The Picture Frame

Or: the humble boundary between Art and reality

Recently I went on the hunt for some reference on picture frames and a trip to the Strand rewarded me with The Art of the Picture Frame by Jacob Simon. It was created to accompany an exhibition of the same name held at the National Portrait Gallery (UK) in 1996. Looking through the book It dawned on me instantly that I actually had no idea whatsoever what the history of the picture frame was, or indeed, why frames were invented in the first place. Since I picked up the book I’ve been intending to do a post on the origins of the frame. A concise summation of the info contained within the book, however, would be prohibitively difficult so instead I’ve decided to simply share some of the frames themselves and offer, instead of a summation, some related links. See below.

First, just a few words from the chapter 1 of the book.

Quote, “The picture frame has existed for as long as pictures have been moveable. Any moveable painting required a frame to protect it. Even a fixed painting set in panelling needed some sort of framework. The idea of a framing device is older than the picture frame, however, and many early wall paintings and frescoes were given a containing painted or architectural framework.

The frame may have started out as a form of protection but its visual and symbolic purposes soon became equally important. Such purposes are not constant but vary with time and place. The frame separates the work of art from its surroundings and may help focus the viewer’s attention. At the same time it can actually unite a work with its surroundings by forming a transition or a link to other works or to the wider setting. The frame can become part of the setting itself when it is designed to fit into an architectural scheme. More obviously, the frame is usually intended to enhance a picture visually and, occasionally, iconographically. Sometimes the frame is used to draw attention to a work as an object of value or reverence; such a frame may not necessarily enhance it in visual terms, but can contribute to its symbolic significance. The frame marks out a picture as a picture, that is as an illusion rather than reality.” From The Art of the Picture Frame by Jacob Simon.

Since this post is about frames as art objects in their own right I’ve removed the paintings (so you can’t cheat.)

For more on the humble frame and its history see the following:

The Art of the Picture Frame web site at The National Gallery. Be sure, specifically, to check out the links listed under Special features.

A Brief History of The Frame.

Picture Framing Magazine’s article index, specifically the Special Supplements.

Hope you enjoyed.

11.07. filed under: art. !. history. 5