Auricular Style: Frames

A centre for research & papers on picture frames in the Auricular style

Creating an Auricular frame 

Borys Burrough’s record of the designing, carving and gilding of a new Auricular frame for a rediscovered Van Dyck portrait.

 This journal is a record of the process of designing and making a new frame for a portrait by Van Dyck belonging to the Bowes Museum in Durham. It resulted from a competition which the Bowes Museum instituted in May 2017, for a wood-carving student from the City & Guilds of London Art School to present a design for such a frame; the winner of the commission would then carve the piece as a final year project. There were specifications within the brief: one of the historic frame styles deemed suitable for the painting was Auricular, and I decided that I would create a frame in this style.

As a woodcarver at the beginning of my career, to have the opportunity to re-frame a Van Dyck portrait is dream commission, especially as I have a particular interest in and history working with picture frames.  Before I started my ornamental woodcarving course I worked for the well-known framemaker and dealer Rollo Whately, whose workshop in the West End of London is a treasure-trove of beautiful antique frames. I worked as his assistant for five years, gaining skills in restoration, gilding and toning, and – above all – a love for antique frames. Rollo was able to help me with this commission by allowing me to use an early 17th century British Auricular frame to study, and as a model in my early designs.

In August 2017, after researching the Auricular style by looking at further examples of frames in Ham House, Richmond, and in the National Portrait Gallery, I made drawings of my design and sent them to the Bowes Museum in a presentation document. Following this, in September 2017 a Memorandum of Agreement was reached, and, after feedback on my initial designs in October  (which included a modification of the brief), I redesigned the frame almost completely. I then carved sample sections which I took up to the Bowes Museum in the November, and after this successful meeting I was given the go-ahead to begin carving the frame.

The monthly journal which follows is a record of the process.

May 2017

The brief which I had received announced that the Bowes Museum was mounting a competition for a student from the Art School to create a new frame for the portrait of Olivia Boteler Porter (c. 1630-40) by Van Dyck.

Van Dyck (1599-1641), Olivia Boteler Porter, c.1630-40, o/c, 72.4 x 61 cm.; uncleaned and cleaned states; Bowes Museum, County Durham

The sitter was Queen Henrietta Maria’s lady-in-waiting, Olivia Boteler Porter (d. 1633), the wife of Anthony Van Dyck’s friend and patron Endymion Porter, whom she married in 1619. While in England, Van Dyck painted a number of portraits of different members of the family. Olivia Porter was the daughter of Sir John Boteler and Elizabeth Villiers, niece of the Duke of Buckingham. The red carnation in her hair might be an heraldic motif, since it appears in other images of female members of the Villiers family.

Her dress is white with large sleeves, with a gold brooch on the corsage, and she wears a pearl necklace and earrings. She is presented within a simulated oval which is larger than the canvas. The painting was identified as being by Van Dyck following an investigation by Dr Bendor Grosvenor which subsequently became the subject of a Channel 4 documentary shown in March 2014.

The Bowes Museum listed a number of historic frames of the period which were deemed suitable for the painting, from which I chose the Auricular: it was a dominant style from the period when the portrait was painted, and is therefore often found on portraits by Van Dyck.  ‘Auricular’ means literally ‘of the ear’, and was a free-flowing interpretation of organic and cartilaginous forms, animal or marine in nature, sometimes combined with foliage and scrolls or volutes. Framemakers working in London embraced this fashion with enthusiasm, using it for pictures from the 1630s to the 1680s (Penny, 2014, p.3).  I also enjoy the sculptural nature of the ornament and thought it would be a good challenge to design a frame in this style and would also test my carving skills.

June 2017

Christiaen van Vianen (fl. 1600-67), The Dolphin Basin, 1635, silver,  Victoria & Albert Museum

I began my research by going to the V & A Museum to study the silver Dolphin Basin by Christiaen van Vianen.  This is an amazing piece of silverwork, and luxury objects like this (in the popular European Auricular style) were very much sought after. Van Vianen (who worked for both Charles I and Charles II) and Dutch craftsmen like him came to London and set up workshops to cater to this new taste and the growing market it spawned.

Two great Dutch dynasties of gold- and silver- smiths were involved with the creation of various versions of the Auricular style. One was the Van Vianens – Paulus (ca. 1570–c.1613/14), generally credited with much of the development of the style, and his brother Adam (the father of Christiaen).

Isaack Luttichuys (1616-73), Portrait of a young lady, 1656, o/c, 99 x 82 cm., in original ‘Lutma’ frame; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The other was the Lutma family, whose name is now given to a type of  17th century Dutch Auricular frame which incorporates flowers and foliage..

Jacob Lutma (1624/44–54), after Johannes Lutma the Elder (1584–1669), Festivitates Aurifabris (…) / Verscheide Snakeryen dienstich voor Goutsmits, Beelthouwers, Steenhouwers, en alle die de const beminnen (Plate 4), 1654-78, etching & engraving, 8 7/8 x 7 5/16 ins (22.6 x 18.6 cm.), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Descendants from both these families spread their designs through the medium of engraved prints.

Michiel Mosyn (b.1630), after Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (1621-74), Veelderhande Niewe Compartimente (title page in Latin), c.1650-74, etching & engraving, 9 7/16 x 7 ½ ins (24 x 19.1 cm.), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Another Dutchman who helped to diffuse this style was the painter Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, who designed several series of prints of cartouches and decorative objects in the Auricular Style; his most famous series was Areolae (above).

I also researched the Auricular by visiting various museums, and photographing and drawing some of their frames to assimilate the style. Amongst others I visited Ham House in Richmond, which holds some of the finest examples of early 17th century British Auricular frames.

Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), Elizabeth Murray, Lady Tollemach, later Countess of Dysart & Duchess of Lauderdale with a black servant, c.1651, Ham House, National Trust

Unknown artist (possibly Gilbert Jackson; fl.1621-43), Portrait of an unknown lady in red, c.1630, o/c, 117 x 89 cm., Ham House, National Trust

Two of the Auricular frames which I found at Ham House greatly influenced my designs: those on Lely’s portrait of Elizabeth Murray with her black servant, and on the unknown lady in red, possibly by Gilbert Jackson.

In October 2016 a conference, ‘The Auricular Style: Frames’, was held at the Wallace Collection in London, with speakers delivering papers on various different aspects of this subject. After the conference I had numerous meetings with one of the speakers, Gerry Alabone (Senior Conservator at the National Trust and the Head of Frame Conservation at the Art School) who was very helpful in showing me many different examples of Auricular frames from his archive.

Jacob Simon, the former Chief Curator of the National Portrait Gallery and author of The art of the picture frame [1], also presented a paper, ‘Documenting developments in the taste for Auricular framing in England, 1620-1700’,   which has been particularly helpful for my project.  He argues that Charles I and his court were great collectors of European Old Masters, and that these pictures would often have come with elaborate frames, especially those from Italy. This would have created new expectations among collectors for elaborate gilded frames such as the ‘Sansovino’.  Most of the frames made in Britain would have been executed by craftsmen with close links to the continent, especially to the Netherlands – from where ideas were imported both through the movement of the craftsmen themselves, and via engraved designs, as we have already seen.

July 2017

Rollo Whately has an early 17th century British Auricular frame in his collection, and I was able to borrow it for study. During this period British paintings (and necessarily, of course, their frames) began to be standardized in size; for half-length portraits the frame thus has an ideal aperture of 30 x 25 inches, or 76 x 63.5 cm. The portrait of Olivia Boteler Porter measures 72.4 x 61cm., which is roughly in proportion to the standard size, and so I used Mr Whately’s frame as a template for my design drawings, first by creating a photomontage of the portrait within this period Auricular frame.

