VIENNA.- The Liechtenstein Museum
is staging the exhibition Structure and Ornament which presents a cross-section of the history and typology of the frame from the late medieval period to the 19th century. It also showcases the various different techniques involved, from construction to finishing, gilding and patination. Around 100 objects from the Collections holdings are complemented by works from important private collections in Britain, France and Germany as well as by major loans from national and international museums.
What awaits the visitor are original frames from the Princely Collections, many never before displayed in public and including a number of spectacular individual pieces: a monumental tondo from the 15th century, a Baroque mirror frame of Roman provenance and gigantic dimensions, a picture frame made to a design by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a richly inlaid ivory frame by Massimo Soldani-Benzi as well as companion pieces from Austria of equal artistic importance.
The exhibition illustrates the phenomenon of the frame in context with furniture, metalwork and textiles as well as graphics and engravings of ornamental motifs together with miniature paintings in precious settings. Some of the gilded or painted frames are being exhibited with the paintings for which they were created, and the exhibition is rounded off by bronze or terracotta reliefs in their original frames.
The exhibition focuses not only on the theme of the paintings contained by frames of this kind but also on the intriguing subject of their use within the context of how galleries were hung in the past and their continued relevance in modern-day museum presentation. In 1705 Giovanni Giuliani was commissioned by Prince Johann Adam Andreas I von Liechtenstein to create the frames for the Decius Mus cycle by Peter Paul Rubens with their powerful, elaborately carved and gilded crests. At Feldsberg, the central residence of the Liechtenstein family in southern Moravia, papier mâché frames were made and painted in colours or gilded, evidently with the aim of displaying the holdings of the picture gallery there in a manner as impressive (and no doubt economical) as possible.
For the re-hanging of the gallery in the familys former summer palace in the Rossau quarter, Prince Johann I von Liechtenstein commissioned new frames in Neoclassical taste for almost all the paintings displayed there; today many of the frames in the Liechtenstein Museum still proudly bear his ligated monogram JL. Even tapestries were framed like paintings in order to make them an integral part of the wall décor.
The Liechtenstein Museum today invests much effort and expense not only in the acquisition of new works but also in their presentation, one of the most important aspects of which is their frames. Over the past few years important examples of Renaissance and Baroque frames, including those mentioned above by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Massimo Soldani-Benzi, have been added to the holdings of the Princely Collections.
Frames can be found with Roman mural paintings that disclose views of imaginary landscapes, and with the beginnings of Western panel painting they were often integrated into the picture itself. In the Renaissance frames rose to prominence in their own right and contributed significantly to the individualisation of the picture, which from this time on presents itself increasingly as an autonomous work of art.
A wholly different perspective arose during the Baroque with the idea of the picture gallery, whereby the individual paintings separated only by slender battens were organised on principles of size and symmetry to cover entire walls. Towards the end of the 18th century, collectors began again to respect the individuality of each work by commissioning uniform gallery frames for their paintings. Later developments attempted to go one step further, placing paintings in frames that corresponded to the period of their origin. During the period of Historicism, this goal was achieved in particular with copies of historical models.
The revolutions of the 20th century also affected frames, and the re-hanging of important galleries in the 1950s and 1960s (Florence, Uffizi; Verona, Castellvecchio 19591973) by Carlo Scarpa, who condemned all frames, displaying pictures bare of any framing altarpieces dismantled into individual images and canvases supported merely by their stretchers had a great, albeit misleading, influence on smaller provincial galleries.
The later consequence of this led to a renewed appreciation of the value of historical frames, especially in the English-speaking world, which had remained virtually untouched by continental European Modernism. Since its reopening in 2004, the Liechtenstein Museum has followed this revival, attaching the highest importance to the framing of its paintings: the framing and display of a work enhances its effect and intention, thus facilitating its reception by the onlooker.
The Development of the Frame: Late Middle Age - 19th Century
The Development of Various Frame Types Between the 16th and 18th Century
From the mid-16th century various types of frame developed that used differing methods of construction. Over the centuries, the cassetta frame proved the most durable, versatile and economic type of frame and had the added advantage that its decorative elements could be altered as desired. The painted image, which now rarely formed a physical unit with the frame, could be replaced with another artwork. Despite the variable elements of decoration, regional predilections in the choice of ornamentation and construction can be discerned, with various schools developing in the individual centres of art.
One consequence of the economic boom experienced by the Netherlands and Germany during the 17th and 18th century was the increasing interest of the mercantile classes to purchase and display works of art in their own homes. These intimate domestic interiors required a decor with frames and furniture commensurate with their owners newly acquired status. These were usually made by a cabinet-maker or framemaker, and some were additionally embellished with precious and exotic materials such as ebony. However, these frames were too plain for the tastes of European royalty and nobility, who commissioned massive, ornate frames with elaborate trophy mouldings. Enhancing the uniqueness of the framed object, this type of frame was especially popular during the 18th century.
Domestic Interiors in the 17th and 18th Century
In the Netherlands and northern Germany the economic upswing led to a change in the domestic interiors of houses owned by the mercantile classes, with furniture, wallhangings and paintings conceived as a coherent whole.
Strong trade relations with Asia facilitated the import of lacquer objects decorated with motifs that frequently recur in the paintings hung on the walls. Other imports included rare natural materials such as ebony, ivory or tortoiseshell which were used to decorate cabinet picture frames. Many of these frames were constructed by craftsmen who also made furniture. The corner joints and finish were achieved using cabinet-making techniques taken from furniture construction.
Together with the cabinet frame, the carved French frame in various styles enjoyed widespread popularity and was to be found in exclusive interiors alongside luxurious wall coverings. Leather wall-hangings, the patterns of which were usually designed by artists and silversmiths, particularly in the 18th century, were assembled from square sheets of leather to form symmetrical wall coverings. The end of the 18th century saw extensive changes in interior design, with leather wall coverings increasingly being replaced by textile wall-hangings.
French Frame-making and Its Successors
The development of French frame-making in all its variations between 1600 and 1800 together with its influence reflects the political rise of the French court during this era. In the workshops of Paris artists and craftsmen created complex designs for decorative elements which frequently represented a seamless transition from one style to another. In Austria and the German-speaking countries during the reign of Charles VI (17111740) artists evolved what came to be known as the imperial style which drew on the academic rules of Classical architecture.
Around 1800 the role of the frame carver in the design diminished in importance. Increasingly, with individual ornamental motifs or even whole assemblages of decorative elements being produced from moulds, the formal idiom of the design as a whole became more limited in scope. Many paintings galleries displayed their holdings in uniform frames, regardless of their size or the epoch in which the works had been painted. This tendency towards the lack of an individual relationship between image and frame, mostly characterised by uniform frames with clear-cut classical ornamental motifs typifies the art of frame-making across the whole of Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. Frames of this kind predominated in German and Austrian Biedermeier as shown in the exhibition.