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A forthcoming technical publication of Renaissance frames at the V&A

Christine Powell
Senior Gilded Furniture and Frames Conservator

Zoë Allen
Gilded Furniture and Frames Conservator

Christine Powell and Zoë Allen are currently working on a publication concerning approximately forty Renaissance frames at the V&A. This has been generously funded by a donor aware of the Renaissance frames at the V&A and with a passionate interest in the subject.

Figure 1. 1079-1884 front (Photography by Ian Thomas, V

Figure 1. 1079-1884 front (Photography by Ian Thomas, V&A Photographic Studio) (click image for larger version)

The V&A has a fine collection of very important and beautiful Italian Renaissance and Renaissance-style frames both in its stores and on display from different V&A collections. Among others, there are fine examples of 'Sansovino', tabernacle (Figures 1 and 2), tondo and cassetta frames.

Many of these frames are now empty, having been separated long ago from the objects they came into the V&A with, while other frames were acquired empty. The provenance and date for a handful of these frames is known. However for the majority of them the original use, exact date and origin are not known. Investigation will show that some are possibly partly or all nineteenth century.

The main aim of the book is to photograph and describe technically these frames so they may be made more accessible to and appreciated by a wider audience.

The publication will include a detailed entry for each frame with high quality photographs, section profiles, drawings and detailed dimensions (including overall height, width, depth, sight size, rebate size and object accommodation size which can help indicate what type of object the frame originally housed, such as a painting, a mirror or a sculptural relief). There will be comparisons to other known similar examples.

Figure 2. W.113-1910 front (Photography by Ian Thomas, V

Figure 2. W.113-1910 front (Photography by Ian Thomas, V&A Photographic Studio) (click image for larger version)

The book will contain a description of materials and techniques used in the frame construction and decorative finish (both the original and any later alterations). It will also discuss how the appearance of frames has changed over time; what a frame looks like today can be quite different from the original appearance. Digital image reconstruction may be used for some frames to demonstrate how the original decoration appeared. An interpretation of the decorative schemes will involve in-depth visual examination by the conservators and some paint analysis. This is useful for the frames connoisseur and conservator to have a better technical understanding of these frames and help identify original material and additional alterations. This is often scantily dealt with in other publications discussing frames. 

Figure 3. 1079-1884 corner detail (Photography by Ian Thomas, V

Figure 3. 1079-1884 corner detail (Photography by Ian Thomas, V&A Photographic Studio) (click image for larger version)

The plotted history and origins of picture and mirror frames is covered in other works and will not be the main focus of the publication; however other V&A objects may be cited as examples of influence on the form and function of the Renaissance frame. The architectural naming of different parts and ornament of these frames will be described and a brief introduction to each frame type will be made.

This project has provided the opportunity to collaborate with V&A colleagues, other institutions and fellow professionals. Frames experts from outside the V&A will also be contacted for their opinions on the frames included in the book.

Photography  of the frames will be carried out by the V&A  Photographic Studio, except for four of our frames  on  loan to The National Gallery which  will be photographed  by the National Gallery  Photographic Department. Scientific analysis of selected materials is being carried out by Brian Singer of Northumbria University and Ashok Roy and Helen Howard of the National Gallery Scientific Department.

The book will be published by Elsevier Heinemann in early 2009.