The Frame Blog

Articles, interviews and reviews to do with antique and modern picture frames

National Gallery, London: a Venetian pastiglia frame

Giovanni Bellini’s St Jerome in the National Gallery, London, has recently been reframed in a beautifully-preserved and very appropriate late 15th-early 16th century Venetian pastiglia frame.

Bellini St Jerome NG sm

Giovanni Bellini (fl. c. 1459-d.1516), St Jerome reading in a landscape, c.1480-85. National Gallery, NG281

Frames of this type are perhaps the earliest to use pressed and applied decoration, rather than ornament carved in the wood [1]. They take a very simple form – two well-defined shaped mouldings, between which lies a slightly cambered or cushion frieze, covered with a layer of pastiglia, or thick paste, impressed with a running pattern. Pastiglia is the Renaissance equivalent of compo or composition, the moulding material which became popular in late 18th century Britain, or of plaster, its French equivalent. It was made in a similar way to the latter (see below), and mixed to a dough, which would be pressed into oiled moulds whilst warm, allowed to cool, and taken out and left to dry before being applied to the wooden surface. Considering that frames decorated with moulded pastiglia can be 500 or more years old, those which remain to us have lasted extraordinarily well, especially in comparison with compo frames.

V & A Venetian cassetta frame detail

Cassetta frame with pastiglia relief, 1500-50 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Although not exactly common, there are more surviving pastiglia frames than might be imagined; many museums seem to have one or more. Their decoration falls mainly into three types: the double guilloche of the Bellini frame, an all-over pattern of imbricated scales or feathers, and a more varied grotesque ornament, which is different on the vertical and horizontal rails of the frame (above). There may, of course, have been others. Their charm lies partly in the refinement and delicate execution of the ornament, partly in the proportions of the frieze and mouldings, and partly in the relatively small size of these frames.

Bellini St Jerome previous frame NG sm

Giovanni Bellini, St Jerome reading…, National Gallery, NG281; previous frame

The previous frame for Bellini’s exquisitely luminous St Jerome was a rather unconvincing reproduction cassetta, with an anachronistic canted frieze and the sort of decoration which looks like expensive gift wrap. The new pastiglia frame was acquired in Italy, from a family business in Modena. It was almost exactly the right size for the painting, only having to be reduced slightly in width, and the finish restored to something truer to gilding aged by more than 500 years. Some of these frames (notably two in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and one in the V & A, London) show evidence of paint as well as gilding; this may have been the case generally for the type, so they would originally have presented a much richer and more colourful appearance – rather like silk braid or brocade.


 Workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-94), Portrait of a girl, c. 1490. National Gallery, NG1230

The National Gallery has other Renaissance paintings framed in the same style; one is this portrait from the workshop of Ghirlandaio, acquired in 1887 and framed between 1931 and 1971.

Raphael Madonna of the pinks NG6596 sm Raphael, The Madonna of the pinks (‘La Madonna dei Garofani’), c. 1506-07. National Gallery, NG6596

Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks (for which see ‘National Gallery frames: an interview with Peter Schade’) is another; and the third is a Lamentation by Dosso Dossi.


Dosso Dossi (fl. 1512- d.1542), Lamentation over the body of Christ c. 1510-20. National Gallery, NG4032

This frame, with its imbricated scale or feather pattern and unusual narrow leaves across the corners, was acquired from the sale in 1995 of the framemaker, Paul Levi . Sadly, it has lost its original sight moulding, as can be seen by comparison with the previous examples, and also much of its gilding. The fine detail of the pastiglia moulding can still be appreciated, however: the minute fan-like veining on each feather – for these must be feathers, each with its central ‘eye’, like a peacock’s tail.

Dosso Dossi Lamenattion NG4032 detail

Dosso Dossi, Lamentation…, detail

The separate strips of pastiglia which make up the running pattern can be seen by the joins, which are revealed by ageing and by the loss of the finish; the V-shaped pieces at the corner, the joint of which is covered by the applied leaf, are also clearly visible.

Italian Renaissance Frames Fig 68 Met Mus NY detail smImbricated feather or scale ornament: early 16th century Venetian frame, Robert Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In this feather-patterned frame from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, the mould used to produced the separate pieces of pastiglia is estimated to have been about 5 ¾ inches long (or 14.6 cm), the frame itself is 17 7/8 x 16 ¼ outside, and 12 ½ x 10 ¾ inches at the sight (45.4 x 41.3, and 31.8 x 27.3 cm) [2]. The carved wooden mould was thus relatively small, and would have been re-used innumerable times, making the finely-detailed finish worth its labour. The retention of such fine detail in the pastiglia itself is due to the ingredients used in its confection.

British compo, common from the late 18th century onwards, is made of whiting (or powdered chalk), rabbit-skin glue, linseed oil, resin, and Venetian turpentine, which is mixed into a warm, beige-coloured dough and pressed into oiled moulds. When it is taken from the moulds it is dry but still slightly flexible, so that it can be bent around the members of a frame; it dries out completely over a very long period, finally becoming brittle and flaking away from the base, as can be seen in so many Victorian frames. French plaster is much whiter, and is made of gesso grosso mixed with a skin glue high in collagen, which renders it less likely to flake and split. It is very similar in its ingredients to Renaissance pastiglia, and like pastiglia it is capable of retaining very fine detail, as can be seen in 19th century French Salon frames, with their multiple orders of enrichment.

Bellini St Jerome NG detail sm

Giovanni Bellini, St Jerome reading…, detail

There are many other recipes for types of composition which have been used at various periods, but the process used on the frame of Bellini’s St Jerome would, as with the much later French Salon frames, have been similar to what is described in Il libro dell’ arte, the 15th century handbook by the artist Cennino Cennini. This is a fascinating compendium of techniques of all sorts for the Renaissance artist, including drawing, painting, preparing panels, grinding colours, gilding, varnishing, and taking life masks, amongst many other things. (It also includes moral advice, warning the art student against ‘indulging too much in the company of woman’, as this is bound to end in shaky hands). The Libro dell’arte was translated in 1933 by Daniel V. Thompson as The Craftsman’s Handbook, and reissued by Dover Books in 1960; Dover Books have kindly given permission for the relevant passages on making gesso and preparing an ancona with moulded ornament to be published here.

Cennino Cennini cover Cennino Cennini’s The Craftsman’s Handbook, translated by Daniel Thompson, and republished by Dover Books in 1954 & 1960, from the original, published by Yale University Press in 1933. Courtesy of Dover Publications, Inc.

Daniel Thompson translates the Italian tavola as a ‘panel’, but retains ancona to describe a panel with an engaged frame, probably with ornamental mouldings. This is obviously slightly different from the moveable, portable 15th – 16th century pastiglia frame, but the processes involved were similar and would remain so for some time. Many of the pictures set in pastiglia frames were in any case small panel paintings, so that the net product was very like what Cennino describes.

The Craftsman’s Handbook

How you should start to work on panel or anconas: Chapter CXIII

Now we come to the business of working on anconas or on panel. To begin with, the ancona should be made of a wood which is known as whitewood or poplar, of good quality, or of linden or willow. And first take the body of the ancona, that is, the flats, and see whether there are any rotten knots; or, if the board is greasy at all, have the board planed down until the greasiness disappears; for I could never give you any other cure.

See that the wood is thoroughly dry; and if it were wooden figures or leaves, so that you could boil them with clear water in kettles, that wood would never give you any trouble with cracks.

Size A 2 sm

Let us just go back to the knots or nodes, or other defects which the flat of the panel may display. Take some strong leaf glue; heat up as much as a goblet or glass of water; and boil two leaves of glue in a pipkin free from grease.

Size B 3 sm

Then have some sawdust wetted down with this glue in a porringer. Fill the flaws of the nodes with it, and smooth down with a wooden slice [spatula], and let it stand. Then scrape with a knife point until it is even with the surrounding level. Look it over again; if there is a bud, or nail, or nail end sticking through the surface, beat it well down into the board. Then take small pieces of tin foil like little coins, and some glue, and cover over carefully wherever any iron comes; and this is done so that the rust from the iron may never come to the surface of the gesso. And the flat of the ancona must never be too much smoothed down. First take a size made of clippings of sheep parchment, boiled until one part remains out of three.

Size C 4 sm

Test it with the palms of your hands; and when you find that one palm sticks to the other, it will be right. Strain it two or three times. Then take a casserole half full of this size, and the third part[3] water, and get it boiling hot. Then apply this size to your ancona, over foliage ornaments, canopies, little columns, or any sort of work which you have to gesso, using a large soft bristle brush. Then let it dry.

Next take some of your original strong size, and put two coats over this work with your brush; and always let it dry between one coat and the next and it will come out perfectly sized. And do you know what the first size, with water, accomplishes? Not being so strong, it is just as if you were fasting, and ate a handful of sweetmeats and drank a glass of good wine, which is an inducement for you to eat your dinner. So it is with this size: it is a means of giving the wood a taste for receiving the coats of size and gesso.

How you should put a cloth on a panel: Chapter CXIV

When you have done the sizing, take some canvas – that is, some old thin linen cloth, white threaded, without a spot of any grease. Take your best size; cut or tear large or small strips of this canvas, sop them in this size, spread them out over the flats of these anconas with your hands; and first remove the seams; and flatten them out well with the palms of your hands, and let them dry for two days. And know that this sizing and gessoing call for dry and windy weather. Size wants to be stronger in summer than in winter. Gilding calls for damp and rainy weather.

