Antique frames, with their intricate designs, evoke time past when craftsmanship was an art unto itself. Like it affects fine wines, the passage of time adds character to and increases the value of antique frames. In some cases, an antique frame can be worth more than the artwork it surrounds. But how do you determine if a frame is an antique, a reproduction, or both? Following these four steps will help you inspect and classify your frame: Look at the Back.
They were apparently hung in the Cartoon Gallery during the seventeenth century, perhaps high up at cornice level, and were probably only removed when the Cartoons arrived from Copt Hall in The ribbed frames are actually nailed on to the panels, a most unusual approach to framing, and the portraits appear to have been painted in their frames, as study by Catherine Daunt confirms.
However, the inscribed ribbons attached to the top of each frame are much later. In May Francis Parsons, a portrait painter and picture restorer, charged 4 guineas a picture for 40 portraits, rather than 44 as present: At least four of the portraits would appear to be later additions to the series. Parsons supplied 'one New Portrait' of the Earl of Cumberland no.
He also supplied a new frame for Queen Elizabeth perhaps no. Other ribbed frames, somewhat thicker and with larger corner leaves, can be found on a group of pictures of 16th-century reformers, including Luther, Melancthon, Pomeranus no. Nearby opposite the side window, the three small portraits painted in about of the 1st Earl of Middlesex's sons, James, 2nd Earl no.
The middle frame is gilded the other two have later bronze paint finishes , and the grain of the oak fig. Most of the other frames in the Brown Gallery are 18th century in date. Near the door, Lady Betty Germain no.
It is not easy to study the many 16th, 17th and 18th-century portraits at a distance so mention here is restricted to a few chosen for their frames. On the right, the small full-length, James Hay, 1st Earl of Carlisle no.
To the left the small head-and-shoulders portrait of the young Charles II no. Turning now to the Old Masters, several of these have fine frames of Italian inspiration if not of Italian origin, generally carved in poplar. Some were presumably framed by the Roman dealers James Byres and Thomas Jenkins from whom the 3rd Duke of Dorset made many acquisitions while on the Grand Tour in and on his return to England.
On the right Garofalo's Judith with the Head of Holofernes no. Opposite in the window bay the Unknown man called Raphael no. It was enlarged later, perhaps in the s, by the addition of the central shield at top and mask at bottom. Originally the gilt carving would have been seen against a blue background, a most striking effect. Another example of this rare type can be found in the Ballroom. However, not all midth century frames were so elaborate. To the left of the window at the top, Mary Bagot, Countess of Dorset no.
By the end of the century taste in framing had shifted to bolder leaf and foliage patterns in the architectural styles of the period.
Dating antique picture frames
The two Lely studio portraits at either side at the far end of the room, Anne Hyde, Duchess of York no. Like other frames of this type, the body of the frame is of pine and has no rebate; the canvas protrudes at the back, as can be seen by standing to the left of no.
As the scientist Robert Boyle wrote in , 'there are very few that imagine [paper] is fit to be employed otherways than about Writing, or Printing,. The ornament was normally gilt, set on a black ground for effect, here obscured by the later gilt sanded finish. There is some evidence, however, still to evaluate fully, that the background was in part originally blue, like various other early frames at Knole.
Between these two pictures hangs a much more splendid product, the boldly carved centre-and-corner frame fig. The sight edge is rather similar to that found on the almost contemporary frames found at Knole on various early 17th-century full-length portraits see frames described as type A in the Great Hall above and the Leicester Gallery below. The main leaf-and-tongue ornament sits in the hollow of the frame, in contrast to the adjoining portrait of An Italian Youth no.
To left and right of the windows James Compton, 3rd Earl of Northampton no. Notice the finely sanded flat surface, catching the light, and the 'cabochon' motif on the sight edge, akin to egg-and-dart, echoing that on the Titian copies in the Billiard Room. Two other late 17th-century reverse patterns can be seen nearby. In the early 18th century these straight-sided reverse patterns went out of fashion. A fine example of the rising taste for frames with projecting centres and corners can be found on Charles Jervas's Joseph Addison no.
At the far end of the Leicester Gallery hang some of the most extraordinary frames at Knole, indeed in any house in the country. To start with the seated full-length James I no. Like some of the other frames at Knole, the gilt carving is seen against a blue background, albeit heavily restored. The portrait dates to about and the frame, carved in oak, is apparently original and as such a very rare survival. The putti, foliage and architectural detail are vigorously if rather crudely carved in exceptionally high relief; they are without close parallel in contemporary decoration and furniture, making it difficult to be categorical about the date of the frame.
The frame is a cruder version of that on the portrait of James I, again in oak, but with a red background, not necessarily original. The third frame of this type is found on another full-length, the somewhat later Van Dyck school portrait of Ann Brett, Countess of Middlesex no.
The frame is evidently a much later copy, mechanical in detailing and carved in pine, perhaps 19th century in date.