Van Dyck, Olivia Boteler Porter, c.1630-40, montaged into Auricular frame; collection of Rollo Whately

The frame is in original condition and has a scroll-topped grimacing lion mask at top centre, with a monster mask at the bottom and stylised foliage. Rollo Whately has dated his frame to the 1630s, and this accords with Jacob Simon’s judgement, given in in his paper at the Wallace Collection conference:

There were several standard frame patterns which were used in the 1630s and subsequently. For the most part these were frames in the Auricular style. They can be categorised by the differing mask types which crown the frame, or by other distinctive features: The lion mask at top centre and paws, highly stylized. The sides of the frame are like a flat skin, the edges of which are irregular and curling. The scroll-topped grimacing mask at top centre, with a monster mask at the bottom and stylised foliage……

Auricular frame (collection of Rollo Whately); reverse

The Whately frame is carved from oak which is 2.5 cm. (or one inch) thick, with mitred and lapped construction at the front (after the style of a Northern European cassetta), and an applied pine back frame (which also creates the rebate), secured with tenons. The frame is symmetrical on the vertical axis­­­­­-.­­­

Auricular frame (collection of Rollo Whately); mask at base of frame

It is covered on the face with a thin layer of gesso, and is oil-gilded in the pale gold with a lovely flat tone and flakiness which is so typically English. In A history of European picture frames, for instance, we are told that frames in the British Auricular style are ‘almost invariably gilded in a blond gold, which picks up the pale skin tones of the contemporary school of portraiture’, and that they also worked by ‘isolating a painting from the dark walls of the period, which would be wainscoted or covered in tapestry or leather’ [2].

 August 2017

I made my initial design drawings and sent them to the Bowes Museum in a presentation document.

First design: replica of Auricular frame, 1630s, collection of Rollo Whately

My first proposal was a carved replica of Rollo Whately’s frame, made in pine, and of the same construction, with the pine back frame. The width of the frame rail would be 9.5 cm. (14.5 cm. for the mask at the top centre), whilst the depth (including the back frame) would be 4 cm. for the main structure, and 6.5 cm. for the top mask, 5 cm. for the mask at the bottom.

I like the way in which the long sides have cornucopiae curling up from the corners, and flowers just above them which resemble carnations – amongst the characteristic twisting and scrolling Auricular forms. These flowers could be seen as an echo of the heraldic red carnation in Olivia Porter’s hair.

Second design: a more eclectic solution based on various sources

My second proposal was my own design, freely adapted from the frame above but incorporating elements from the frames at Ham House, and from other Auricular patterns in Gerry Alabone’s archive. This would be made in exactly the same way and to the same dimensions. There was a new grimacing mask crested by a wavy scroll at the top centre, and the long sides were redesigned to flow in a more ‘feminine’ way. I kept the monster’s mask at the bottom centre, with its bat wings and flanking scrolls from the Whately frame.

Second design: alternative top mask

I also included a drawing of an adaptation (from my first design) of the mask at the top, because I wanted to substitute two more scrolls for the feline whisker pouches in the original frame.

September 2017

 I received a Memorandum of Agreement drawn up by Tim Crawley, the Head of Historic Carving Department at the City & Guilds London Art School; this indicated a timetable for sample sections to be carved and gilded, to be taken up to the Bowes Museum for final approval in November.

October 2017

In response to my designs I received a letter from Matthew Read, who is the head of the new Centre for Art, Craft and Design at the Bowes Museum.

Matthew came to this position and to the frame project after the commission was offered to me in May 2017; his participation was therefore much more recent, and he had new ideas for the type of frame he wanted me to make, modifying the brief from his own point of view, and also incorporating other opinions from his colleagues. This is an extract from his letter:

‘Several members of the Bowes team have reviewed the design and we have the following feedback:

We feel the grotesques are broadly overbearing in relation to the subject matter and could be replaced with more feminine motifs or themes.  Maybe the Auricular theme could be expanded further to include both an historical and modern perspective?  I see the frames have both Auricular forms and what appear to be auricular flowers?  The auricular flower in modern times has a particular association with the north; the jewel that shines through coal dust and mining grime so would resonate with our North-East audiences.

We recognise the student has invested heavily in the process of researching the frame.  It would be nice to see the student’s personal perspective and interpretation represented in the design and overall philosophy.  At present there is a sense of generating what may be regarded as a high quality and skilled reproduction rather than new and explorative work.

A final personal thought, to balance the historic research and retrospective nature of the design, a sense of the contemporary and looking forward could be introduced in the form of some clear space or undecorated sections (consideration perhaps of the sitter and artist as promoting the latest fashion and ideas of their time?)  This could of course also be manifested in modifying the nature of angular detail in the carving etc.

We strongly encourage the student to more overtly make the work their own, to reflect their ownership and philosophy in the design…’

Third design, incorporating suggestions from the Bowes Museum; detail of crest

I began to recast my designs in the light of this response from the Bowes Museum. For example, I replaced the top centre grotesque mask with a more ‘feminine’ cartouche, in which you can make out a vial or bottle, inspired by the story of a poison, ‘Viper Wine’, told me by Matthew Read. Olivia Porter is said to have used this substance, and since she died around the time this portrait was painted, it seemed like a fitting reference to her tragic story. ‘Viper Wine’ was an elixir that ladies in the court of Charles I took to make themselves more beautiful; it worked by numbing their faces and plumping their cheeks, very much as Botox is used today, and (again, rather like Botox) it was in fact a poison made from snake venom, and could certainly have been very harmful, if not fatal.

Third design; detail of ornament at base

I replaced the grotesque mask at the bottom centre with the form of a scallop shell containing within it double pearl drops, which refer to the earrings Olivia Porter famously wore in her portraits.  I also cleared some of the space in my design by removing a few more ornate elements and simplifying the forms; and finally I restored the pair of scalloped swags from the Whately frame two-thirds the way up the long sides, since they echo the neck line of her dress, and have pearl drops – again reflecting the pearls contained in the painting.

I sent this design to Matthew Read at the Bowes Museum quite soon after receiving his letter, as I was anxious that we were now behind schedule in the timetable set out in the Memorandum of Agreement, and I wanted to know how he would respond to my new ideas.

I also wanted him to understand the philosophy behind my work.  I felt that my design must remain historically faithful to the Auricular style, which – although polymorphous and playful  – still has a grammar and an accepted arrangement of ornament which must be respected. If this style were to be subverted too far, I think that the frame might look like a post-modern joke, and would be completely inappropriate for an artist like Van Dyck.

Matthew’s response to this was positive, and I felt that he had confidence in my approach.

Sample rail

The next step was to carve a length of the frame as a sample of the finished piece. This was incredibly useful as it allowed me to see how my design would look like in three dimensions, and – perhaps more importantly – I gained insight into how these frames would have been produced.

Fourth design: revisions

Fourth design: further revisions; the drawing montaged onto the Van Dyck portrait

I then changed my frame design, starting with the bottom rail. I decided that the shell form in the centre was too obvious, and so I replaced it with a bold clean leaf shape which also forms a sort of residual grotesque mask. In the centre of this I set the pendant double pearl drop which echoes Olivia Porter’s earrings. The flow of the design continues from the centre outwards, with the bat’s wings and scrolls.

I continued to rearrange the design of the long sides, moving the shapes and forms around to get a more fluid feel. Designing these lateral rails has been the hardest part of the whole process, and for some time every variation felt unsatisfactory. I think that this is because the flow created by the top and bottom rails starts from the centres, and naturally takes the eye away horizontally; however, I had been unable to achieve an equally nice vertical movement on the sides. There seemed instead to be an awkward chunkiness about them that I continued to struggle with. After rearranging the flow of scrolling leaves, I added a pair of much bolder primula auricula flowers – at first rising up from the acanthus leaf corners, and later moving them up between the top corners and the swags and pearls.

I also refined the design of the ‘Viper Wine’ cartouche until I was much happier with it.

Carving the design as a sample

I began to carve the trial sections I would later take up to show the Bowes museum.

I modelled the Viper Wine cartouche in clay to work out how it would look in three dimensions, and then I carved a trial version.

I gessoed both of the trial lengths, with a mixture made from whiting (calcium carbonate ground to a fine powder), and rabbit skin glue (approx. 1:10 ratio rabbit skin granules to water). Gesso is mixed to a consistency ideally like that of single cream and brushed on in many layers – ten, in this case. It can be sandpapered when dry, or, in this case, smoothed with wet rags.

I then applied a pale grey/yellow bole. Bole is a coloured clay, mixed with weaker rabbit skin glue, which is used to enable the gold leaf adhere to the gessoed surface.

Onto the bole goes the oil gilding. I used a one-hour size (the glue the gold sticks to): in other words, the size is left for an hour to go tacky, and then the gold leaf is laid onto it.