How the flat of a panel should be gessoed with the slice, with gesso grosso: Chapter CXV

When the ancona is quite dry, take the tip of a knife shaped like a spatula, so that it will scrape well, and go over the flat. If you find any little lump or seam of any sort, remove it.

SI Gesso 1 sm

Then take some gesso grosso – that is, plaster of Paris[4], which has been purified[5] and sifted like flour. Put a little porringerful on the porphyry slab, and grind it with this size very vigorously, as if it were a colour. Then scrape it up with a slice; put it on the flat of the ancona, and proceed to cover all the flats with it, with a very even and rather broad slice; and wherever you can lay it with this slice you do so. Then take some of this same ground-up gesso; warm it, and take a small soft bristle brush and lay some of this gesso over the mouldings and over the leaves, and likewise over the flats gessoed with the slice. You lay three or four coats of it on the other parts and mouldings, but you cannot lay too much on the flats. Let it dry for two or three days. Then take an iron spatula and scrape over the flat. Have some little tools made which are called ‘little hooks’[6], such as you will see at the painters’, made up in various styles. Shape up the mouldings and foliage ornaments nicely, so that they do not stay choked up; get them even; and contrive to get every flaw in the flats and gap in the mouldings repaired by this gessoing.

How to make the gesso sottile for gessoing panels: Chapter CXVI

Now you have to have a gesso which is called gesso sottile; and it is some of this same gesso, but it is purified for a whole month by being soaked in a bucket. Stir up the water every day, so that it practically rots away and every ray of heat goes out of it, and it will come out as soft as silk. Then the water is poured off, and it is made up into loaves and allowed to dry; and then this gesso is sold to us painters by the apothecaries. And this gesso is used for gessoing, for gilding, for doing reliefs, and making handsome things.

How to gesso an ancona with gesso sottile, and how to temper it: Chapter CXVII

When you have done the gessoing with gesso grosso, and scraped it nice and smooth and evened it up well and carefully, take some of this gesso sottile. Put it, loaf by loaf, into a washbasin of clear water; let it soak up as much water as it will. Then put it on the porphyry slab, a little at a time, and without putting any more water in with it, grind it very thoroughly. Then place it neatly on a piece of strong white linen cloth; and keep on doing this until you have taken out one loaf of it. Then fold it up in this cloth, and squeeze it out thoroughly, so as to get as much water out of it as possible. When you have ground as much of it as you are going to need, which you must consider carefully, so as not to have to make gesso tempered in two ways, which would not be a good system, take some of that same size with which you tempered the gesso grosso. Enough of it wants to be made at one time for you to temper the gesso sottile and the gesso grosso. And the gesso sottile wants to be tempered less than the gesso grosso. The reason? – because the gesso grosso is your foundation for everything. Nevertheless, you will naturally realize that you cannot squeeze the gesso out so much that there will not still be some little water left in it. And for this reason make the same size, confidently.

SI Adding gesso 2 sm

Take a new casserole, which is not greasy; and if it is glazed, so much the better. Take the loaf of this gesso, and with a penknife cut it thin, as if you were cutting cheese; and put it into the casserole. Then pour some of the size over it; and proceed to break up the gesso with your hand, as if you were making a batter for pancakes, smoothly and deftly, so that you do not get it frothy. Then have a kettle of water, and get it quite hot, and place the casserole of tempered gesso over it. And this keeps the gesso warm for you; and do not let it boil, for if it boiled it would be ruined. When it is warm, take your ancona; and dip into this pipkin with a good-sized and quite soft bristle brush, and pick up a reasonable amount of it, neither lavish nor skimpy; and lay a coat of it all over the flats and mouldings and foliage ornaments. It is true that for this first coat, as you are applying it, you smooth out and rub over the gesso, wherever you lay it, using your fingers and the palm of your hand, with a rotary motion; and this makes the gesso sottile unite well with the gesso grosso. When you have got this done, begin all over again, and apply a brush coat of it all over, without rubbing it with your hand any more. Then let it stand a while, not long enough for it to dry out altogether; and put on another coat, in the other direction, still with the brush; and let it stand as usual. Then give it another coat in the other direction. And in this way, always keeping your gesso warm, you lay at least eight coats of it on the flats. You may do with less on the foliage ornaments and other reliefs; but you cannot put too much of it on the flats. This is because of the scraping which comes next.

How you may gesso with gesso sottile without having gessoed with gesso grosso first: Chapter CXVIII

Furthermore, it is all right to give any small-sized and choice bits of work two or three coats of size, as I told you before; and simply put on as many coats of gesso sottile as you find by experience are needed.

How you should temper and grind gesso sottile for modelling: Chapter CXVIV

SI Gesso 2 sm

There are many, too, who just grind the gesso sottile with size, and not with water. This is all right for gessoing anything which has not been gessoed with gesso grosso, for it ought to be more strongly tempered.

This same gesso is very good for modelling up leaves and other productions, as you often need to do. But when you make this gesso for modelling, put in a little Armenian bole, just enough to give it a little colour[7]….

[Chapters CXX-CXXIII deal with scraping down the dry gesso and preliminary drawing on the panel surface, so are omitted here]

How to model on a panel with gesso sottile, and how to mount precious stones: Chapter CXXIV

After this, take some of that gesso for modelling[8], if you want to model any ornament or foliage ornament, or to mount any precious stones in any special ornaments in front of God the Father or Our Lady, or any other special embellishments, for they add greatly to the beauty of your work. And there are glass gems of various colours. Arrange them systematically, and have your gesso in a little dish over a pot of hot ashes, and a little dish of hot clear water, for you have to wash the brush out often; and this brush is to be of minever, quite fine and rather long; taking up some of the warm gesso neatly on the tip of this brush, briskly set to modelling whatever you please. And if you are modelling any little leaves, draw them in first, as you do the figure. And do not try to model many of them, or too many complicated objects; for the clearer you make your foliage ornaments, the better they respond to stamping with the rosette, and they can be burnished better with the stone. There are some masters who, after they have modelled what they want, apply one or two coats of the gesso with which they gessoed the ancona, just the gesso sottile, with a soft bristle brush. But if you model lightly, in my opinion you get a finer, stronger, surer result by not putting any on, by the system which I stated earlier – of not putting on several types of gesso tempera.

How you should cast a relief for embellishing areas of anconas: Chapter CXXV

SI Gesso 5 sm

Since we are on the subject of modelling, I will tell you something about it. With this same gesso, or some stronger of size, you may cast a lion’s head, or any other impression taken in earth or in clay [9]. Oil this impression with lamp oil [10]; put in some of this gesso, well tempered, and let it get quite cold; and then lift up the gesso at the side of the impression, with the point of a penknife, and blow hard. It will come out clean. Let it dry. Then apply some in embellishments in this way. With a brush, smear some of the same gesso with which you do the gessoing, or some of that with which you model, wherever you want to put this head; press it down with your finger, and it will stay in place neatly. Then take some of the gesso and lay a coat or two of it, with the minever brush, over the part which you are modelling, and rub over this casting with your finger; and let it stand. Then feel over it with a knife point, to see whether there are any little lumps on it, and remove them.


This last chapter of Cennini’s handbook is obviously the most relevant for pastiglia frames and their moulded ornament. It is interesting that Cennino’s moulds are made of clay; if lions’ heads are being cast, it would of course be much the easiest course to model one and cast it in clay (or wax, which Thompson specifically rejects as a possible translation). However, with a length of very fine and regular ornament like guilloche, carving a reverse mould from a hard wood does seem to be the method most likely to give a detailed result and a tool capable of being used many times.

V & A Venetian cassetta frame detail

Cassetta frame with pastiglia relief, 1500-50 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

As we have seen, the strips of pastiglia on the feather-patterned frame in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum were approximately 5 ¾ inches long (or 14.6 cm). In the case of the frame in the collection of the V & A, which is decorated with grotesques, the description of the applied ornament notes that:

‘…on the left and right, the lengths of relief decoration are cast from the same mould. Each length runs from the top to the bottom edge of the frieze and covers the mitres. The diagonal cracks through the cast work at the corners have appeared as a result of movement in mitre joints in the wood below. The top and bottom lengths are placed between the side lengths and are cast from a different mould. At the top and bottom of the frieze, the vertical joins in the cast work can be seen near the corners. At the top corners, a rectangular piece of relief decoration with masks and drapery has been set into the cast work’ [11]

Technical analysis of the pastiglia found that it was made of gypsum (plaster of Paris, or Cennino’s ‘plaster of Volterra’), and that ‘the presence of animal glue’ was also indicated. In other words, it is made from precisely the mixture of gesso and size that Cennino describes. When the National Gallery acquired the frame used for Rapahel’s Madonna of the pinks, the composition of the pastiglia ornament was similarly analyzed, and also found to contain ‘animal glue, chalk and traces of linseed oil’ (information from Peter Schade).


Cassetta frame with pastiglia relief, reverse. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

This is the reverse of the same pastiglia frame in the V & A; it is described thus:

‘The frame is made up of a back frame and a front frame made of softwood. The back frame is roughly finished with lost knots and is half lap jointed. At the back, the vertical members are lapped over the horizontal members. The front frame includes the sight edge moulding and is mitred. The outer moulding is mitred and applied’[12].

The Louvre possesses an example of a pastiglia frame with grotesque ornament similar to that in the V & A (Giovanni Bellini, Christ Blessing, c.1465-70); one motif – the double spray of leaves and an upturned bellflower supported on a band with Greek fret – is identical, but the figures and animals are not. The structure of the Louvre frame is not a simple cassetta but an aedicule, created by the attachment of a base moulding and an entablature at the top.

