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A commentary on the history and reception

The Frame

The fact that photographies of artworks, for example for exibition or collection catalogues, are oftentimes pictured without their frames, shows their secondary importance to the contemporary art beholder. The role of the picture frame was subject to a change in exibition practices and lost it's function as a representative part of the painting. But the history of art is closely entagled with the history of the picture frame, since institutions and collectors throughout time have always seeked an aesthetic unity between the artwork and it's frame. But with every new Owner a new taste and therefore a new frame was introduced to the painting, one that would preferably unify the collection or establish a relation to a specific period in time or just to accomodate the painting to it's spacial or institutional surrounding.
In regards of this volatile characterization of the frame, which marked it as a replacable component of the artwork, the frame lost it's aesthetic affiliation to the painting.


Hieronymus Francken II (Antwerpern, 1578–1623), A Collector’s Cabinet, oil on wood, 90 x 120 cm, image:

We will inspect five examples of framed artworks from the bromer kunst collection with the intent to counteract the above described state of the frame.

The Mourning scene from Philippe de Champagne is framed by a dutch cabinet frame with a polished ebony veneer and gold-painted strip. The starch contrast in the scene is mirrored in the coloring of the frame, while the golden strip revolving around around the scene could be seen as nimbus. In the 17th century the dominating frame form was, apart from the carved goldframe, the cabinet frame with polished ebony veneer. The frame type was most commonly found north of the alps.
A bit more opulent is the french baroc frame that surrounds the still life with birds painted by Melchior de Hondecoeter. A ribbon made of nuts, oakleaves, flowers and berries surrounds the frame and corresponds to the theme of the stil life depicted. 

Philippe de Champaigne - Engel beweinen den Leichnam Christi, 17. Jahrhundert, Öl auf Leinwand, 142 x 193 cm, Inv.-Nr. 1-1047

Melchior de Hondecoeter - Reiches Stillleben mit Entenfamilie, Tauben und Pfau - im Hintergrund eine hügelige Landschaft, 17. Jahrhundert, Öl auf Leinwand, 103 x 128 cm, Inv.-Nr. 1-1905

Different forms of presentation have an impact on the representative value of a painting, this can be emphasized through certain frames. Especially gold plated frames can enhance the material and visual reception of a painting. Color and texture of the frame's surface can affect the way it reflects light: structured surfaces, combinations of mat and shiny gildings and the contours of it's curved borders are designed to catch the light and reflect it onto the painting. The effect of the gold-plated frames were beneficial in art salons that were sparsely lit rooms with very minimal daylight.

François-Joseph Heim, Le Salon de 1824 (1827), Musée du Louvre, Paris. The parisian high society gathered in front of a wall, densly hung with paintings that are exclusively surrounded by gold-plated frames. Bild:

The exhibition statutes of the royal academy in London even banned all non gold-plated frames. It reads: „FRAMES.- None but Gold Frames can be admitted. The Council find it difficult to make Regulations on this subject“. Analogical in the parisian salon of the louvre-epoch.


Blick in eine Rahmenmacherwerkstatt, um 1900, Bild:

In the dawning age of the industrialization, new ways of production started to compete with the traditional craft of the frame maker. Local traditions started to fade while simultaneously new ways of frame productions began to emerge: less elaborate and more homogonous ones. Carved and gilded frames gave way to machine made stucco frames of a standardized repertoire.

The most dominant and wide spread frame style of the nineteenth century was based on french prototypes. Most of the available frames at the time were made in french workshops with the help of french template books and traditional french techniques. Classisistic, Louis-XIII, Louis-XIV, Régence and Rokoko templates served as models for the reproductions made in the salon de paris.

These gold stucco frames were despite their rich decor, affordable for the rising bourgeoisie.

The landscape painting of Anton Winterlin is framed by a gold-plated frame with cornice profile and corner ornaments. The modest ornaments of this frame don't disturb the peaceful atmosphere of the landscape scene. The interior scene from Friedrich Albert Schröder that is surrounded by a gold-plated frame in the style of Louis-XV. The floral patterns and palmettes on the divider as well as the carvings on the wooden chest correspond to the patterns on the frame. Through it's curved silhuette this frame seems to step out of the flatness and into a voluminous body. 

At last there is a french chinoiserie (ca. 1780) from an unknown artist that is framed by a polychrom rokoko frame, designed after the works of Nicolas Quinberg Foliot. This finely carved piece is composed of rheeds and vines that end in in a mussel situated at the top center. 

Anton Winterlin - Aussicht auf Interlaken,Öl auf Leinwand, 57 x 82 cm, Inv.-Nr. 1-1938

Friedrich Albert Schröder - Musikunterricht, 1898, Öl auf Holz, 30 x 40 cm, Inv.-Nr. 5-707 

Unbekannter Künstler - Französische Chinoiserie, ca 1780
Öl auf Leinwand
134 x 125 cm

It wasn't until until the turn of the century that artists began to produce their own frames to free their work from the doctrine of the gold-plated frame. More plain and unadorned frames started to prevail. Free of any representational claims they simply served as physical fastening to mount an artwork on the wall.

Regardless of the kind of frame that accompanies a painting, one should at least take note of it: The frame always assumes an important role in the mediation between an artwork and its surrounding space. Like a commentary that should be noted.

Text: Evelyn Bangerter