I toned and distressed both rails, leaving the bottom one slightly cleaner.  The mixture I used to tone the gold  was composed of dry pigments, pumice powder and watercolour, diluted with water.

November 2017

Van Dyck, Portrait of Olivia Boteler Porter, and the trial sections of the proposed frame

After I had prepared the trial carved and gilded sections, I went back to the design and revised it further.  I then took both the sample sections and the latest design up to the Bowes Museum to show them to Matthew Read; at this point we were also able to examine the trial sections in relationship to the portrait. Matthew was, I hoped, sufficiently satisfied by my work to give me the go-ahead to begin carving the actual frame.

December 2017

I now transferred my final design to the wood and began carving the first piece of the frame – the bottom rail.

January 2018

When I returned to the Art School after the Christmas holidays I redesigned the side rails of the frame for the final time. Having had a few weeks away from the drawing allowed me to see it again with fresh eyes, and I felt that with the changes I made at this point, the design was much stronger. There is now an S-shaped scroll at the lateral centres, interlocking with a smaller scrolling leaf, from which the design seems to flow away. The ornament feels softer and has a melting quality that I find much more pleasing and in keeping with the rest of the design.

Bottom rail carved; lateral rails drawn in

I had been quite disheartened by the response from the Bowes Museum to my original designs, back in October. I thought that the suggestion that the museum did not actually want an historically faithful replica of an Auricular frame was a major setback; I felt very uncomfortable about subverting the style. Now, three months later, I realized that having gone through the struggle of creating an original design I had learnt a great deal more about the Auricular style – and design in general – than if I had been allowed to carve a faithful replica.

With the carving of the bottom rail complete, and a strong and coherent design  for the whole, I was confident that I could create a frame which would complement and even enhance the portrait of Olivia Porter; and also that the design might stand the test of time.

Three rails completed

The carving finished

The frame gessoed

The gilding completed

The gilding toned, and the frame finished

Van Dyck, Portrait of Olivia Boteler Porter in her new Auricular frame

 A note on the Bowes Museum portrait

Van Dyck, Olivia Boteler Porter, c.1630-40, o/c, 72.4 x 61 cm., Bowes Museum, County Durham

 The sitter was formerly identified as Queen Henrietta Maria (1609-1669), wife of Charles I. However, this portrait differs from all known images of the Queen. The sitter was instead the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, Olivia Boteler Porter (d. 1633), the wife of Anthony Van Dyck’s friend and patron Endymion Porter, whom she married in 1619. While in England, Van Dyck painted a number of portraits of different members of the family. The white satin dress with long puffed sleeves was intended as a classicising note of timelessness. Olivia Porter was the daughter of Sir John Boteler and Elizabeth Villiers, niece of the Duke of Buckingham. The red carnation in her hair might be an heraldic motif, since it appears in other images of female members of the Villiers family.

The sitter is shown half-length.  Her dress is white with large sleeves, and has a gold brooch at the front.  She wears a pearl necklace and earrings.  Her hair is brown and in ringlets and has a red flower in it.  She is within what appears to be a simulated oval which is larger than the canvas.

There is a note in the archive in John Bowes’ handwriting of paintings he bought in the 1860s from Madame Lepautre, one of his regular dealers.  This includes a portrait of Henrietta of England (presumably Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I) and a portrait of a lady of the same period, both bought on the same day.  The actual bill from Lepautre for this purchase doesn’t give any details of the paintings – just ‘2 pictures’.  John may have written the list as an aide-memoire when he was compiling the catalogue – the handwriting looks more like the 1870s than the 1860s.

The painting was identified as being by Sir Anthony Van Dyck following an investigation by Bendor Grosvenor which subsequently became the subject of a Channel 4 documentary shown  in March 2014.

Diagram from the Bowes Museum, showing how the canvas would be fitted into the new frame (canvas & frame surface are at the bottom)



 Hubert Baija, Auricular Frames in the Netherlands, conference abstract; Auricular style: frames

D. Davis, The Secret Lives of Frames, 2007, New York

Paul Mitchell & Lynn Roberts, A History of European Picture Frames, 1996, London

Nicholas Penny, A closer look at frames, 2010, London

Michael Savage & Lynn Roberts, Frames in Focus: Sansovino Frames – an exhibition at the National Gallery, 2015; The Frame Blog

Jacob Simon, Picture frames at Ham House, 2014, National Trust (Enterprises) Ltd.

Jacob Simon, Documenting developments in the taste for Auricular framing in Britain, 1620-80, 2016;  Auricular style: frames

F. Speelberg, Extravagant Monstrosities: Gold- and Silversmith Designs in the Auricular Style, 2014; The Metropolitan Museum of Art


[1]  Jacob Simon, The art of the picture frame: Artists, patrons and the framing of portraits in Britain, 1996; published to accompany the exhibition of the same name at the National Portrait Gallery, London

[2] Paul Mitchell & Lynn Roberts, A history of European picture frames, 1996, London, p. 59

Kwab: The Auricular in Amsterdam

Maarten van ‘t Klooster  reviews an exhibition on one of the strangest and most fascinating of decorative styles – the Auricular.

It is not often that an exhibition is based around an ornamental style – or, more correctly, around a certain type of ornament – but at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam that’s exactly what’s been done… with class. The Auricular in its context.  The exhibition title is KWAB – Dutch Design in the age of Rembrandt. ‘Kwab’, the Dutch for ‘lobe’, is better translated in this case as ‘Auricular’, the idiomatic name for a type of ornament and the associated style which developed during the late 16th-early 17th century, primarily in The Netherlands. Describing this style is no easy feat without becoming very metaphorical. Art journalist Stefan Kuiper of the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant describes it like this:

‘Its characteristics are instantly recognizable, consisting of everything that is squashy and organic: folds of skin, strands of muscle, ear lobes, bones, spiral shells and slugs. What typifies it is its defiance of any logic. The Auricular has no up or down, no inside or out, there are just free flowing forms, intangible, like cigarette smoke.’[1]

His is a more charming summary, compared with the Van Dale dictionary of the Dutch language on ‘kwab’ – ‘a soft lump of fat or meat’.[2] It is a style which came – amongst other sources – out of the grotesque motifs which, shortly before, had been all the rage in Italy [3]. The Dutch version of the Auricular gained much of its impetus through the work of three silversmiths – the brothers Paulus and Adam van Vianen, and Johannes Lutma.

Adam van Vianen, ewer with lid, Utrecht, 1614, silver gilt (gilded later), 25 x 14 x 9 cm., Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The starting point, as well as the highlight, of the exhibition is the ewer which Adam van Vianen produced in 1614. It was commissioned by the Amsterdam guild of silversmiths, in remembrance of Adam’s brother Paulus, who had died shortly before in Prague. This in itself was unusual, since Adam worked in Utrecht, and most guilds were not too keen to promote work by craftsmen from outside their own city. The ewer was owned by the guild until the latter was abolished at some point after 1794, and in 1821 it was sold for a meagre 166 guilders – in today’s money around €1,600, or £1,400 [4]. Despite the relatively small worth put on it, it was not melted down for its value in silver, but passed into a Scottish collection. Over 150 years later, in 1976, the ewer was offered at auction. The Rijksmuseum was able to purchase it for their collection, for 700,000 guilders (nowadays, around €840,000, or £740,000).[5]  It is somewhat surprising that not one of the major British museums managed to or seemed to want to retain it.

The Rijksmuseum acquired the ewer some time ago, but has only now decided to organise an exhibition around the Auricular ornament which defines it – or, it could be said, around the ewer itself, which helped to catalyze in Amsterdam a flowering of the style which had evolved partly around the figure of Paulus van Vianen at the court of Prague.

As seems to be a lasting trend in exhibitions, KWAB opens with a video screening [click image to view]. The film that is shown is not a documentary of the style: it is restricted to showing Adam van Vianen’s ewer in close-up and loving detail.