There are three examples of pastiglia cassetta frames in the National Gallery, Washington, on which Steve Wilcox, the Senior Conservator of Frames has kindly commented.

Antonello da Messina attrib Portrait of a young man c1475to80 NG of Art Washington sm

Attributed to Antonello da Messina, Portrait of a young man, c.1475-80, Andrew W Mellon Collection 1937.1.31. National Gallery of Art, Washington

Steve Wilcox: The frame on the Antonello da Messina has a new back moulding, and the whole thing appears to have been cut down. It also seems to have been regilded. There is no record of when the frame was put on this painting.

Alvise Vivarini Portrait of a man c1495 NG of Art Washington sm

Alvise Vivarini (1442/1453-1503/05), Portrait of a man, c.1495, Samuel H. Kress Collection 
1939.1.355. National Gallery of Art, Washington

Steve Wilcox: The back frame retains sliding dovetail joints on all four corners, and the face mouldings are mitred. The gilding is old, and possibly original. There is no record of when this frame was put on the painting.

Giovanni Bellini Portrait of a young man in red c1480 NG of Art Washington sm Giovanni Bellini (c.1430/1435-1516), Portrait of a young man in red, c.1480, Andrew W. Mellon Collection 
1937.1.29. National Gallery of Art, Washington

Steve Wilcox: The back frame retains sliding dovetail joints at all four corners; the face mouldings are mitred. The pastiglia is butt-jointed; there is some regilding at the corners. A small slip was added to accommodate the present painting; the frame was put onto it in 1975. It is is part of a collection of frames owned by the Samuel H Kress Foundation, and sent to the National Gallery of Art in 1961.

As well as this small group of pastiglia frames with guilloche ornament, and the even rarer examples with feather patterns or grotesques, there is another clutch of frames, related not by their method of production but by their decoration. These are the frames which have the same structure and guilloche on the frieze, but which are made of carved wood.


Antonello da Messina, Portrait of a man, c.1475-76. National Gallery NG1141

One of these is in the collection of the National Gallery, London. This was acquired in Basel, and consisted of four lengths of carving which had been assembled as a frame without possessing an original back frame; it might therefore originally have been part of a spalliera (the framed painting or decorative panel on top of a cassone), or of a cassapanca (a Renaissance carved bench with back and arms).

Tuscan carved walnut cassapanca 2nd half C16 Christies 5Nov2009 Lot238Tuscan carved walnut cassapanca, detail, 2nd half 16th century. Christie’s, King Street, 5 November 2009, Lot 238

Antonis Mor Portrait of two canons 1544 Gemaldegalerie Berlin sm

Antonis Mor, Portrait of two canons, 1544. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

Other examples include the Antonis Mor, above, in the Gemäldegalerie; this appears to have much more the authentic structure of a frame, and the frieze is finished at the corners with carved acanthus leaves.

Titian Ecce Homo Renaissance parcel gilt walnut St Louis

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Italian, c.1485-90–1576; Christ Shown to the People (Ecce Homo), c.1570–76; oil on canvas; 43 x 37 5/16 in. (109.2 x 94.8 cm); Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 10:1936

There is also this superb, rather later example on a Titian in Saint Louis: a parcel-gilt walnut frame with supporting leaf moulding at the back edge, fluting at the sight edge, and small runs of beading and enriched astragal mouldings. The frame has been altered to fit this painting: the astragal moulding does not meet perfectly at the bottom corners, particularly at the lower right. Similarly, the wooden guilloche frame on Signorelli’s Martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria, 1498, in the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute, has been altered to fit the painting. The existence of these carved wood analogues of the pastiglia frames, and the possible connection of both with carved borders on pieces of Renaissance furniture (the spalliera and casspanca), indicates that there was a relationship between the elements of an interior even at this early period, and that frames may have been designed or chosen to fit with the furniture in a particular room.

There may be many more of these charming frames, both the pastiglia and carved wood versions, lurking in private collections or hanging in other museums and palazzi (see also the Städel, Frankfurt, and San Diego Museum of Art; there is another in the Museo Horne, on a School of the Marches portrait of Federigo II, Duke of Urbino; information courtesy of Paul Mitchell). However, their comparative rarity as against other cassetta patterns enhances both their charm and their desirability for – especially – the small Renaissance portrait or sacred scene. The National Gallery’s reframed Bellini is an instance of the expert eye alighting on the perfect solution, and recreating the painting like a jewel in its new setting.

Bellini St Jerome NG detail top rail

With many thanks to Peter Schade of the National Gallery for providing the images and information used in this article; thanks also to Steve Wilcox of the National Gallery of Art, Washington; to Dover Books for permission to quote large passages from Cennini’s Il Libro dell’Arte; and to Michael Hilliard of Perceval Designs for the series of photos on preparing size and gesso.

National Gallery frames: an interview with Peter Schade > here

National Gallery reframings: Mannerist frames > here


[1] Of course, there are other forms of non-flat decoration, such as punchwork, and ornament built up freehand from liquid gesso applied by brush.

[2] Timothy Newbery, George Bisacca, Laurence Kanter, Italian Renaissance frames, 1990, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; no.68.

[3] Thompson’s footnote to Cennini: ‘The original is ambiguous here. I understand it to mean: “Add half as much water as you have size,” as Cennino’s rules usually call for a total of three “parts”. The point has little practical significance in this case.”

[4] Thompson’s footnote: ‘Giesso grosso cioe Volteriano: That is, “coarse plaster, of Volterra”. Perhaps Cennino’s plaster was no more Volteriano than ours is Parisian!’

[5] Thompson’s footnote: ‘The phrase che e purghato may be introduced in L. [the 18th century MS which is one of the sources of this translation] through error, or through confusion by the scribe of gesso grosso with gesso sottile, anticipating the directions of Chapter CXVI. R [another source MS] gives quite a different reading: “ … gesso grosso… which is purified like flour; and, when sifted, put a little porringerful…”.’

[6] Thompson’s footnote: ‘Raffietti: These are made nowadays in Italy under the name of raschiaii. The so-called “plaster tools” of the sculptors, made of bronze or steel, may be pressed into service, but a set of raschiaii, with blades shaped to meet the requirements of mouldings, carvings, pastiglia, etc., mounted at right angles to shafts and handles of convenient shape, will lighten and expedite the work enormously. The modern practice of “drawing up” the gesso as it is applied, with cut pumice templets, and smoothing off after the gesso is dry with the same templets and water, produces a rather mechanical perfection, and is not applicable to carved ornaments.’

[7] Thompson’s footnote: ‘Modelling executed on the gesso surface with gesso applied with a brush is now generally called pastiglia ( See Chapter CXXIV, …, below). The addition of a little colouriong matter makes it easier to see the beffect of the work as it progresses. The modern trade equivalent for “Armenian bole” is “Gilders’ Red Clay”, or “Red Burnish Gold Size”.’ The Frame Blog comment: Thompson’s use of pastiglia here is nothing to do with the pressed or moulded and applied strips of dough-like material which are the subject of this article. It is much more like a wet slip (as in clay modeling), which is painted on to the surface and built up progressively in layers. Its effect is very soft and in shallow relief: see Chapter CXXIV, below.

[8] Thompson’s footnote: ‘See Chapter CXVIV. …, above.’

[9] Thompson’s footnote: ‘R [one of the source MSS] has cera, “wax”…

[10] Thompson’s footnote: ‘Olio da bruciare: a vegetable oil, probably olive oil, of inferior quality.

[11] Christine Powell and Zoë Allen, Italian Renaissance Frames at the V & A – A Technical Study. Elsevier Ltd. in association with the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2010, no. 16.

[12] Ibid.

Mauritshuis frames: Part II: trophy frames

This article, by the assistant curator of the Mauritshuis, The Hague, was first published as: Anne Lenders, ‘Trophy Frames’, Mauritshuis in focus, 27 (2014), nr 1, pp. 14-21.

Mauritshuis trophy frames hang

 The trophy frames hanging in the Staircase Gallery of the Mauritshuis; from the left, Ferdinand Bol & Willem van de Velde, Michiel de Ruyter, 1667; Jan Mijtens, Wolfert van Brederode, c.1663; and Ferdinand Bol, Engel de Ruyter, 1669, Mauritshuis

The Mauritshuis owns three original, seventeenth century trophy frames, so-called because they are lavishly decorated with items of military gear, including powder kegs, drums, arquebuses or petronels, spears, powder horns, pistols, cannon, anchors, coils of rope, rams for loading the cannon, pouches, torches, powder scoops, and various trumpets, cornets, etc. These frames hold Ferdinand Bol’s portraits of Michiel and Engel de Ruyter and Jan Mijtens’s portrait of Wolfert van Brederode. The renovation of the Mauritshuis was a perfect time to examine and conserve these three exceptional frames, which usually hang high up in the Staircase Gallery. The project was sponsored by the Johan Maurits Compagnie Foundation.

All three trophy frames date from the second half of the seventeenth century, an era in which a number of such frames were produced in the Republic. The trophies on the frames emphasize the sitters’ military successes, and so are a fitting accompaniment to portraits of military heroes. Although these men’s reputations live on, the frames around their portraits were not made to last for eternity. The trophy frames had not undergone conservation treatment since 1987, so it is hardly surprising that their condition could have been better. In addition, they were marred by later gilding and finishing coats, which had been applied over the original gilding.

