Let there be frames…

A very short, sweet and basic introduction to the history of frames, stolen from various sources (cited at the end before I get lynched)!

In the beginning there was life, then religion, then religious icons, then picture frames! (This isn’t the BBC, don’t write in please, I know it didn’t really go like that … no, I’m well aware, it’s more like, life, chocolate, and then picture frames)!

When I first started becoming part of the world of picture framing, I never even considered it beyond, getting a piece framed in the best possible way.

But as the years have gone on, it’s a subject that I have become hungrier and hungrier to know about and just can’t get enough of the depth of knowledge there is about art and framing out there.

So, last year I decided to start reading up on the subject (especially after I took a Gilding course, which I much enjoyed but was useless at!)

Apparently, picture frames as we are familiar with now, were first housed in ecclesiastical settings but its origins go back further.  It’s believed that frames derived from borders way back 3-4,000 years ago!  Borders appeared on such things as vases and tombs.  They “framed” narrative scenes and decorative panels.

What Came First the Art or the Frame?

According to a piece written on the website of Statens Museum of Kunst in Denmark:  The surface of the painting was often provided with a frame before the artist even started the work.  Sometimes,  painting and frame were carved out of the same piece of wood. This is known as an integral frame.  This would have been around the 1300’s.

Example of an Integral Frame
Lorenzo Monaco (c.1370-1425), Coronation of the Virgin, 15th century, Tempera, gold-leaf on panel, integral frame gabled top
Height: 195 cm; width: 154.7 cm, The Courtauld Gallery, London

It’s thought that early Christian art adapted the use of borders and amongst other things used them on altarpieces.  The frame as we know it today then started to form.  These were not just as a nice decorative border but with the purpose of protecting the artwork as well as emphasising, complementing or enhancing a piece.  In the 14th and 15th century, altarpieces were becoming more elaborate replicating the Church surroundings.  The Tabernacle frame is basically a condensed form of a Church altarpiece.

Example of a Tabernacle Frame
Taken from http://alain-grandne.com/en/detail.php?e=21

It struck me as I was writing this piece.  Thinking back, I remember being told off by my School Art Teacher for drawing borders on everything I did.  “Get beyond the boundaries and limitations” I can hear him say.  (Think he was a bit frustrated with me, since his former Pupil was my very talented Sister!)  Now, borders are part of my everyday job.

I’ve put some examples of what could be early decorative borders in relation to what I’ve talked about above.

An Italian Tomb

Image taken from Canterbury Galleries website. Royal Doulton pot with borders.

Dear picture with borders

I love Islamic Art (which is why when in London you’ll always find me at the British Museum) whether its brass works, ceramics or drawings and I’ve realised that there are lots decorative style borders in these patterns which also reflects in the architecture.  In fact, when you start looking around anywhere in the world, it’s ridiculous how much borders/frames actually do appear in our daily lives!  Anyway, I digress.

Decorative islamic Tiles

Pottery piece with borders

Frames develop over the centuries depending on period and country.  There is much written about this and with the sources below you can go on to discover from the experts.

Personally, I love the Renaissance period.  It’s elaborate and romantic.  I am in awe of the level of detail and the skill of the craft.  I keep promising myself to go to Italy and do a tour of the Churches to see the frames in all their finery.

I had no idea of the deep rich history attached to frames.  It amazes me how little people think about framing as a skill (and I was one of them).  In this country, we want to know about our food, where our clothes are made, who painted this and that, the processes and all about them, but yet one of the most beautiful everyday items, most of us have in our homes and which house our precious memories, gets very very overlooked.

Note: Sources apart from those above are www.paulmitchell.co.uk and a great YouTube video by Michael Pacitt of Image Art Production and a great reference book by Paul Mitchell and Lynn Roberts “A History of European Picture Frames”.



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