Adam van Vianen, ewer with lid, 1614, silver gilt,  detail of lizards inside the bowl; detail of handle

It is now possible to look at the inside, which is normally hidden – at the lizards nuzzling each other, and the swirling shapes of water snakes and ripples around them. On the outside, meanwhile, a monkey sits at the bottom, carrying a clam shell on its back from which the cup of the ewer pours upwards; whilst on the brim of the cup a female body leans over, and from her shoulders the handle of the ewer flows down the side of the cup, spiralling into the crinkled edge of the clam shell, towards the base. The whole ewer was made out of a single sheet of silver, apart from the lid and inner cup in the bowl. Looking at all these magnified images on the video underlines the importance of this object. The small room which follows the screening of the film offers a sequel to it: several carefully selected objects, prints and drawings outline the birth of Dutch Auricular ornament.

Hendrick Goltzius, Bacchus with a drinking vessel, Haarlem, c. 1596, engraving, 25 x 18.3 cm., & detail, Rijksmuseum

An engraved print by Hendrick Goltzius – whose work the Van Vianen brothers must have known – shows some of the first steps into the world of the Auricular. It is one of his best-known, perhaps: an engraving of Bacchus holding an Auricular bowl (for more on Goltzius’s part in forming the style, see ‘Auricular ornament in Dutch Architecture (1610-1675)’ by Dr Pieter Vlaardingerbroek).

Paulus van Vianen, basin with scenes from the story of Diana & Actaeon (one of a set with a ewer), Prague, 1613, silver, 40 x 50 cm., Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Such images were almost certainly present in Paulus van Vianen’s mind when he travelled to Prague. There, in the service of the Bohemian Emperor Rudolph II, and amongst other sympathetic artists, he further developed the Auricular style, and, during his visit to his brother Adam in 1610, probably passed on his enthusiasm for this relatively new genre of ornament. Besides items by Paulus such as the Diana & Actaeon basin, above, the museum is also showing some of Adam van Vianen’s early Auricular work.

This powerful opening is immediately followed by the central object of the exhibition. In the first large room, the ewer Adam made in honour of his brother stands sovereign, on a pedestal. The room is otherwise filled with drawings, prints, furniture, embossed leather and paintings, offering a wide array of work in the early Auricular style. In this room it is apparent how the design of the exhibition enhances both the artefacts and their placing in the room. If the reflection of the light on the lid of the ewer does not attract your attention, the halo on the floor probably will.

Barend Graat (1628-1709), Pandora, 1676, o/c, 113 x 102 cm., Rijksmuseum

It is evident that the ewer received wide acclaim immediately after it was made. The Rijksmuseum has assembled three paintings depicting the very same ewer in various sizes. In fact, an entire room could have been filled just with paintings depicting this object (in the Auricular conference, held at the Wallace Collection, London, in 2016, the ewer was the single object to be mentioned in almost every paper).

Adam van Vianen (attrib.), design for a basin, Utrecht, c. 1610-27, black chalk, pen & brown ink on grey paper, 23.4 x 28.9 cm., Nationalmuseum Stockholm

There are some stunning and evocative designs for metalwork by Adam van Vianen on display, which are almost drawings for sculptures; this particular room reveals more of the ripples caused by the Auricular style in the art historical pond. The design, above, like the related border of the Diana & Actaeon basin, also reveals the accuracy of the 19th century name for the style in its use of cartilaginous and sinewy ornament.

 Dutch school, gilt leather wall hanging, c.1650–60, Skokloster Castle, Sweden. Photo: courtesy of the Rijksmuseum

Leather wall hangings covered with Auricular ornaments and a table cloth made with embossed leather from Sweden show that the style was appreciated abroad from an early stage in its development (in this context, see too the abstract, ‘Gilt leather: a creative industry avant la lettre’, by Dr Eloy Koldeweij).

The engraved ornament by Theodorus van Kessel in his Constighe Modellen (or ‘artful examples’),  made after designs by Adam or his son Christiaen van Vianen between c.1646-52, probably never assisted greatly in spreading the fame of this new ornament, but did help to spread Adam’s reputation. The Auricular style was also taken up by furniture makers, and several tables in the exhibition show, in their carved wooden bases, how the intrinsic properties of the medium influenced the visual effect of the ornaments.

Johannes Lutma (1584-1669), drinking cup, Amsterdam, 1641, silver, 7.8 x 15 x 20.3 cm., Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The silversmiths of Amsterdam (members of the same guild which had ordered the Van Vianen ewer in 1614) also influenced the later development of the style. One of the most important artists in this guild was Johannes Lutma, who came from North-West Germany and had worked in Paris before settling in Amsterdam in 1621. He arrived there too late to have been involved in the commissioning of the ewer[6], but he had been a colleague of Paulus van Vianen, and quickly rivalled the quality of the latter’s work and that of his brother. Like them, he began to sign and date his work. Once more, the work of a silversmith was the subject of famous painters like Jacob Backer and Rembrandt, and Lutma himself was also the subject on several occasions.

Publicity photo from the exhibition showing, centre left, one of the gates from the choir screen of the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, by Johannes Lutma, c. 1650, brass

The magnificently elaborate and intertwined brass choir screen which he designed for the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam is one of his best-known works, massive in scale and conception, with a long crest of pierced, spiky waves of Auricular ornament.

The exhibition widens its focus at this point, and looks at the work of the braziers – the brass-workers –  who used Auricular decoration for the furnishing of church interiors. Through this means the Auricular style could spread easily between  large cities; and, from the middle of the seventeenth century, objects in this style progressively entered the houses of the middle class. Picture frames and furniture were the first objects available for purchase by a larger group of collectors.

Rembrandt (1606-69), The Holy Family, 1646, oil/ wood, 46.8 x 68.4 cm., Museumslandschaft Hessen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel 

Rembrandt himself employed Auricular ornament at times, and was also in possession of plaster casts of works by Adam van Vianen, according to the inventory made when he went bankrupt – although Reinier Baarsen states in the exhibition catalogue that the mythological subject matter of these particular objects is more reminiscent of Paulus than of Adam van Vianen. Next to the drinking cup by Lutma hangs a painting of the Holy family by Rembrandt.  Within the image he painted a frame-like border and a curtain on a rail; the curving top of the painted border clearly shows Auricular motifs, combined with classically-inclined sides and Baroque ornaments along the base.

Nicolaes Maes, (attrib.; 1634-93), The Holy Family (after Rembrandt), c.1646-50, red chalk, blue chalk, brown & red wash on vellum, 22.8 x 27.9 cm., Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

A drawing attributed to Nicolaes Maes, also in the exhibition, gives a  better impression of what the original work by Rembrandt might have looked like, with a fully-developed Mannerist arched top decorated with skeletal and cartilaginous forms.

Unknown framemaker, Auricular frame, Netherlands, c. 1650-60, gilded limewood, 55 x 47 cm., Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Framemakers themselves had a wide array of materials to choose from at this point, since ebony workers like Herman Doomer were changing the variety of woods in vogue for both frames and furniture.  For Auricular designs, however, a much softer type of wood than ebony or oak was necessary: something relatively easy to carve and which could imitate the melting forms of Auricular silverwork. For these the framemakers usually preferred to work in limewood, which is quite soft, with a short grain that is excellent for carving the soft and bulbous shapes required. The exhibition shows one especially fine example of an empty Auricular frame from the Rijksmuseum’s own collection. All the motifs in this frame are evocative of marine shapes and sea creatures, with fish- and frog- like masks at top and bottom – although the top corners are carved into elephants’ heads, the trunks transmuting into scrolling spiral shells.

Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen I, Portrait of Jasper Schade, Utrecht, 1654, o/c, 113.5 x 91 cm., unknown framemaker, Auricular giltwood frame, 1654; Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede

Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen I, Portrait of Cornelia Strick van Linschoten, pendant to Jasper Schade, above; Utrecht, 1654, o/c, 113 x 90 cm., unknown framemaker, Auricular giltwood frame, 1654, & detail; Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede

This pair of Dutch Auricular frames is far more refined than the  empty Rijksmuseum frame; they may have been made in Utrecht, as both sitters and painter lived there, in the city of the Van Vianens [7]. In comparison, the empty frame may possibly have a provincial origin.  The Van Ceulen frames epitomize the Auricular style as it was adapted to picture frames, the carving appearing effortlessly adapted to mimic the dissolving forms of silverware.