A preliminary examination was carried out to establish the present condition of the frames, and to determine their original appearance before starting treatment. Complete restoration, which would reveal the original finish, seemed too risky and time-consuming; indeed, it was quite possible that very little of the original gilding would be left. The aim of the treatment was therefore to improve the condition of the frames, to prevent further deterioration, and to approximate their original appearance, without removing the layers of gilding present.

Eric Bernahrd & Renzo Meurs Eric Bernhard and Renzo Meurs at work on the frame of Wolfert van Brederode’s portrait.

The Mauritshuis approached two external specialists, the frame restorers Renzo Meurs and Eric Bernhard, to help with this project. Over the past year they have examined and treated the frames, under the supervision of Petria Noble, Head of Paintings Conservation at the Mauritshuis.

Art historical research

Until now little art historical research had been conducted on these trophy frames – although the ground-breaking publication Prijst de lijst: De Hollandse schilderijlijst in de zeventiende eeuw, published in 1984 (the revised English version, Framing in the Golden Age: Picture and frame in 17th century Holland, appeared in 1995) discusses the frames surrounding the portraits of Michiel de Ruyter and Wolfert van Brederode in detail.

Jan Lievens Maerten Harpertsz Tromp Art market sm

Jan Lievens, Maerten Harpertsz Tromp, Art market

And, as Michiel Jonker of the Mauritshuis noted, in his review of the English translation[1],

‘Such studies can turn up some surprising discoveries, as in the case of a trophy frame surrounding a portrait of Admiral Maerten Harpertsz Tromp by Jan Lievens, which proves to have been copied from the frame of Ferdinand Bol’s portrait of Michiel de Ruyter in the Mauritshuis. Except for a new coat of arms, the frame is a smaller replica of its model.’

Little else had been written about these frames in particular, or about trophy frames in general. Now, however, research has been undertaken into the commissioning, provenance and previous treatments of the frames in connection with their conservation treatment. This research also included the identification of the various objects on the frames. Historical photographs show that a number of elements missing from the frames were actually present several decades before. An overview was also drawn up of the variants of the three portraits and other original trophy frames, which provided an important point of reference when treating the frames.

Ferdinand Bol & Willem van de Velde Michiel de Ruyter Mauritshuis sm

Ferdinand Bol with Willem van de Velde II, Portrait of Michiel de Ruyter, 1667, Mauritshuis

Ferdinand Bol painted six versions of this portrait. De Ruyter’s success in the Four Day War of 1666 prompted the five admiralties of the Dutch Republic to hang a portrait of the celebrated admiral in each of their council chambers. The admiralties were located in Middelburg, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Harlingen, and – alternately – Enkhuisen and Hoorn. Of the four paintings still known from the series of six, only the portrait in the Mauritshuis is still in its original trophy frame. It is the version recorded in the Admiralty Chamber, Amsterdam, from 1667 to 1798; it was then transferred to the ’s Lands Zeenmagazijn until some time after 1818, and then to the Ministry of the Navy in The Hague. The frame is decorated with various types of weaponry which refer to De Ruyter’s naval career: cannon, charging ladles, kegs of gunpowder, chains, shields, muskets, ropes, and a small anchor, known as a kedge. At the top of the frame is his coat of arms, surmounted by a crest in the form of a horseman (in Dutch, ‘ruyter’ means ‘rider’).

Ferdinand Bol Engel de Ruyter 1669 Mauritshuis sm

Ferdinand Bol, Portrait of Engel de Ruyter, 1669, Mauritshuis

This is probably the portrait which was recorded in a 1683 inventory of the sitter’s house in Amsterdam. The objects carved on the frame are of the same type as those on the frame on the portrait of his father, Michiel de Ruyter, above. They include horse pistols, trumpets, a dagger and a globe. The family coat of arms is topped by a crown, possibly referring to the title of baron, which Engel was given by the Spanish king in 1678; behind the shield are crossed palm leaves, and next to it branches of oak and laurel.

Jan Mijtens Wolfert van Brederode c1663 Mauritshuis sm

Jan Mijtens, Portrait of Wolfert van Brederode, c.1663, Mauritshuis

The trophies on this frame are of weapons used mainly by the cavalry, referring to Wolfert’s position as Master of Horse (at this point, he would have been about fourteen years old). The upper rail of the frame is capped by the coat of arms of the Van Brederode family, surmounted by the crest, a gryphon, the head and tail of which had been broken off, and have now been reconstructed. The lower rail features a hand holding a mace, like the one held by the sitter in the painting. Below it is an inscription, reading ‘AGERE AUT PATI FORTIORA’, or, in other words, ‘Take action, or undergo worse events’, characteristic of the Van Brederode family. The inscriptions on the side rails of the frame are similarly expressive: ‘ETSI MORTUUS URIT’ (‘Although dead, he burns…’), and ‘ANTES MUERTO QUE MURDADO’ (‘Rather dead than changed’).

Technical research

Material and technical research was carried out in collaboration with the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, or RCE) in order to gain a better understanding of the original finish of the three frames.

X ray of Engel de Ruyter frame

X-ray of the frame for the portrait of Engel de Ruyter, showing the construction of the corner joint

The frames turned out to be made of limewood; X-raying them provided insight into their construction and current condition, including the extent of woodworm damage, losses, previous restorations and the composition of the finish applied to the original gilding.

Decorative pattern Engel de Ruyter frame

Frame of Ferdinand Bol, Engel de Ruyter: painted detail of a pouch

This revealed a rare decorative pattern on the frames of both Engel de Ruyter and Wolfert van Brederode: an unusual technique, achieved by the use of various metal powders. Examination of cross-sections from the finish applied to these frames made it possible to see each successive layer that had been added over the years. The original composition of the gilding on the frames of Michiel and Engel de Ruyter proved to be very similar. In both cases a thick, transparent layer of glue was applied directly to the limewood, followed by a thin layer of ochre-coloured paint and finally the gold leaf. In contrast, the original gilding on the frame of Wolfert van Brederode’s portrait was applied over layers of a more frequently-occurring chalk and glue ground.

Coat of arms of Engel de Ruyter Frame of Ferdinand Bol, Engel de Ruyter: the coat of arms, before conservation

Another important finding was that the family arms on the frame of Engel de Ruyter’s portrait were originally gilded: the red and blue areas are later additions. For this reason it was decided to apply a new, reversible layer of gilding to the coloured areas.


The conservation treatment of the three frames consisted primarily of conserving the extant layers of finish. The loose elements of the gilding and ground layers were secured, and several areas exhibiting woodworm damage were consolidated, after which the frames were cleaned.

Michiel de Ruyter Detail beforeFrame of Ferdinand Bol, Michiel de Ruyter: detail of finish before conservation

All of the surface dirt, spots of bronze paint, discoloured retouches and other disturbing elements were removed; for example, the frame of Michiel de Ruyter’s portrait had an unnatural-looking black patina, which had been applied at some point – before the painting was acquired in 1894 – to make the new gilding look ‘antique’.

Michiel de Ruyter Detail after Frame of Ferdinand Bol, Michiel de Ruyter: detail of finish after conservation

The metal plates recording the name and date were moved to the back of the frame, lacunae and tears were repaired, and missing parts in the woodcarving were filled in. In addition, the structure of the frame around Michiel de Ruyter’s portrait was strengthened by fitting metal brackets to the back corners.

Restoration of the trophies and other items

Anna Stringer carving 2Anna Stringer working on the frame of Michiel de Ruyter

Missing parts were also reconstructed in order to restore the original appearance of the frames. The woodcarver Anna Stringer took this on, making use of old photographs and reproductions collected during research into their history.

Wolfert van Brederode helmet before

Frame of Jan Mijtens, Wolfert van Brederode, detail of helmet crest before conservation

For example, the coat of arms on the frame of Wolfert van Brederode’s portrait had a crest in the form of a gryphon, the head and tail of which had been broken off.

Anna Stringer carving 1

Embryonic forms of the gryphon’s head and tail

Eighteenth century depictions of the family arms provided the basis for the design of these missing parts, and Anna translated this into three dimensions. First of all, a piece of balsa wood was glued to the surface of the fracture, to create an even ground on which to attach the rest of the material from which the head and tail of the gryphon would be carved. Small blocks of limewood were then glued to this base.

Anna Stringer carving 3 The gryphon’s head and tail, fully carved

When they were firmly in place, the forms of the missing pieces were carved in a style which would marry with the remainder.

Wolfert van Brederode helmet after Frame of Jan Mijtens, Wolfert van Brederode, detail of helmet crest after conservation

 Figure before & after

 The rider surmounting the frame of Michiel de Ruyter’s portrait, before and after conservation

The sword held by the rider on the crest of Michiel de Ruyter’s portrait was reconstructed on the basis of historical photographs, allowing the missing sword to be added. Comparable frames from other collections were also examined, to determine the original appearance of certain elements. At the lower left of Engel de Ruyter’s frame, for example, a small piece of the drum was missing: the piece which served to attached the stretched snare (catgut string). It was possible to reconstruct this detail by studying an original trophy frame in the Zeeuws Musuem in Middelburg, on which the part in question is still intact.

Mauritshuis trophy frames hang

After conservation treatment, the three trophy frames are more harmonious in character and closer to their original appearance, and together they produce a more unified effect. The project, which will be completed this year, has yielded much information about the production of these frames. When the Mauritshuis reopened its doors to the public this summer (2014), the three trophy frames were back in pride of place in the Staircase Gallery.