The frame perhaps dates to the s and so could be twenty years later than the picture; it is an exceptionally rare type of carved and gilt frame of the reign of Charles I, with paired scrolls like the 1st Earl of Dorset no. Two slightly later frames in the auricular style may be found on the full-lengths to the left of the chimney-piece, Frances Cranfield, Countess of Dorset no.
The frame on no.Clues to Dating Antiques #1
Intriguingly, there is a fragment cut from an auricularframe, perhaps one of those in this room, hidden behind one of the cushions of the daybed in the room. From the s are several portraits by Sir Godfrey Kneller, including his lovely full-length of the Sackville children, Lionel, later 1st Duke of Dorset and his sister Mary no. The design starts at top centre, runs down the sides of the frame and meets at bottom centre.
It is found also on Kneller's later portrait of the 1st Duke no. Interestingly it can also be found on the small portrait of Richard Sackville, 5th Earl of Dorset no.
Dating old picture frames
Many of Reynolds's pictures retain their original frames, made for the Duke by Thomas Vials, one of the leading London framemakers of the period, whose premises in Leicester Square were close to Reynolds's studio.
The cost depended on the quality of the finish and on the number of bands of intricate carving - the gadrooning or diagonal ribbing prominent on the top edge, the adjacent ribbon-and-stick, the leaf-and-tongue on the sight edge and the egg-and-dart on the back edge - but nevertheless the frame was expensive.
In the bill Vials describes it as a 'broad bold rich burnish gold whole length frame, carved with knull and hollows, rich foliage, leaf and stick'. In the hollow of the frame the overlap of the sheets of brightly burnished gold leaf can be made out, as can the red bole used as a preparation for the gold.
This is a frame of Maratta profile but with the main leaf-and-tongue ornament on the sight edge in the Italian manner, rather than in the hollow as with many of the other frames in the room. The oval 3rd Duke of Dorset no.
The main flat frieze of leaves and berries apparently retains traces of blue pigmentation of the kind found on some other early frames at Knole. The frame is unique and as such it is difficult to place precisely. It is not even possible to be sure about the picture; though dated , the year before Surrey's execution, both picture and frame may belong to the early 17th-century. The cartoons arrived in England between and They were presumably hung in the gallery at Copt Hall. The original black-and-gold frames have the arms of the Earl of Middlesex at top centre, distinguished by three golden fleur-de-lis arranged vertically; the frames to the right of the fireplace have been somewhat cut about to get them to fit the space, presumably when they were moved here in The rather Italianate scrolls and volutes, containing pomegranate and flower head decoration, can be closely matched in a few other surviving frames of the period, such as Cornelius Johnson's Lord Coventry of National Portrait Gallery, on loan to Montacute House.
It is possible that the background of the Knole frames was once white, rather than black, according to traces detected by Tim Newbery. These frames are rare examples of the richly carved, gilt and painted frames made for a few sophisticated collectors in the circle of Charles I.
Other early frames of interest, towards the far end of the gallery, are to be found on the Van Dyck school Henry Liberti no. The Knole collection deserves more attention than can be given in the space of a short guide. If the funding can be found the National Trust hopes to carry out a detailed programme of investigation and curatorial research. For fuller details of Knole's history, complete with a bibliography, see the page guidebook by Robert Sackville-West, Knole, Kent See also Robert Sackville-West's book, Inheritance: The Story of Knole and the Sackvilles It also benefits from Timothy Newbery's observations on the 17th-century frames.
With thanks also to the late Paul Levi for the loan of photographs, to John Coleman, who provided the opportunity for this guide, and to everyone at Knole. Geldorp's bill of about is in the National Portrait Gallery Archive.
Phillips, History of the Sackville Family , 2 vols, , especially p. Garlick, 'A catalogue of the paintings. Simon, 'Allan Ramsay and picture frames', Burlington Magazine , vol. Hold the magnifying glass over the bottom right and left areas of the print and look carefully for a date. Sometimes the date will be below the artist's name and will only be indicated by the last two digits, such as "92" for If you locate a date for the print, this will give a general idea of the era and decade in which the frame was made.
Study the period look of the frame. Antique picture frames followed the making of furniture. Estimate the period look of your frame to establish a general date.
Look at the materials the antique frame is constructed of to establish a date. As picture framing evolved, new techniques for embellishing and creating frames developed. An example of this was the introduction of heavy molded plaster gilded frames during the Victorian era. However, the material is not the only factor in dating gilded frames. Finer versions of gilded frames appear in Europe much earlier.
Use Eli Wilner's price guide to picture frames for frame comparison and date. If you think you have a valuable frame as seen in his book, contact a high-end frame dealer or gallery owner for advice on confirming the date in the event it may be worth a great deal of money.
Watch out for fakes. Picture frames, like other collectible antiques, have become victims of mass reproductions. Robert Gray has been writing full time since His first photography book took seven years to research and publish. He specializes in writing on photography and the arts.