Unknown painter, Portrait of Nicolaes van der Merct, 1662, oil on copper, 11.5 x 8.7 cm.; unknown framemaker, oval Auricular frame, 1662, gilded limewood; private collection, Germany

Another possibly provincial example of a made-to-measure Auricular frame is found around the anonymous portrait of Middelburg merchant Nicolaes van der Merct. The framemaker may have been inspired by a source similar to the engraved cartouches published by Lutma and other artists; although again his work is less fluid and well-integrated than theirs.

Jacob Lutma, after Johannes Lutma, ‘Hans von Aachen painting Paulus van Vianen in a decorative cartouche, Amsterdam, 1653, etching/engraving, 22.4 x 18.4 cm., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

In the case of the Van der Merct portrait, the frame surpasses the quality of the painting, making it a very interesting object. As the catalogue points out, the Auricular ornaments are combined with classical laurel festoons; this is characteristic of 17th century Netherlandish giltwood frames, which might mingle classical, Auricular and Baroque elements with inventive ease [8].

Anonymous Amsterdam craftsman, dolls’ house made for Petronella de la Court, 1670-90, the Picture Gallery; Centraalmuseum, Utrecht

Gerard Hoet, Sleeping nymph in a cave, lying on the left, Amsterdam, c.1674, oil/panel, 13.2 x 16.5 cm.; unknown framemaker, Auricular frame, Amsterdam, 1674, gilded limewood; & above, hanging in Petronella de la Court’s dolls’ house; Centraalmuseum, Utrecht

Gerard Hoet, Sleeping nymph in a cave, lying on the right, Amsterdam, 1674, oil/panel, 13.2 x 16.6 cm.; unknown framemaker, Auricular frame, Amsterdam, 1674, gilded limewood; & above, hanging in Petronella de la Court’s dolls’ house; Centraalmuseum, Utrecht

Perhaps even more impressive are the two tiny frames which come from a 17th century doll’s house, owned and furnished by Petronella de la Court between 1670 and 1690.  Most of the frames in this particular doll’s house – still completely intact with all its furnishings – are Auricular; two landscapes by Johan van Huchtenburg have very similar frames to Hoet’s, and are of probably similar date [9].  Only the scale of the ornaments relative to the paintings indicates that these frames are not on the large format works we might think that we are looking at in a photo…

Gabriel Metsu (1629-67), Man and woman at a virginal, Amsterdam, c.1665, oil/panel, 38.4 x 32.2 cm., National Gallery, London

Auricular frames remained fashionable well into the 17th century, regularly showing up on paintings of interiors, as in excellent examples by Gabriel Metsu and Emanuel de Witte. It is ironic that neither painting is today in an Auricular frame, but on the other hand such paintings usually show rectangular ebony frames hanging alongside elaborately carved gilded settings, which might form a centrepiece, or frame a particularly precious painting. Both styles co-exist happily in interiors where stark black-&-white floor tiles and white walls are offset by opulent textiles and silverware.

John Norris (attrib., ?1642-1707), ‘Sunderland’ frame, c.1672-75, giltwood, on Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), Portrait of the Duke of Lauderdale, c.1672-75, o/c, 128.4 x 100.4 cm, Ham House, National Trust

Christiaen van Vianen, Adam’s son, continued his workshop after the death of his father in 1627, moving several years later to London, where he became one of the foremost silversmiths in the fashionable style of the Auricular. This had begun to establish itself in Britain at around the same time, or slightly earlier – at the end of the reign of James I and the beginning of Charles I’s, when the court was open to various influences from the Netherlands and Italy. Inigo Jones and Van Dyck  were of major importance in this respect [10] . Auricular ornaments were actually applied to picture frames in Britain before anywhere else, and became fashionable as early as the 1630s.  By the 1660s a new version of the style had appeared; these are now referred to as ‘Sunderland’ frames, from the collection of the Earl of Sunderland at Althorp [11].  The major differences between the Dutch and British Auricular style are that the latter is carved in a more shallow relief, and the sight edge is not linear but flows irregularly over the outer edge of the canvas[12].

Hans Gudewerth the younger, Epitaph for Heinrich Ripenauw, Eckernförde, c. 1650-1651, oak, painted brown around 1880, with paintings, painted with oil on panel, 340 x 175 cm., Evangelisch-utherische St. Nikolaikirche, Eckernförde

The last two rooms demonstrate how the Auricular style was expressed elsewhere in Europe. In countries surrounding the Netherlands, the idiosyncratically lobe-like quality of the Dutch Auricular style was not replicated [13]. In the North-German town of Eckernförde, the most important woodworker in the Auricular style was Hans Gudewerth the Younger. As in Britain, he had a different approach to the style, but his was to treat it more in terms of free-standing ornamental elements, rather than as an integrated flow of motifs around the frame – this may seem almost like an anticipation of the Rococo.

Unknown cabinetmaker, cabinet, Paris, c.1640, façades: pine, poplar & pearwood, ebony veneer; interior: ebony, pear wood, ivory, bone, purpleheart, iroko, palisander, pewter, mirrored glass, drawers of padauk, 216 x 190 x 64 cm., & detail; Nationalmuseum Stockholm; detail, courtesy of Nationalmuseum, Stockholm; photo Hans Thorwid/ Nationalmuseum

The last room is reserved for one of the very rare pieces of French Auricular furniture. As a style it seems to have been a bit too much for the French taste, and it never achieved quite the popularity it did in The Netherlands, Britain, Germany or Sweden: see Marika Takanishi Knowles, ‘Who’s afraid of the French Auricular?’.  However, this Parisian cabinet, on loan from Stockholm, is decorated in full Auricular style. It is displayed in a room with four columns, each carrying a screen depicting detailed images of the cabinet; the video can also be seen here. The columns are decorated with black and white stripes, reminiscent of the columns of Daniel Buren in the Cour d’Honneur in Paris…

…and from these columns it’s a small step to the exhibition designer, Keso Dekker, who deserves an honourable mention. He is widely acclaimed as a designer for ballet and dance theatre productions, and has come up with a setting for this exhibition which cannot be overlooked; the graphic quality of his work offers a striking contrast to the 17th century Auricular.

The Rijksmuseum has published a well-composed book to accompany the exhibition, written by Reinier Baarsen, the senior curator, with Ine Castelijns van Beek. Since no definitive work on the Auricular has appeared in some time, it was decided not to publish a regular catalogue, but rather a comprehensive book, containing a section of catalogue entries.  There is a Dutch and an English edition.

KWAB is a very successful example of how a subject with a fairly narrow focus can be the basis for an ambitious and thorough presentation. Based on extensive research, a convincing picture is painted of the rise, blossoming and dissemination of the Auricular style. The exhibition is starred  with objects which represent the peaks of their respective genres, and which ride on the expertise of the various disciplines involved. It is definitely worth visiting, and the catalogue is also a valuable addition to any art historical library.  One mild criticism: the subtitle for the exhibition, ‘Dutch design in the age of Rembrandt’, following the strong ‘KWAB’, is unnecessary; this show does not need a link to the popular ‘Dutch design’ of recent decades, nor to ride on the shoulders of the giant Rembrandt – ‘Auricular style’ is enough in itself.

The exhibition runs from 30 June – 16 September 2018 at the Rijksmuseum.


Maarten van ‘t Klooster studied art history at VU University in Amsterdam and graduated the Master of Curatorial Studies at VU University and University of Amsterdam. He has a particular interest in nineteenth century art and picture frames. He is a regular guest speaker on picture frames on the Master’s course Art, Market and Connoisseurship at VU University.

Limewood table base, c.1635-45


A note on some Auricular frames: The Frame Blog

The frames in the Rijksmuseum exhibition form a small but highly important part of the whole display; and those that have been included provide a good summary of the versions of the Auricular fashionable at various periods and in different countries.

 Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen I, Portrait of Cornelia Strick van Linschoten, pendant to Jasper Schade, above; Utrecht, 1654, o/c, 113 x 90 cm., unknown framemaker, Auricular giltwood frame, 1654, &detail of fish/dolphin head at lateral centre of frame; Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede

The Van Ceulen frames are some of the most beautiful of all Auricular designs, imitating in wood the melting and morphing shapes of the Van Vianens’ silverwork; they are also remarkable for the consistency of their ornament, which is almost entirely marine, including spiral and knobbed shells, ripples and curling waves, fish or dolphin heads, fins and gills and folded fishy mouths. These motifs derive originally from the popularity of marine ornament in Italy in the 16th century, and the decoration of grottoes, fountains and Mannerist sea creatures designed by artists like Buontalenti.

Christiaen van Vianen (fl. 1600-67), The Dolphin Basin, 1635, silver, V&A

They also suggest something of the importance of the sea to the Dutch, who were economically partly dependent on the fishing industry –

‘The herring fishery reached its zenith in the first half of the seventeenth century. Estimates put the size of the herring fleet at roughly 500 busses and the catch at about 20,000 to 25,000 lasts (roughly 33,000 metric tons) on average each year in the first decades of the seventeenth century.’ [14]

– but were even more deeply engaged in sea-borne commerce. By the second half of the 16th century, Baltic trade was controlled by the Dutch, who then expanded into the Mediterranean, and in the early 17th century into the Atlantic, to capture trade with the Americas [15]. Marine decoration was therefore symbolic and patriotic, as well as an expression of the intense contemporary curiosity about the physical world.

The empty frame displayed in the exhibition is also notable, and especially intriguing for the elephants’ heads which are one of its most distinctive features.

 Unknown framemaker, Auricular frame, Netherlands, c. 1650-60, gilded limewood, 55 x 47 cm., Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Cornelis Bisschop, Young woman and a cavalier, early 1660s, o/c, 38 ½ x 34 ¾ ins (97.8 x 88.3 cm.), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [not in exhibition]

In his weighty two-volume catalogue of the Netherlandish paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Walter Liedtke mentions – unusually – the frame on the work above, by Cornelis Bisschop:

‘The painting’s carved and gilded frame is remarkable, and possibly original to the picture.  The canvas is unusually close to square in format, and neither it nor the frame has been cut down, suggesting that Bisschop himself may have put them together… C.J. de Bruyn Kops considers the frames likely to have been made in the Netherlands during the 1660s.  A pair of frames in very similar Auricular style, but without the elephant heads and lion’s muzzle at the top, are original to portraits of Jasper Schade and his wife, dated 1654, by Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen the Elder…’ [16]

These frames are indeed slightly related, in the similar flow of undulating spiral shells around the frieze; however, the Van Ceulen pair is composed almost completely of marine motifs, with dolphins’ heads at the lateral centres, whilst the Bisschop frame flows less smoothly, and has, as well as the elephants’ heads at the top corners  and the lion’s muzzle at the top centre, noted by Liedtke, an ambivalent but earthy animal mask at the bottom.

Left: Auricular frame, c. 1650-60, 55 x 47 cm., Rijksmuseum; & right: Cornelis Bisschop, Young woman and a cavalier, early 1660s, Metropolitan Museum of Art; elephant’s head corner motif on both details

The empty frame displayed in the Kwab exhibition is another step on again from the Bisschop frame; it is proportionately heavier and deeper, the Auricular motifs piling up against each other with less control over the morphing of one form into another, while the froglike mouth at the bottom is almost comic in its effect [17].  However, the elephant heads at the top corners are, paradoxically, beautifully integrated into the flow of ornament at that point – the trunks scrolling into the tops of the spiral shells and the ears echoing the lobes of various kinds which fold around it.

These elephants are striking in their size, and in the way in which they dominate the frame, stretching over almost two-thirds of the top rail and reaching well down the sides. In contrast, the elephant heads on the Bisschop frame are tiny, hardly integrated, and need to be searched for to be seen. They are also more naturalistic, standing out from their Auricular setting, whereas the elephants on the empty frame have been translated entirely into an Auricular idiom.

The significance of elephants is intriguing; why have they been adopted into the generally marine genre of animals associated with the Auricular (saving the odd lion, leopard, and eagle)? Well, although Amsterdam imported large amounts of ivory by the seventeenth century[18], the whole live elephant was a still a rarity in Europe, known through descriptions such as Pliny’s:

‘…the Elephant… commeth neerest in wit and capacitie, to men: for they understand the language of that country wherein they are bred, they do whatsoever they are commanded… and withall take a pleasure and delight both in love and also in glorie… they embrace goodnesse, honestie, prudence, and equitie…’ [19]

Hendrick Gerritsz Pot, The glorification of Prince Willem I, o/c, 1620,  Frans Hals Museum

Karel van Mander, writing two years after that translation of Pliny, in 1603-4, states that: ‘The Elephant means the king, and the Egyptians used it to mean that’[20], and Laura Orsi, in an essay which quotes Mander, produces in evidence of this a Dutch echo of Mantegna’s Triumphs of CaesarThe glorification of William I, by Hendrick Pot, where three hefty elephants carry Faith, Hope and Charity along, in front of William of Orange [21]. (This frame is pre-Auricular, with scrolling Sansovinesque cartouches supporting the base). The elephant was therefore just the right material for use in an impresa as a symbol of kingship, good governance, intelligence, and general goodness.

Rembrandt (1606-69), An elephant, 1637, black chalk on paper, Albertina, Vienna

Rembrandt’s famous elephant, captured in several drawings, is probably a portrait of Hansken, who travelled through Europe from about 1630 to the 1650s and was in Amsterdam in 1637, the date of the drawings. Rembrandt used these observational sketches in two Biblical works – according to Leonard Slatkes, for the animal’s symbolic properties[22]; however, the nature of the drawings is accurate and scientific, in a similar way to Leonardo’s work.

The Golden Age in the Netherlands appreciated accuracy and scientific observation; it did not only inherit a system of symbols based on the natural world – it investigated that world with more rigour and curiosity than ever before. Anatomical dissection was a part of this; according to Rina Knoeff,

‘In the early modern Republic, the rise of commerce brought with it an advancement and social upgrading of artisanal skills and knowledge. With regard to the investigation of nature, this particularly resulted in the collection and skilful preservation of natural objects and in the development and perfection of techniques of dissection, vivisection and injection.’ [23]

Dissection, however, was not purely dispassionate, it was an investigation of ‘God’s divine handiwork’:

‘…an anatomical dissection had the same function as reading the Bible – it was considered an important means to know God, through the works of His creation.’ [24]

The symbolic and the scientific might thus go happily hand-in-hand.

Dr Allison Stielau discounts a direct interaction of this contemporary fascination with dissection with the cartilaginous and lobe-like nature of the Auricular, but admits that there are links:

‘One thread running through discussion of Auricular ornament has been the desire to link it causally to 17th century anatomical research, particularly dissection. While there is little evidence to support this claim, it is undeniable that Auricular frames share with contemporary anatomical illustration an aesthetic of rippling fleshiness.’[25]

Paulus van Vianen, basin with scenes from the story of Diana & Actaeon (one of a set with a ewer), Prague, 1613, silver, 40 x 50 cm., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The work of the Van Vianens can also hardly be described other than by using words such as cartilaginous, sinewy or vertebrate, whilst the very term ‘Auricular’, even though coined in the late 19th century, pertains to the folds and curves of the ear. However, apart from actual dissections, there was an associated medically-related fashion, as it were, and this was a sort of extension of the kunstkammer, where the collection of objects of beauty, natural interest and exoticism was extended (particularly by doctors) to the collection of rather more macabre items – ‘skeletons from executed criminals and the stuffed skin of a woman… the bladder of a man… a human skin in a frame…a shirt made from human intestines’[26]. The curiosity and freedom from moral constraint which led to these collections was mirrored in the thirst to examine, dissect and display specimens from every available source.  The elephants who appeared in Europe seldom did so for long, dying in fires, drowning in ditches, or simply succumbing to the fatigue of being walked across the Continent; and their corpses were always pounced upon by local doctors, and also needed to be preserved from souvenir-hunting collectors.

All these various concerns and interests could be said to be represented in the form of the Auricular frame.  In Britain, the later wave of designs, from the 1650s and 1660s, had a particular name:

‘Leather work’ is how such frames were known in the trade to artists and craftsmen, at least from the 1670s. The name occurs as a ‘leatherwork gilt frame’ in Mary Beale’s accounts in 1677 and 1681, and as a ‘guilt leatherworke frame’ in the records for Peter Lely’s estate in about 1680.  The term appears as ‘leatherwork’ in the accounts of Grinling Gibbons for architectural woodwork at St Paul’s Cathedral in 1697 and at Hampton Court Palace in 1701…’ [27]

Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), Elizabeth Murray, Lady Tollemach, later Countess of Dysart & Duchess of Lauderdale with a black servant, c.1651, Ham House, Richmond, National Trust

This relates, of course, to the broken and irregular contour of such frames, and their shallow profile with rolled and concave edges, all of which mimicked (it is supposed) the outline and behaviour of an animal hide, scraped and stretched out to be used for vellum, as a written or pictorial surface, or left in a coarser form, to function as a shield or cartouche. These hide-like shapes were also open to symbolic interpretation, so that they might become the Nemean lionskin which Hercules wore, with paws and lion’s mask carved at the corners and top centre of the frame (above, on the frame of Lely’s Elizabeth Murray), conveying strength and semi-divinity (so useful as a shorthand for monarchy or nobility). The same is true of the eagles devouring serpents which sometimes crop up in the corners of frames.

Thus it could be said that the Auricular frame was, in some ways, a collection of ornaments, motifs and symbols which encapsulated many aspects of life in the 17th century. There were marine elements, looking back to fashionable Italian sources – aesthetically unusual and striking, scientifically interesting, but also expressive of a patriotic pride in such things as Dutch domination of the sea (or its British competition). There were features recalling animal skins – sometimes lions’ or eagles’ skins, endowed with their properties of kingship, divinity, courage, etc.; there were sudden topical eruptions, such as the elephants’ heads, with their own symbolism and their own connection with collectors’  passions and anatomical curiosity; there were associated animals, mascarons of Green Men to bring luck, stave off evil spirits or just invoke the beauty of the botanical world. There were more stylized tokens of anatomical knowledge: bones, cartilage, loops and folds of flesh, which represented both the mystery of God’s creation and the pragmatic investigation of its mechanics. Sometimes elements from other frames and styles crept in; floral pendants and swags, bay leaves, architectural mouldings or scrolls, lending a classical cast, a feminine floweriness or Apollo’s gifts of music, art and poetry. All life, so to speak, is there in the Auricular frame.

Unknown painter, Portrait of Nicolaes van der Merct, 1662, oil on copper, 11.5 x 8.7 cm.; unknown framemaker, oval Auricular frame, 1662, gilded limewood; private collection, Germany


[1]  Stefan Kuiper, ‘Bij kwab zijn er slechts vrijelijk vervloeiende vormen, ongrijpbaar als sigarettenrook’, Volkskrant, 24 June, 2018  – translation by the author.

[2]  Van Dale dictionary of the Dutch language, ‘kwab

[3]  See, too, Adriana Turpin, ‘The development of an Auricular style in Florence, c.1600-40’, an abstract, on Auricular Style: Frames, as an indication of Buontalenti’s part in shaping the Auricular, and that of Italians generally

[4] For calculating the historical to present-day value of the guilder; for details of the purchase, see Vereniging Rembrandt

[5] Ibid.

[6]  For a rapid overview of Lutma’s output, search the Rijksmuseum’s collection under his name.  He designed a great number of Auricular cartouches, works in silver and silver gilt, and medals.

[7]  See P.J.J. van Thiel & C.J. de Bruyn Kops, Framing in the Golden Age, transl. Andrew McCormick, 1995, of Prijst de Lijst, 1984; p. 212

[8] Miniature frames, of similar size to that on the portrait of Van der Merct and as creatively eclectic in style, can be found on Caspar Netscher’s portraits of Johann Christian von Kretschmar and Susanna Vernatti, Stichting Teding van Berkhout, Haarlem (ibid., no 81, pp. 324-25), and Gerard Hoet’s Willem Hadriaan van Nassau with his wife and children, Rijksmuseum

[9]  Ibid., no. 74, p.310

[10]  See Jacob Simon, ‘Documenting developments in the taste for Auricular framing in Britain, 1620-80’ on Auricular Style: Frames

[11]  Ibid.

[12] For the framemaker John Norris, see the National Portrait Gallery website, ‘Directory of British framemakers

[13] The German versions of the Auricular were not necessarily all learnt from the Netherlands, however; Johan Matthias Kager (1575-1634), who decorated the Golden Hall of the Augsburg Town Hall from 1620-24, produced a series of Auricular cartouches ornamented with grotesques; these are linked to the work of other Augsburg artists, such as Lucas Kilian, and to British and Flemish printmakers in the 1620s. See Daniela Roberts, ‘German “Knorpelwerk”: Auricular dissemination in prints, woodcarving, and painted wall decorations, 1620-70’, Auricular Style: Frames

[14] Donald J. Harreld, ‘The Dutch economy in the Golden Age (16th-17th centuries)’, (Economic History Association)

[15]  Ibid.

[16]  Walter Liedtke, Dutch paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, vol. 1, p. 38. C.J. de Bruyn Kops is one of the two authors of the seminal Prijst de lijst, 1984, translated as Framing in the Golden Age: Picture & frame in 17th century Holland, 1995.

[17] The empty Rijksmuseum frame is just over half the size of the Bisschop frame, on both axes

[18]  See Marloes Rijkelijkhuizen, ‘Whales, Walruses, and Elephants: Artisans in Ivory, Baleen, and Other Skeletal Materials in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Amsterdam, International Journal of Historical Archaeology, December 2009

[19] Pliny, The Historie of the World, transl. Philemon Holland, 1601, Book VIII, p.192

[20]  Karel van Mander, ‘Of the elephant and its meaning’, Van de Wtbeeldinghe der Figueren, 1618, folio 114, quoted by Laura Orsi, ‘The emblematic elephant: a preliminary approach to the elephant in Renaissance thought and art’, p. 70

[21] Ibid., p.72

[22]  Leonard Slatkes’s ‘Rembrandt’s elephant’, Simiolus: Netherlands Qurtarely for the History of Art, 1980, vol.11, no 1, pp. 7-13

[23]  Rina Knoeff, ‘Dutch anatomy and clinical medicine in 17th century Europe’, EGO: European history online, 2012

[24] Ibid.

[25]  Dr Allison Stielau, ‘On the Inception of Auricular Ornament: Metamorphic Bodies and the Fleshy Frame’, an abstract, Auricular Style: Frames

[26]  Sebastian Pranghofer, Visual representation and the body in early modern anatomy’, Ph D thesis, Durham University, 2011, p. 51-51

[27]  Jacob Simon, ‘Documenting developments in the taste for Auricular framing in Britain, 1620-80’, Auricular Style: Frames

Notes on the revival of the Auricular style for picture frames

Christopher Rowell discusses the evidence in National Trust collections for the revival of the Auricular style, in particular during the 19th century.

Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), The penitent Magdalen, c.1650-55, o/c, 64¼ x 55⅝ in (163.2 x 141.3 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular revival frame, partly c.1760?, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT1257099

What is the evidence for a British resurgence of the Auricular style for picture frames? This account concentrates upon Kingston Lacy, Dorset (NT) and begins with a brief description of Ham House, Richmond (NT), where at least one later addition to the collection of 17th century Auricular-framed portraits seems to have been provided with a complementary revivalist frame.

Fig. 1 Edward Cornelius Farrell (c.1775-1854), One of a pair of silver-gilt dishes engraved with the arms of Fetherstonhaugh within an elaborate cartouche after Stefano della Bella, London hallmark & maker’s mark ‘E.F.’, date mark for1824, diam. 15 in (38 cm), Uppark, West Sussex, NT 138009

Auricular revivalism was apparently rather episodic, not only in relation to picture frames. A pair of silver-gilt dishes at Uppark, West Sussex (NT 138009; fig. 1), was acquired or commissioned in1824 from Edward Cornelius Farrell by Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh, 2nd Bt., friend and art adviser of the future George IV [1]. Although the borders of the dishes exhibit Auricular ornament in the 17th century manner, this was not a style for which one can claim a conspicuous ‘revival’.