With grateful thanks to Anne Lenders, Assistant Curator of the Mauritshuis Collections Department, for her article and for permission to republish it, and to Gini Kingma for orchestrating the process.

See Mauritshuis frames: Part I> here

Ferdinand Bol & Willem van de Velde Michiel de Ruyter CREST [1] Michiel Jonker, ‘Framing in the Golden Age: Picture and frame in 17th century Holland by Pieter J.J. van Thiel; C.J. de Bruyn Kops’, Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, vol.24, no.4, 1996, pp. 357-60.

Book review: William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain, ed. Susan Weber

 The exhibition on William Kent at the V & A (22 March-13 July 2014) was accompanied by a catalogue examining all aspects of Kent’s designs, including his frames.

Book cover  Susan Weber, ed., William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain, published by Yale University Press for the Bard Graduate Center, October 2013, pp. 704, 624 colour ill., £60.00

William Kent, according to Horace Walpole, his first biographer, was

‘not only consulted for furniture, as frames of pictures, glasses, tables, chairs etc., but for plate, for a barge, for a cradle’ (p. 469).

But frames, for Kent, were never just one more item in a list of furnishings. He was perhaps the first indigenous British architect and designer to realize the importance of the picture frame within an interior: that it could be to a large extent the unit of articulation for the decoration of internal walls, the emphatic accent for focal points such as the chimneypiece, and the stylistic glue which bound the painting to the architectural interior and to the furnishings and other objects in the room. Kent’s frames are an extension of other architectural features within a room: they match the structure of the doorcases, the chimneypieces and the windows, whilst their decoration echoes elements and motifs from the furniture, looking-glasses, brackets, silverware, metalware, and other objects. His more ornamental frame is an attention-grabbing focusing device, frequently forming part of an architectural centrepiece, and drawing the eye of the spectator irresistibly towards the painting it contains.

The section on frames in the book which accompanied the exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center and at the V & A (William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain) is accorded the dignity of chapterhood – Chapter 9, by Julius Bryant – but it is entitled ‘A note on “Kent” frames’, and this is no more than the truth. Out of a 704-page book, two pages of text and two of images are given over to frames; four illustrations altogether, two picture frames, one looking-glass and one design for a chimneypiece and overmantel. Kent was, of course, a designer on an almost obsessive scale – he is introduced in the website introduction to the exhibition thus:

‘A polymath, he turned his hand from painting to designing sculpture, architecture, interior decoration, furniture, metalwork, book illustration, theatrical design, costume and landscape gardens’.

This is a breadth of achievement and interest to analyze, order, and discuss in discrete chapters; and it takes a total of twenty-one of them (plus the introduction and a chronology), covering such diverse themes as ‘The Royal court, political culture, and the art of friendship’, ‘Kent and Italy’, ‘Kent and the Gothic revival’, ‘Public commissions’, ‘Sources for Kent’s furniture designs’, etc.


William Kent, design for the chimneypiece of the Board Room in the New Treasury. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Practically every one of these chapters has a frame, or several, in it; they march in grids of wood and stucco across ceilings, hold looking-glasses, perch on chimneypieces, define engravings, border cheval screens, and contain memorial sculptures. If you want to know about Kent’s designs for picture frames, Chapter 9 is nothing but the abridgement of a summary: you will have to read many of the 700 other pages. Chapter 5, ‘Kent the Painter’, would perhaps be one choice if you wanted illustrations rather than text, since the ceilings with (from about 1725) their stucco and painted borders, the staircase paintings with their fictive picture frames, and the architectural designs, take us from the 1720s to c.1747-51 in a geographical sweep of British houses, and an overview of Kent’s development from pure painter to decorative artist.

Steven Brindle notes, in this fascinating chapter on Kent the painter, that,

            ‘… the decorative borders of Kent’s ceilings are works of art in their own right, rich in invention and often magnificent in effect. Kent designed all of this himself from the evidence of the original designs in his hand for the King’s Drawing Room at Kensington and the Houghton saloon wall-elevations… [He] had an almost limitless capacity for inventing magnificent decorative work in a variety of styles: the King’s Drawing Room at Kensington has a particularly magnificent scheme of satyrs, leopards, and vine-garlands …. The grotesque scheme, inspired by ancient sources, in the Presence Chamber is completely different, while the grotesque schemes and “garland” schemes at Chiswick, Stowe, and Houghton are different yet again.’

X Houghton Hall staircase Jonathan Becker

William Kent, murals in fictive frames on The Great Staircase, Houghton Hall, 1725-35. Photo: Jonathan Becker

Brindle also gives a description of Kent’s technical methods, including the transfer of architectural detail – such as lengths of egg-&-dart ‘mouldings’ – by the use of pricked pouncing-papers, some of which (used for the Queen’s Staircase at Hampton Court), are illustrated. He examines Kent’s restricted palette in certain schemes, such as the monochrome paintings in fictive frames on a base of olive-green, with gilded detail (see The Great Staircase at Houghton Hall, above). In some cases, Kent seems to have worked out every element of these schemes, executed the main pictorial scenes, and left the decorative work to his unknown assistants.

Kent capitalized on his birth (to a joiner) and his apprenticeship (to a coach- and house- painter) in his understanding of the processes by which his invention came to birth. After that, his uncanny ability to attract influential sponsors and patrons gave him the education, experiences and contacts which nurtured his wide-ranging talents. The year he is first recorded as a painter, working in London (‘William Cant of the City of London, limner’, 1709, p.13), is the same year that he is off to Italy, aged 24, with the antiquary John Talman. There he encounters Thomas Coke of Holkham and Richard Boyle, Lord Burlington, with whom he travels back to England, a decade after he left it. In Italy he visits many of the main towns and artistic centres, including, notably, Palladio’s Vicenza. By 1720 he is working with Henry Flitcroft, Burlington’s ex-carpenter, draughtsman and architectural assistant, on The Designs of Inigo Jones . . . with some additional designs (1727). Burlington had purchased a collection of drawings by Inigo Jones and John Webb from John Talman, and the coincidence of a close study of these with Kent’s experience of Palladio’s work in Vicenza and its environs, and with the Baroque interiors of Roman palaces and churches, was the seed-ground for the Palladian (‘Kentian’ or ‘Kent’) style in Britain.

As Julius Bryant points out, in his rather curtailed chapter on frames,

‘ The term “Kent frame” only came into use in the twentieth century. In the nineteenth century, such frames were called “Palladian,” while in the eighteenth, Lord Burlington, architects, and craftsmen referred to them as “tabernacle frames.” Although not the only kind of frame that Kent designed, they are now synonymous with his name.’ (p.243)

X The Designs of Inigo Jones ... page 56

The Designs of Inigo Jones…, Publish’d by William Kent, vol. I, 1727, page 56.

They have a very simple structure, being fundamentally an anglicization of the cassetta frame, with an architrave profile enriched by classical architectural mouldings, such as egg-&-dart, below the top edge and at the sight (contemporary carvers and gilders often referred to them as ‘architrave frames’). A page of doorcases in The Designs of Inigo Jones … (page 56) reveals one of their sources, in the outset corners of the centre model; whilst a drawing for a chimneypiece in Somerset House by Jones shows this structure even more clearly.

X MichAng Blind window Porta Pia Rome 1561to64

Michelangelo, A blind window with outset corners in the Porta Pia, Rome, 1561-64

These contours and their ornaments – the outset corners, enlarged modillions or brackets, the open or broken pediments, and the form of those pediments, with segmental or triangular shapes offset against each other, and voluted swan’s neck forms – were derived ultimately from the Mannerist games played by Michelangelo with classical architecture (see ‘National Gallery reframings: an update’). The outset corners and geometric ornaments of Mannerist architecture were also to be found in the Spanish ‘Herrera’ style of the 17th century, and by diffusion – via the Spanish presence in Naples and the Netherlands – also in Neapolitan and Northern picture frames. This eclectic genesis gave Jones’s designs their innovative twist, and was highly influential for Kent’s own approach.

Kent’s frames were, however, more structurally than ornamentally similar to Jones’s. The ‘Kent’ frame in its bare essentials as described above – an architrave profile with one or two architectural mouldings – was only the embryonic form. The flat frieze, often merely sanded and gilded, could be covered with bands of carved decoration – enriched flower-chains, Greek fret, Vitruvian scrolls – whilst the top and sight edges became the playground for all kind of leaf and husk moulding. The contour could be elaborated with outset corners at top and bottom, just at the top, or outset on just one rail. The corners of the frieze could be carved with classical paterae, acanthus (‘raffle’) leaves, or rosettes of Baroquely-swirling foliage. The crest could be crowned with pediments of various kinds, often holding shells, masks or têtes espagnolettes, and these could be echoed by the decoration of an apron at the base, making it a true tabernacle frame. Swags of fruit, flowers, oak and other leaves might be looped and skeined across the top of the frame, and let fall in pendants down the sides.

