelationship between picture and frame became more intimate. This is partially due to the rise of the Impressionists. They abolished the ideas and methods used in previous centuries and went in search of something new. This rejection also had its influence on frame construction. The gilded frames didn’t seem to match the artist’s frequent use of orange pigmentation. The Impressionists stripped their frames with hydrochloric acid, also known as‘decaping’ from the French ‘décaper’. This gave the frame a certain patina look with just a slight hint of golden flakes. Again we notice the same interference of the artist as in the 16th century. And during the Art Nouveau period, which followed shortly afterwards, it was important that a frame should not only complement the painting, but that it integrated with its future interior location, designed in the exact same style.
Ever since then, the frame has not undergone any considerable changes, and presently when framing a painting, we tend to refer to our rich past.Furthermore, it is interesting to see what happens if you use an alternative style of frame for a particular style of painting, but thus far, experience has taught us to stick to matching styles.