15,000 Euro picture frame

This wonderful chunk of gold plated wood recently changed hands for 15,000 Euros. We are not told who made it or when and where it was made. Some expert might be able to say but if he had any authority his opinion would have been given by Sotheby's in the item description. This fascinates me, I want to know who made it and when... and if there is no expert that we can count on then we have to research this ourselves. I have come upon a few clues and I am going to present a way to become very precise in the midst of a mountain of imprecise data. On the previous page we were looking at a supposed 1752 painting and frame. I wanted to compare this frame with other frames from this period. After searching far and wide for pictures of these frames which are often termed Louis XV, i.e. from the time of Louis XV. I discovered that you will not find high resolution pictures of them on most commercial or Government web sites. However you can today find many individuals who are posting their own photographs on the internet and these are often high resolution. Most are photos of the paintings in Museums and are mainly concerned with the painting and not the frame, many frames are partially cropped out.

When I first started to look at these Louis XV frames closely, I noticed that there was an element in the decoration that reminded me of the decoration of bookbindings from this same period and earlier. This was a previous obsession of mine, researching the decoration of bookbindings, so the decoration of picture frames which has a lot in common with bookbinding decoration, will be a natural course to follow. I am not going to waffle on here but rather get to the point of an idea that came in a flash to me in the early morning hours. You will notice that on the picture frame above, there is a border of decoration that surrounds the interior of the frame, this decoration is a repeated pattern quite identical in nature to that which is used in bookbinding decoration, the pattern is set down by the application of a wheel with a pattern engraved around it's circumference. The wheels are called roulettes in french and they are often very distinctive, you can often identify a binder by his roulettes.

Wood frames are sculpted and the inside border has not been made by a roulette, however it may be that individual scultpors (sculpteurs) can be identified by their border patterns. This may seem rather obvious to many but there is something else to be considered here, to identify a bookbinders roulette with absolute certainty you have to be able to measure the patterns very precisely. To study picture frames borders you need to be able to measure them accurately and then make a comparative study. Maybe someone has done this already if they have they would know exactly when this 15,000 EUR frame was made and probably the name of the sculptor who crafted it so finely.

As mentioned above we can find pictures of these frames or some of the frame on the internet in many cases the inside border at least is visible. This is the first advantage in using borders as our starting point of research. While I was working on bookbindings or rather pictures of bookbindings I found a way to resize most bindings to their original size so as to be able to measure the roulettes and other stamps. Many bindings are in fact photographed with scales so they can be resized very precisely. You do not have this advantage with paintings however almost every painting worth its salt has been measured very accurately, thus we know very precisely the dimensions of paintings and if we are working with the inside borders we know their inside dimension. Anyone who knows their way around photoshop can do this, you can resize any picture if you know the exact size of any single element.

This then was my plan, to find good high resolution images of the inside borders, using frames that are hopefully the original frames dating to the same period as the painting. Here there is a lot of footwork to find out if the frame is really the original frame but for the moment we will assume that the frame that is now on the portrait of Louis XV, is the original!

I sprang out of bed with this idea in my brain and within a few hours I was able to produce the comparative diagram below. These are 20 centimeter lengths of inside borders deriving from the upper left inside corner of the frames all at the same scale, and from frames that span over 25 years i.e one generation of framemakers

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After assembling Comparative Diagram 1, it suddenly dawned on be that all these bobbles were the same! What at first looked chaotic suddenly came into a clear focus and sorting out the Louis XV frames, was becoming more manageable.

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Comparative Diagram 2 - Inside border - pattern elements - motif- acanthus leaf.
Click here to see an enlargement)

When you first start researching these frames you often run across acanthus within the descriptions of the various decorative elements. It was new to me and it was only when I started to search for books that might be helpful in this work that I discovered on Amazon.com D. Karraker's latest book Looking at European Frames: A Guide to Terms, Styles, and Techniques. looking inside the book I came across a great picture of Acanthus. In Comparative Diagram 2, the large 1751 example, clearly shows a close relationship to Karraker's acanthus picture as well as the fluted cove, this then emulates the inner border decoration. What seemed surprising is that this border decoration appears to have been copied for decades as if there were some unwritten law that dictates this design element in all inner border decoration. I have ordered some of these books and when I get them I will replace inner border with the correct terminology, however for now the reader with have to bear with me on this. On the next page we are going to look for even older examples of this border to try and establish just when it started and when if ever it ended...

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created by L. A. Miller in collaboration with Jean Duday.


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