X Sir Godfrey Kneller Charles 2nd Viscount Townshend c1730 Raynham Hall

Sir Godfrey Kneller, Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend, c.1730, Raynham Hall. Photo: courtesy of Charles, 8th Marquess Townshend

Around 1730 Kent designed a frame for Viscount Townshend of Raynham Hall, and four versions of this were made by James Richards, Master Carver to the King, for a set of family portraits (Sir John Ashe, Lady Ashe, Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend, and his younger brother, Horatio Townshend; information courtesy of Lord Townshend). The portrait by Kneller of the 2nd Viscount was a striking highlight of the exhibition at the V & A; it epitomizes the decorative sophistication of the best of Kent’s designs for frames, their sheer opulence, and the technical skill of the carving. Although the profile is almost the simplest of any type of frame, because the whole surface area is covered in ornament it gives an impression of great richness – but a richness held in check by the strictly linear form of the rails. The contours are softened by the foliate clasps at the sides; the apron, with its shell, raffle leaves, swags and drops; and the crest with foliate S-scrolls above an infill of imbricated scales, husks, raffles leaves, garland, and a female mask. Hung within the monochrome purity of the entrance hall of Raynham Hall, two of the portraits glow like cameos in their rich filigree settings.

This is the way ‘Kent’ frames are designed to be seen – within the interior for which they were designed, and of which they form one important part, along with the internal architectural features which they reflect and which support them. An isolated frame on a white page, or islanded on an exhibition wall, may highlight aspects of style, design and craftsmanship, but it was never intended to be seen out of its element in this way. Chapter 8 of the book, ‘From “Gusto” to “Kentissime” — Kent’s Designs for Country Houses, Villas, and Lodges’, also by Julius Bryant, illustrates this, with ravishing images of interiors from the great Palladian houses of Britain, and Kent’s own plans for and elevations of these rooms. This chapter also tries to clarify Kent’s place in the creation of the houses: not as a lone responsible architect from the beginning of a project to the end, since:

‘His country house commissions evolved informally, from providing decorative paintings to arranging collections to remodeling and extending older houses. In this way Kent contributed to country house design as an artistic adviser, not as a contracted supervising architect responsible for project management. In modern parlance, Kent was more a decorator than builder, but such terms risk underestimating the depth of his involvement in redesigning the British country house.’ (p.184).

46 Francesco Trevisani Portrait of Thomas Coke 1717 Holkham Estate sm

Francesco Trevisani, Portrait of Thomas Coke, 1717. By kind permission of Viscount Coke and the Trustees of the Holkham Estate

Bryant sees Kent’s appeal to the owners of these country houses as his ability to resurrect for them in concrete form the memory of their experiences on the Grand Tour; so that, in building a Palladian villa, or recreating the interior of their houses in Roman Baroque style, they would be reviving echoes and reflections of their youth – as here, with Kent’s patron, Coke of Holkham Hall, Norfolk, portrayed as

‘…a cosmopolitan, most at home in the finest palazzi of Rome, Florence, and Naples…the kind of palatial setting he will seek to recreate… [at] Holkham…’

Bryant also reminds us that Norwich in the 18th century ‘was still Britain’s second city’: Kent’s country houses orbit around the twin suns of Oxford and Norwich.

X Alexandre Serebrikoff The Great Hall Ditchley watercolour1930sto40s

Alexandre Serebrikoff, The Great Hall, Ditchley Park, watercolour, 1930s-40s, showing Kent’s paintings of Venus and Aeneas in integral wall frames (c.1728-31), either side of the door. Ditchley Foundation 

Ditchley Park (1724-31) in Oxfordshire was one of the former, and one of the earlier locations with which Kent was involved; Bryant sees the metaphorical programme of decoration in the Great Hall as expressing the same dedication to youthful love and learning as indicated in Trevisani’s portrait of Thomas Coke:

‘The entrance hall at Ditchley was probably Kent’s first opportunity to design a whole room for a country house. Here he succeeded in demonstrating the potential of the new style, both visually and intellectually, to speak to visitors of classical education through an intellectual program of ornament that addressed both their taste and their minds.’

The arrangement of the room is striking: the elaborate integral wall frames holding Kent’s paintings of Venus & Aeneas on either side of the main door, and supporting in a softened form the grandeur of the doorcase; the focal point of the chimneypiece and overmantel painting; the smaller doorcase; the sculpted busts, figures, and framed plaster reliefs; and the white benches set against the walls. This complex ornamental scheme pivots on the fulcrum of the frame – door frames, wall frames, overmantel frame: the internal architecture marries the functional openings of door, window and chimney to the imaginative openings of the paintings into a classical and allegorical world.

2 An assembly at Wanstead House William Hogarth 1728to31 Philadelphia Museum of Art sm

William Hogarth, An assembly at Wanstead House, 1728-31, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The John Howard McFadden Collection, 1928

Another early commission was Wanstead House in Essex, first designed by Colen Campbell, and demolished a hundred years later. Hogarth’s painting of a Kentian interior there, although exaggerating the furniture and chimneypiece with satirical intent, does give some idea of the richness of Kent’s programmes for his decorative schemes, and of the magnificence of such a setting for a social occasion, in the spirit of those Roman palazzi. It also shows how such an interior functioned, as an extremely rich shell containing comparatively few free-standing items, which would be ‘furnished’ by the gathering within it.

X The Designs of Inigo Jones ... page 65

The Designs of Inigo Jones…, Publish’d by William Kent, vol. I, 1727, with one of Kent’s own designs on page 65

Wanstead was followed by Burlington’s Chiswick House, and Bryant remarks particularly on the chimneypieces here:

‘[Kent’s] growing interest in the potential of chimneypieces as the first coup d’oeil on entering a room, the focal point of warmth and light in British country houses, would have been informed in the 1720s by his work for Burlington in preparing for publication his Designs of Inigo Jones (1727). The first volume includes designs for chimneypieces by Jones, as well as five clearly signed “W. Kent inve.” ’ (p. 191)

55. Chiswick Blue Velvet Room. Photo Richard Bryant

William Kent, the Blue Velvet Room, Chiswick House, c.1727–38; English Heritage.Photo: Richard Bryant

X Wm Kent The Designs of Inigo Jones Portrait detail

The Designs of Inigo Jones…, Publish’d by William Kent, vol. I, 1727, portrait on the title page

Bryant sees Kent as having played a much greater part in the interior decoration of Chiswick than he is currently credited with; in the chimneypieces, in the frames of the overdoors, above, which are based on the engraved frame of Inigo Jones’s portrait for The Designs of Inigo Jones …, and in the hang of pictures at Chiswick:

‘Paintings were integral to the interior decoration at Chiswick. Row upon row of paintings in gilded frames, hanging in strict architectural symmetry, evoked the sheer magnificence and gravitas of the private collections of Rome, seen to this day at the Palazzo Colonna and the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.’ (p.194)

X HOUGHTON HALL North wall Saloon sm

William Kent, Design for the north wall of the saloon, Houghton Hall, 1725. Private collection.

An even more carefully-arranged hang would characterize part of Kent’s vision for Houghton Hall, Norfolk (c.1725-35). This was not the reimagined Roman holiday of a young aristocrat, but the social and political setting for a middle-aged politician (Sir Robert Walpole) who – rather than inheriting – was in the process of acquiring his own major art collection. Kent’s designs for two walls of the saloon epitomize the view he had arrived at by the later 1720s, of the interior as the inner shell of a room. This shell would include the programme of paintings on the ceiling and its cove; the interior architecture of cornice, frieze, door- and window-cases, chimneypiece and overmantel; the arrangement of paintings on the walls, with their frames and echoing ornaments; and the furniture which stood against the walls, such as console tables. The overmantel and doorcases on the north wall (above) form a compositional triangle, highlighted by their more important features (such as pediments), and by their ornament; this is filled in by paintings in secondary frames, and then expanded upwards to the largest works, in simple egg-&-dart mouldings, and onwards to the ceiling cornice. The decorations and motifs throughout echo and reinforce each other, and the frames are bound together by their principal mouldings, and their increasing enrichment. Kent’s drawings for both north and south walls of the saloon are unexpectedly small in the flesh, but they convey in miniature a wealth of decorative and cohesive meaning.


William Kent, Stowe House, Buckinghamshire: Elevation and Section of Chimney Piece in the Hall, ca. 1733, with bar scale of 1/2 inch to 1 foot. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

This is made explicit in Kent’s drawing for the chimneypiece of the north hall at Stowe, where the two tiers of the fireplace and overmantel mirror each other, even to the triangular pediment. It was designed to hold Christophe Veyrier’s The Family of Darius before Alexander, a bas-relief, and this subject of military might and mercy is emphasized by the ornament – a helmet at the crest, a torus of bay leaves in the entablature, and swags of oak leaves on the frieze of the fireplace. The frame of the bas-relief is supported by Mannerist scrolls; the whole structure has moved on appreciably from Inigo Jones’s chimneypiece for Somerset House.

44 William Kent The Library Holkham Hall c1734to41 Holkham Estate sm

William Kent, The Library, Holkham Hall, c.1734-41. By kind permission of Viscount Coke and the Trustees of the Holkham Estate

In some ways the great surviving Kentian house is Holkham Hall (c.1729-64), although Bryant points out that it was the work, not only of Kent, but of Colen Campbell, Coke himself, Lord Burlington, and Matthew Brettingham (who attempted to steal much of Kent’s credit for himself). Here, the library reveals how architectural furnishings (such as integral framed panels, chimneypieces and bookcases) could organize the composition of an interior in the same way that wings, varying roof levels, bays and set-back walls, windows and areas of rustication, could organize the exterior.

