Identifying Framemakers in 17th to 18th-century France

Acanthus Patterns - French - Louis XIII Frames

click to enlarge

Enlarged Louis XIII frame detail, courtesy of Mathilde Durand.

(click here to see an enlargement)

In the past few pages we have been concentrating on Louis XV and Louis XIV frames with a specific focus on the sight edge, where we find a predominate use of a acanthus motif alternating with some other such as a flower or leaf tip in a running pattern. The frame above is much earlier coming from the Louis XIII period, yet here again we see an acanthus frieze occupying the same place on the frame, the only real difference here being that this is not an alternating pattern but an all acanthus frieze, and the ground has been hatched instead of fluted. Thus we can say that this frieze was a kind of tradition that lasted more than a century. Today I have searched for more frames decorated with acanthus. We are tempted to think that this tradition may have had its roots in Italy as inevitably when you go back far enough, You find that France borrowed heavily from the Italian Renaissance especially in the reign of Francois Ier. I wanted to know if the earliest frames had this same acanthus tradition and started looking at the very first picture frames. I know you are thinking that the Egyptians probably had picture frames 3000 years ago, but it turns out that the picture frame as we know it hasn't been around for all that long, granted it may have popped up any time in the last few thousand years, but it didn't become a popular until the beginning of the 16th century, that means that we only have to look back a couple of centuries from the time of Louis XV, and we can now say that the acanthus motif tradition on French frames extends back as far as possibly the beginning of the 17th century.

Today I had the good fortune to discover some very informative pages that you can find here, these were written by John Finnegan, and they cover the history of frames in fine detail, especially the Italian section which is really the beginning. Probably the closest thing to a frame in our modern sense of a picture frame is the Tabernacle frame and when you start looking at these you discover something very interesting which has nothing much to do with acanthus, however I will, just ramble a bit here as one thing leads to another. Finnegan tells of a "celebrated example of the Renaissance aedicular frame (tabernacle frame), signed and dated 1488 by the carver Jacopo da Faenza, it was created for Bellini's Frari Triptych. This comprises a base with predella panels supporting two pairs of pilasters, each pair carrying an entablature linked by a broken segmental pediment, the whole carved with antique candelabrum patterns and scrolling foliage. Above this are mounted actual candelabra between Roman sirens." I had to see this for myself and found it finally

click to enlarge

Renaissance aedicular frame, signed and dated 1488 by the carver Jacopo da Faenza,
This frame houses Giovanni Bellini's. Frari Triptych,
S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Sacristy, Venice, Italy.
(click here to see an enlargement)

The candelabra that you see in this aedicular frame is another favorite research subject of mine, ever since I bought a bookbinding that had been stamped with a candelabra pattern. My research eventually lead me to discover that the pattern on my binding was a copy of a decorative border found in a number of Simon Vostre's publications dating back as far as 1502 (and perhaps earlier, click here to see this). Further research indicated that the candelabra patterns on book bindings probably didn't appear until the second decade of the 16th century and then were very popular for a number decades. I was fascinated by the extravagant nature of these designs and tried to track down the source of candelabra decoration which appears to be a stylization of actual standing candelabras which served as lamps. Here in this aedicular frame example we see both.
I then started looking for more Tabernacle frames, by first searching out paintings by Bellini, and soon discovered that most the early tabernacle frames are decorated with candelabra patterns! Still we must not forget our hunt for acanthus frieze and eventually found a tabernacle frame with an acanthus frieze, this isn't however a Bellini painting, it is dated to around 1505.

click to enlarge

Venetian 16th century - Portrait of a Young Man. Circa. 1505.
Widener Collection, 1942. National Gallery of Art, Washington

(click here to see an enlargement)

acanthanus frieze 1505

Alternating acanthus frieze on a circa. 1505 Tabernacle frame.

After looking at many Tabernacle frames, and searching through every kind of decoration especially Italian I came to the conclusion that alternating acanthus frieze was not that common in the mid 15th century where as candelabra decoration was much more common, found on door frames and fireplaces, Tabernacle frames, and various sorts of furniture where it sculpted or even painted on to furniture and frames. Then I got another lucky break, just when I was thinking I was on the wrong track, I discovered in The Grammar of Ornament, by Owen Jones an engraving of portions of the tomb of Francis II, Duke of Brittany, and his wife Marguerite de Foix, erected by Anne of Brittany, in the Carmelite Church at Nantes, the edifice was made by Michel Colombe, A. D. 1507.

acanthanus frieze 1507

Alternating acanthus frieze on a portion of the Tomb of Francis II made by Michel Colombe 1507.

This reminded me that I had downloaded another work of Colombe a few days ago and this was due again to looking at candelabra. It is an altarpiece in the Louvre and I didn't notice the acanthus frieze due to not finding a good high resolution photo, when I finally found one sure enough I discovered another frieze.

click to enlarge

Saint George and the Dragon - 1509-1510 Michel Colombe, The Louvre.
"In 1508, Michel Colombe received a commission for a marble altarpiece for the high chapel at the Château de Gaillon, dedicated to Saint George, patron saint of Cardinal d'Amboise"

acanthus frieze 1508-1510

Alternating acanthus frieze by Michal Colombe 1509-1510.

candelabra 1509-1510

Candelabre decoration by Michal Colombe 1509-1510.

candelabra 1509-1510

Candelabre decoration detail

Click here to see the next page...

Click here to return to the previous page.

Click here to return to the homepage
created by L. A. Miller in collaboration with Jean Duday.

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional