Identifying Framemakers in 17th to 18th-century France

click to enlarge

Detail from a Louis XV frame, 2nd quarter of 18th century.

In D. Karraker's recent book Looking at European Frames: A Guide to Terms, Styles, and Techniques. we find a valuable Glossary on page 11, with an introductory note: Words printed in SMALL CAPITALS refer to other entries in the book.
The second and third entries are:

A stylized form based on the scalloped, stiff, prickly leaves of the Mediterranean acanthus plant, Acanthus spinosus, used as classical adornment. This ornamentation is employed in both architecture and the decorative arts. Acanthus was used in many periods and styles, ranging from early Italian frames to the late-nineteenth century French frames that revived earlier framing methods.

A RUNNING PATTERN with alternating ACANTHUS and small tongues or small leaf tips. This pattern can be found in the HOLLOW or on the SIGHT EDGE of the CARLO MARATTA FRAME

Here then are some of the correct terms that I had been looking for, inside border = sight edge, with a running pattern of Acanthus and leaf tips, buds, tongues, etc, etc. Searching with Google for, Carlo Maratta frame, I stumbled upon a Yale News item (13 JUNE, 2012) announcing "The Yale Center for British Art has launched an initiative to offer online access to its collection of historical frames. The center, the only U.S. museum to offer detailed frame records online, joins a select group of international institutions that are promoting the importance of frames as distinct collections." This was a great discovery as I had been hard pressed to find high resolution images of Louis XV frames. So far Yale has put up about 300 frames and within those there are Louis XV examples as well as Carlo Maratta which we will look at later. The enlarged frame detail at the top of this page is from the Yale Collection, as well as the image below that I have modified as a diagram to point out the various decorative details that have been described. Not all of the elements have been itemized in the Yale description and I have added letters for those which will need to be identified later by an expert. I can however say that item (i) is a drawer handle motif, these became suddenly very popular in bookbinding decoration starting mid 17th-century

click to enlarge

Creator - Unknown framemaker, French
Title - French, Louis XV frame
Date - 2nd quarter of 18th century
Medium - Carved wood, original water gilding and sanded frieze
Dimensions -
Accession Number - B1981.25.166FR
Cross-section - Concave with frieze
Ornaments - Shell (a) and rocaille (b) corner and centre cartouches with quadrillage ground (c); trailing floral rinceau (d); gadrooned top rail (e); acanthus and flower sight (f); dentil back (g); overall recutting in gesso
Features - Exceptional quality carving | Exceptionally fine recutting in gesso, 'réparure'
Alteration - probably not
Quality - Exceptional

I want to present another example of the Louis XV frames from the Yale Collection, they have some that are labeled English Louis XV frames, so I need to precision here that this example is considered by them to be a French Louis XV frame.

click to enlarge

Creator - Unknown framemaker, French
Title - French, Louis XV frame
Date - mid-18th century
Medium - Oak, original matt and burnished water gilding, sanded frieze
Dimensions -
Accession Number - B1977.14.54FR
Cross-section - Concave with frieze
Ornaments - Rocaille corner and centre cartouches with quadrillage ground; trailing foliate C-scrolls and flowers linked by swept rails above pierced panel; acanthus and flower sight; overall recutting in gesso
Features - Recutting in gesso, 'réparure'
Alteration - possibly
Quality - fine

sight edge comparative

Comparative Diagram 1 - Louis XV frames - Sight Edge (enlarged) - Acanthus and flower.

We can see in Comparative Diagram 1, the different style and ability of these two craftsmen, unfortunately Yale has not yet included the dimensions of these two frames, so the scale may not be the same for each. Probably one of the most difficult tasks in the execution of these carvings is to be able to produce accurate and consistent fluting, the slightest error can be observed readily. These running patterns of alternating Acanthus and flower motifs must have been carved hundreds if not thousands of times by almost every maître-sculpteur working in this period. I suspect that each one is like a personal signature, when we can recognize these we will advance a long way forward in identifying frames by the men who made them.
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created by L. A. Miller in collaboration with Jean Duday.

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