The library overmantel is particularly opulent; Kent’s painting of Apollo was rejected, and it houses an antique Roman mosaic of a lion. The double guilloche border of the mosaic is absorbed into the ornamental parade of the parcel-gilded and painted overmantel frame: a striking band of centred Vitruvian scroll, pendants of leaves, drops of bellflowers, and a frieze of undulating foliation, all beneath Mannerist volute capitals with a gilt scale pattern, and a crest with a cartouche, shells and foliation. Bryant quotes Horace Walpole on Kent:

‘…“his chimney-pieces, though lighter than those of Inigo, whom he imitated, are frequently heavy; and his constant introduction of pediments and the members of architecture over doors, and within rooms, was disproportioned and cumbrous…” ’

…and you can see what Walpole meant; however, time and custom have got our eye in, and perhaps we can better appreciate the part of the chimneypiece as the “coup d’oeil” within the integrated Kentian interior. Bryant does note that,

‘None of the chimneypieces, overmantels, architraves, furniture, and picture frames [at Holkham] can be attributed with certainty to Kent as designer’,

and that Thomas Coke and John Vardy may be responsible; but if so, then the guiding spirit is still unarguably that of Kent.

At Rousham House, the work is all Kent’s own, and there we see something even Walpole would not have disdained as heavy: an adventurous jeu d’esprit of an overmantel frame from which all the cumbrous weight of pilasters and modillions has been trimmed away, leaving a single decorative moulding between the swan’s neck pediment and female mask at the top, and the pedestal with Vitruvian scroll at the bottom. The sides are supported by cavorting dolphins, and the whole is playful and decorative to a degree. Kent painted this interior white, which would have added to the light and festival air of the whole.


Attributed to William Kent, looking-glass, probably for the White House, Kew, 1733–34. Carving attributed to John Boson, with later additions to the base. Victoria & Albert Museum, London, W.86-1911.

As well as commissions from private citizens, Kent was also employed by the King and by his son, Frederick, Prince of Wales (Chapter 11: Royal Commissions; Steven Brindle). Kent designed the Royal Barge for the prince, and also a home for his court – the White House at Kew (demolished in 1802) – from which various pieces of furniture survive, including a looking-glass frame (above). The art of the looking-glass frame is appreciably different from that of a picture frame: if rectangular it is narrower and more upright in structure, but can frequently be oval or round; it can be even richer than a picture frame; it functions as an ornamental unit of an interior scheme when it is not being used functionally, as it were; and the whole vocabulary and decorative emphasis is therefore cast in a higher key. This particular example displays an example of imaginative elaboration on the tête espagnolette (a carved female head with a crown of feathers). The mask is male – possibly a green man, as he is bearded, and the whole confection is created mainly from palm leaves and acanthus – also the feathers have been replaced by the Prince of Wales’s three plumes within a crown. These are backed by two immense scallop shells, textured, fluted and striated. It’s a virtuoso piece of carving, very three-dimensional in character, and attests the skill of the carvers Kent was using.

In this case the carver was probably John Boson, who just at this point (1734) was leasing a building (home or workshop, or both) from Lord Burlington, in Savile Row,  which runs north from the north-east corner of Burlington House (now the Royal Academy), Piccadilly; this puts him right at the heart of the Kent-Burlington nexus in London. The same year (or the next) he would provide two more looking-glasses for Burlington’s Chiswick House (for these and more details on Boson, see the Directory of British picture framemakers on the NPG website). Steven Brindle matches a bill from Boson to the Prince of Wales to the looking-glass illustrated here, and its companion but lost console table:

‘“A Rich Tabernacle the Moldings & flatt Carv’d feathers to freise & festoons to sides Shell to pedement & Large Ornaments wth Shell and foliage &c to Bottom….To A table under Do in Drawing Room wth Lyons head festoons of Oak Supporting Scrowls and Other Ornamts 8.0.0.” ’

Royal Barge cartouche ed sm

William Kent, Royal Barge, 1731-32, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014. Photographer: Bruce White

The looking-glass is one of few survivors of Kent’s work for the Prince of Wales, the most notable of which is the Royal Barge; Chapter Twelve is given over to this extraordinary commission. Here, the carver was James Richards, Master Carver to the king in the wake of Grinling Gibbons, working to detailed drawings by Kent. Richards, like Boson, was employed both by Lord Burlington, and by the Prince of Wales at Kew House. His work on the Royal Barge cost more than £150, and the gilding (double gilding and painting), by the Huguenot carver and gilder Paul Petit, almost £260. It – like Boson’s looking-glass – is remarkable for its very plastic, three-dimensional carving. Viewed from above, its motifs and mouldings are constructed upon the form of the hull like an exploded, elliptical picture frame: the rail around the bow is a free-floating egg-&-dart moulding, ending in a tight volute.  Similarly, the arched openings to the cabin of the Barge are individually small aedicular picture frames, or en masse a single-tiered altarpiece. The vocabulary employed throughout the boat is impeccably Kentian, with a band of Vitruvian scroll (stylized waves), scallop shells, swags of oak leaves, dolphins and mermaids. The cartouche at the bow of the boat has much in common with Boson’s looking-glass – it is oval, with a crest composed of the Prince of Wales’s feathers and crown against a large scallop shell; the raffle leaves and green man are replaced by mermaids and dolphins. The drawings by Kent make the resemblance to a frame even clearer.

Royal Barge detail of bow rail

William Kent, Royal Barge, detail of bow rail, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014. Photographer: Bruce White

Richards’s carving is adept and graceful; from the overall composition to the detail of the small dolphins at the base of the bow sculpture, the mermaids and the swags of oak leaves, the craftsmanship is admirable. Sadly Paul Petit’s work has been regilded, probably several times (for more details on Petit, see the Directory of British picture framemakers on the NPG website  ). Petit was himself an extremely skillful carver, executing several elaborate sculptural trophy frames for the Prince, who evidently employed the most skilled craftsmen in Britain to boost the claims of his own court in terms of aesthetics and splendour over that of his father, George II.

There are large swathes of this fascinating, vast and meticulously wide-ranging book which cannot be touched on in this review, since the field of Kent’s production was such a broad one. His influence on Palladian picture frames diffuses through many chapters, but will obviously not be found in those on landscape architecture, garden buildings, his royal and other patrons, and his book illustrations. John Harris’s chapter on Kent as ‘Architectural and Ornamental Draftsman’ (Ch. 6), his ‘Town Houses’ by David Watkin (Ch. 7), ‘Public Commissions’, Frank Salmon (Ch. 13), and, notably, ‘The Well of Inspiration: Sources for Kent’s Furniture Designs by Susan Weber (Ch.17), touch on the subject via interiors, chimneypieces and engravings (of, for instance, console tables and their matching frames).

18 Design for side table for Houghton Hall William Kent V & A sm

William Kent, design for side table for Houghton Hall, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Susan Weber also notes the influence of Baroque Roman flourishes such as putti and crowning masks on Kent’s work, both of which – especially the masks – are present in his frames, and in the pieces of furniture such as tables which accompany them. Kent’s collection of Italian prints, as well as the furnishings he encountered during his years in Italy, had a profound effect. The same motifs are used even in chandeliers, candlesticks and girandoles (‘Kent’s Metalwork Designs’, by Michael Snodin; Ch. 19), pointing the integrity of Kent’s all-embracing interior designs.

The final chapter (21: ‘The Legacy’, by Tim Knox) examines the pool of designs spreading out from the Kentian spring: the work of the men most closely associated with him, such as Henry Flitcroft and Isaac Ware, and John Vardy and Daniel Garrett. The diffusion of Kent’s designs through books of engravings was influential, and continued to be so until it faded into the NeoClassical age, as exemplified by the Adam brothers.

Palladian picture frames were, perhaps, particularly widespread as a style; there are so many of them about, in all their varying degrees of enrichment, from an architrave frame with a single run of ornament to the most luxurious and opulent version of the trophy frame. They marry well with architectural styles in Britain throughout the 17th and 18th centuries (whereas Rococo buildings never really caught on), fitting in with houses in late Renaissance and Baroque style, and later with those in the NeoClassical language of Adam and his school. Apart from the Kentian country houses mentioned specifically in the text, hangings of paintings in ‘Kent’ frames can be seen in the King’s Gallery, Kensington Palace, Room 9 of the National Portrait Gallery, where many of the Kit-cat Club portraits by Sir Godfrey Kneller are hanging in their Palladian frames by Gerrard Howard, the king’s framemaker, and in Tate Britain.

X Allan Ramsay Thomas 2nd Baron Mansel of Margam 1742 Tate ed sm

Allan Ramsay, Thomas, 2nd Baron Mansel of Margam, with his half-brothers and -sister, 1742, Tate; Photo: Fran Pickering 

One of the most striking frames in the collection of Tate Britain is this, on Ramsay’s group portrait of Thomas Mansel and his half-siblings. The mansion on the Margam estate in Glamorgan was demolished in 1787, amputating the portrait from its interior, but as a singular statement of the importance and beauty of the ‘Kent’ frame, it can hardly be beaten.

Look at all these frames, then, and buy or borrow the book; it’s definitely worthwhile reading for its multifarious approaches to the work of a figure so important in British architecture and design.


With grateful thanks to the V & A, and to all those who have kindly provided me with images to use, and/or permission to publish them, especially Charles, 8th Marquess Townshend and Fran Pickering.




Mauritshuis frames: Part 1

Maritshuis building sm

This article, by the senior curator of the Mauritshuis, The Hague, was first published as: Quentin Buvelot, ‘Mauritshuis Frames’, Mauritshuis in focus, 27 (2014), nr 1, pp. 6-12

The Mauritshuis aims to present its collection as well as possible. This means conserving and restoring the paintings, as well as paying attention to the frames. A suitable frame can enhance an artwork, whereas a badly chosen one can detract from it. Nowadays there is renewed interest in the history of the frames in our collection.

Few visitors to the Mauritshuis probably realize that only a dozen or so paintings in the collection are still in their original frames. At one time or another nearly all the Old Masters were given new frames that better suited the prevailing taste. Notable exceptions are the three seventeenth-century Dutch portraits in their original trophy frames, which will be described in a later article.

The history of the picture frames in the Mauritshuis is closely connected to the history of the collection, the core of which was formed by two princes of Orange: Willem IV (1711-1751) and his son, Willem V (1748-1806). The latter put the collection on public display in 1774, when he had two hundred paintings housed in the ‘Galerij’ on the Buitenhof. This gallery of paintings was open to the public at set times, thus becoming the first public art collection in Holland. More than twenty years later, in 1795, the French troops which had invaded the Republic ransacked the gallery and took the collection to the Louvre. After the French occupation, most of the paintings were brought back to The Hague in 1815, having become the property of the Dutch state in the meantime. The frames, however, remained in Paris.

1 Hondecoeter in Empire frameA painting by Hondecoeter in an Empire frame from the Mauritshuis’s collection, being hung in Het Loo Palace

New frames had to be made for all the pictures, and these were ordered en masse from the firm of Wed. Dorens en Zoon, Hofspiegelkoopers (Purveyors of Looking Glasses and Picture Frames) in Amsterdam and delivered in February 1817; the sum of 5,000 guilders had been set aside for this purpose. The gilt frames with decorations in late Empire style were completely in keeping with the current fashion. A number of paintings still have these frames; the different models and decorations were deliberately chosen for the sake of variety. The collection was reinstalled in the Gallery in the spring of 1817, but in 1822 it was moved to the Mauritshuis, which had been bought precisely for this purpose.

Documentation of frames

Eighteenth-century inventories tell us quite a bit about the frames that originally held the Stadholder’s collection of paintings. An inventory drawn up in 1793, for example, offers fairly precise descriptions: in addition to gilt frames, black ones ‘with a gilt inner edge’ were also popular. It has proven difficult to obtain information about the frames purchased from 1822 onwards, since the Mauritshuis began to publish annual reports which describe them only in 1878. For information on the intervening period we must turn to official documents in the Mauritshuis archive and the National Archives, although these sources still need to be researched further. Old photographs of the museum’s interior could also be a source, but none pre-dates 1900.

2 Antoon François Heijligers ed sm Antoon François Heijligers, Interior of the Rembrandt Room in the Mauritshuis, 1884, panel, 47 x 59 cm, Mauritshuis

There is, however, a depiction of the interior of the museum, painted by Antoon François Hejiligers (1828-97) in 1884, just a few years after the rooms in the Mauritshuis were reorganized. The panel shows one of the Rembrandt rooms, present-day Room 10, which usually contains the late Rembrandts. In the nineteenth century this room featured Rembrandt’s Anatomy lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp of 1632 in a dark moulded frame. Almost every other painting was set in a gilt frame. One striking detail is that the lower edge of several paintings overlapped the wood panelling; today this would be considered an eyesore.

New director, new frames

The talented art historian Abraham Bredius (1855-1946) was appointed director in 1889. His extensive circle of friends and contacts plus his eye for quality enabled him to add many important paintings to the collection. Bredius had the new acquisitions, as well as various pictures already in the collection, reset in nearly identical dark brown frames with a gilt, decorated inner moulding.

3 Vermeer sm

 Vermeer, Girl with a pearl earring in a frame purchased by Bredius (photograph after 1913). Both this frame and the one holding Fabritius’s Goldfinch (see below) have been replaced

An example is Vermeer’s Girl with a pearl earring, as seen in a photograph taken after 1933. When Bredius died in 1946, it turned out that he had bequeathed twenty-five paintings from his private collection to the Mauritshuis. Some of these are still in their dark ‘Bredius frames’, but the highlights of his bequest – such as Rembrandt’s Homer, and Saul and David, a painting attributed to Rembrandt – had costly gilt frames.

Vermeer Girl with pearl ed

Vermeer, Girl with a pearl earring, c.1665, as framed today; Mauritshuis

Large-scale replacement of frames

Bredius’s successor, Wilhelm Martin (1876-1954), changed the presentation policy once again, in accordance with changing tastes. From 1929 he ordered so-called composition (sometimes shortened to ‘compo’) frames for many of the seventeenth-century paintings in the collection.

4 Mauritshuis collection ed sm Examples of three composition frames produced by A.J. Heydenrijk Jr Schilderijlijstenfabriek in the 1930s, holding paintings by Willem van Aelst (left & right) and Jan Both (centre)

These machine-produced frames consisted of a ‘composition’ of glue, turpentine, chalk, asbestos, linseed oil and other ingredients. Their design goes back to French frames of the eighteenth century. The application of elaborate, scrolled ornamentation gives such frames irregular profiles, in contrast to Empire frames, whose outer edges display straight lines. The surviving correspondence shows that Martin ordered dozens of composition frames from his regular supplier, A.J. Heydenrijk Jr., in Amsterdam. Martin chose models with varying ornaments, as emerges from the quotation submitted by Heydenrijk on 29 October 1930.

The Holbeins reframed

Bob de Vries (1905-83), who became director in 1947, also paid a great deal of attention to the collection’s presentation.

5 Holbeins before Four paintings in the Mauritshuis by or after Holbein; these have now been reframed

The deep Empire frames holding the sixteenth-century portraits by Holbein had been replaced by Martin in 1923, but De Vries had more suitable frames made for these paintings, and they are still in use.

Holbein Robert Cheseman ed

Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of Robert Cheseman, 1533, in new frame; Maurithuis 

Thanks to outside financial assistance, the Mauritshuis was able to acquire a splendid Italian frame made around 1600 for Holbein’s portrait of Robert Cheseman in 1952, and purchased nineteenth-century frames for Holbein’s portrait of an unknown falconer and a studio piece, the portrait of Jane Seymour, in 1956.

Holbein Jane Seymour ed

Studio of Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of Jane Seymour, c.1540, in new frame; Mauritshuis

These frames in sixteenth-century style are of such high quality that they are often mistaken for originals from the time of Holbein.

6 Holbeins after

View of a wall in the exhibition Masters from the Mauritshuis at the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague. Photo: Ivo Hoekstra

In the annual report of 1952, De Vries described his attempts to buy old or suitable frames, for which practically no money was available. He spoke frankly about the Empire frames, calling them tasteless, and he also disliked the modern composition frames, which in his opinion did not do justice to the Mauritshuis’s Old Masters.

Authentic character

In recent decades successive directors have replaced a large number of frames with more suitable ones.

Carel Fabritius The goldfinch ed sm

Carel Fabritius, The goldfinch, 1654, in new frame; Mauritshuis

Antique picture frames have been acquired for The goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, Jan Davitsz de Heem’s Flower still life, and Rembrandt’s Portrait of an old man. The museum still pays close attention to the presentation of the collection. Suitable antique frames are not always available, so the Mauritshuis often orders copies, whose profiles and decorations derive from sixteenth- or seventeenth- century frames. An indispensable reference work in this respect is the 1984 publication compiled by P. van Thiel and C. de Bruyn Kops, Prijst de lijst: De Hollandse schilderijlijst in de zeventiende eeuw (a revised edition appeared in English in 1995, under the title, Framing in the Golden Age: picture and frame in 17th-century Holland).

9 Willem van Haecht before ed Willem van Haecht, Apelles painting Campaspe, in its previous frame

10 Willem van Haecht Apelles painting Campaspe ed sm Willem van Haecht, Apelles painting Campaspe, in a new frame based on those in the painting; Mauritshuis 

Paintings are usually reframed after a purchase, bequest or restoration. An important exhibition, at the Mauritshuis or elsewhere, can also be a reason to replace a frame, as happened recently with a small painting by Jan Gossaert. After a loan request from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the painting was restored and provided with a new frame, which was inspired by an authentic one for another painting by Gossaert. Willem van Haecht’s Apelles painting Campaspe was given a new frame which significantly enhances its appearance, with a view to its inclusion in the 2009-10 exhibition Room for art in 17th century Antwerp. This long-cherished wish could be fulfilled thanks to support from the Johan Maurits Comapgnie Foundation. The new frame with a gilt inner edge is based on one of the 17th century frames depicted in the painting. Apelles painting Campaspe had such a frame in the time of Stadholder Willem V.

7 Rembrandt Susanna beforeRembrandt, Susanna, 1636, in its previous frame, produced by A.J. Heydenrijk Jr Schilderijlijstenfabriek in the 1930s; Mauritshuis

Thanks to support from the American Friends of the Mauritshuis, a new frame was ordered for Rembrandt’s Susanna of 1636. The old frame, produced by the firm of Heydenrijk, left non-autograph passages visible on the rectangular panel, whereas the new black frame shows the painting with rounded upper edges, just as Rembrandt had intended.

8 Rembrandt Susanna after

 Rembrandt, Susanna, 1636: in a replica 17th century frame which closely approximates the original; Mauritshuis 

This new frame is a big improvement, lending the scene more intimacy and thus heightening its power of expression. This particular example underscores how important it is to get the frame just right.


With grateful thanks to Quentin Buvelot for his article, to Anne Lenders, Assistant Curator of the Mauritshuis Collections Department, for permission to republish it, and to Gini Kingma for orchestrating the process.

See Mauritshuis frames: Part 2: trophy frames> here


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