Ham House

Fig. 2 The Long Gallery looking North, Ham House, Richmond (NT) 

The ensemble at Ham (fig. 2) has been described by Jacob Simon as:

‘…a showcase for carved-and-gilt Auricular frames. The various types coexist happily and create a remarkable spectacle, their intricate forms catching the available light…These patterns could be scaled up or down according to the size of the picture. They are mostly of oak with pine back frames, some with their original pegged mortise-and-tenon joints intact, but further research is needed to be confident about materials and also about the precise status of each frame. Researchers have suggested that various of the Sunderland frames may be later in date.’ [2]

In 1994, Alastair Laing and Nino Strachey first realised that although the number of pictures in the Ham Long Gallery in 1844 was identical to the number in 1683, some had flown the coop and others were replacements, suggesting that the frames are not all coeval [3].

Fig. 3 Sir Peter Lely (1618-80) , Sir William Compton, 1650s, o/c, 48½ x 39 in (123.2 x 99.1 cm), in a later (18th century?) carved & gilded Auricular frame, Ham House, Richmond, NT 1139946

Jacob Simon deduced that the Auricular frame of the 1650s portrait of Sir William Compton (NT 1139946) was made to match ‘probably in the 18th century’ (fig. 3). He described the portrait as being ‘housed in an 18th century variation on a Sunderland frame, with rosettes at the top corners’, noting of the Ham Gallery that ‘several of the Sunderland frames are likely to be later copies’ [4]. The history of these additions has not yet been fully clarified, but Laing and Strachey suggest that they may well have continued into the 19th century, which – given the long tradition of antiquarianism at Ham – is very likely. Indeed, there is more evidence at Ham for 19th century revivalism [5].

 The National Portrait Gallery

An incident at the National Portrait Gallery indicates an early interest in the reproduction of Auricular frames. In May 1871, George Scharf, then the Secretary of the Gallery [6], received the 5th Earl Spencer’s permission to copy frames at Althorp, Northamptonshire. Henry Critchfield, of 35 Clipstone Street, now Great Portland Street, London, who also provided extensive services to the National Gallery [7], then received an order to visit the house and the following month, produced an estimate for new ‘Sunderland frames’, a reference to Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland (1641-1702), diplomat, statesman and the creator of the Althorp gallery, whose name became attached to the most developed form of the British Auricular frame. Critchfield estimated for the reframing of two portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, neither of which is today framed in this style, so the frames – if ordered – have disappeared [8]. Critchfield and Scharf’s neo-Elizabethan frame made in 1865 for the National Portrait Gallery’s portrait of Bess of Hardwick (c.1600; NPG 203) indicates that antiquarian framing was on the Gallery’s agenda [9].

The Ashmolean Museum

Auricular revivalism also made an appearance at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, in the person of Chambers Hall (1786-1855), who bequeathed drawings and paintings by Raphael and other Old Masters to the University collections in 1855 [10].

Fig. 4 Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), St. Barbara pursued by her father, o/panel, 6⅛ x 8⅛ in (15.5 x 20.7 cm) in a carved & gilded Auricular frame, before 1855, Chambers Hall Bequest (1855), The Ashmolean Museum,Oxford,WA1855

Fig. 5 Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), St Clare of Assisi, o/panel, 5¾ x 8⅝ in (14.6 x 22 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular frame, before 1855, Chambers Hall Bequest (1855), The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, WA1855.179

Fig. 6 Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), The sacrifice of Noah, o/panel, 7⅜ x 11¼ in (18.7 x 28.8 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular frame, after 1855, Chambers Hall Bequest (1855), The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, WA1855.176

Fig. 7 Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), The Annunciation, o/panel, 5½ x 10⅜ in (14.2 x 26.4 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular frame, after 1855, Chambers Hall Bequest (1855), The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, WA1855.171

The Hall Bequest includes four sketches by Sir Peter Paul Rubens of c.1620 in similar Auricular frames, of which two seem to date from Hall’s time and two are probably later (figs 4-7) [11]. Jon Whiteley observes that Hall bought a set of tools in 1828 and that he made and restored frames:

‘All clearly show his taste for frames carved in a variation of the Sunderland pattern which was common in the 17th Century but must have seemed coarse and heavy to his contemporaries.’ [12]

Lowther Castle, Cumbria

Fig. 8 Attributed to the Studio of Sir Peter Lely, Portrait of a lady, o/c, 50 x 40 in (127 x 101.6 cm), ex-Lowther Castle, Cumbria

A portrait of a lady, on the art market in 1989, ascribed to Sir Peter Lely’s Studio, was sold ‘in a Sunderland-type frame’ with a provenance from ‘The Earl of Lonsdale, Lowther Castle’ (fig. 8). The carving is flat, with a mask at the centre of the base, and curious bunches of grapes in the centres of the vertical elements of the frame, which seems to be a 19th century creation [13].

None of these cases heralded a significant re-adoption of the Auricular style for framing relevant 17th century portraits [14]. In fact, and this is probably a result of ignorance, apart from Ham House, I only know of one other collection in which a revival of Auricular picture frame-making can probably be traced and which accordingly forms the substance of this paper.

Kingston Lacy

Fig. 9 Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), Sir Ralph Bankes, c.1665, o/c, 50 x 40½ in (127 x 102.9 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular frame, before 1814-15, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257049

The collection of pictures at Kingston Lacy, Dorset, which was given by Ralph Bankes to the National Trust in 1981, has been described by Alastair Laing as ‘perhaps the oldest established gentry collection of paintings in Britain, many of which can be traced back to lists compiled in the 1650s’ [15].

Fig. 10 Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), Arabella Bankes, Mrs. Gilly, c.1660-65, o/c, 50 x 40 in (127 x 101.6 cm), in its original carved & gilded Auricular frame, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257043

Fig. 11 After Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), Mary Bankes, Lady Jenkinson, c.1660-65, o/c, 50 x 40 in (127 x 101.6 cm), in its original carved & gilded Auricular frame, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257047

Fig. 12 Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), ‘Mr Stafford’: almost certainly Edmund Stafford of Buckinghamshire, c.1660-65, o/c, 50 x 40½ in (127 x 102.9 cm), in its original carved & gilded Auricular frame, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257044

Fig. 13 Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), Elizabeth Trentham, Viscountess Cullen, c.1660-65, o/c, 50 x 40½ in (127 x 102.9 cm), in its original 17th century carved & gilded Auricular frame, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257046

Its founder, the builder of the house [16], Sir Ralph Bankes (1631-77; fig. 9) [17], was a friend of Sir Peter Lely, and four Lely portraits, all of c.1660-65, survive in 17th century Auricular frames: two of Sir Ralph’s sisters, Arabella Bankes, Mrs. Gilly (NT 1257043; fig. 10) and Mary Bankes, Lady Jenkinson (NT 1257047; fig. 11); together with ‘Mr Stafford’: probably Edmund Stafford of Buckinghamshire (NT 1257044; fig. 12) [18] and Elizabeth Trentham, Viscountess Cullen (NT 1257046; fig. 13), who was ‘notorious for her beauty, extravagance and immorality’ [19].

Fig. 14 Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), Sir John Borlase, c.1637-8, o/c, 54 x 42½ in (137.2 x 108 cm) in its original carved & gilded Auricular frame, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257065

Fig. 15 Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), Lady (Alice) Borlase, c.1637-8, o/c, 54 x 42½ in (137.2 x 108 cm), in its original carved & gilded Auricular frame, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257066

Sir Oliver Millar noted of the pair of Van Dyck portraits of Sir John Borlase and Sir Ralph Bankes’s sister, Lady (Alice) Borlase (c.1637-8; NT 1257065- 6), that they are the earliest paintings at Kingston Lacy to have coeval ‘fine Auricular frames’ (figs 14-15) [20].

Fig. 16 Studio of Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), Charles I, late 1630s, o/c, 54⅝ x 43¾ in (138.7 x 111.1 cm), in its original carved & gilded Auricular frame, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257097

Fig. 17 Studio of Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), Henrietta Maria, late 1630s, o/c, 53¼ x 43¼ in (135.2 x 109.8 cm) in its original carved & gilded Auricular frame, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257101

The pair of Van Dyck studio portraits of Charles I (NT 1257097) and Henrietta Maria (NT 1257101) have similar frames of approximately the same date (figs 16-17).

Fig. 18 Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-78), Trompe l’oeil of a framed necessary-board, 1662-63, o/panel, 21¼ x 23¼ in (54 x 59.1 cm), Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257236

The collection also includes a trompe l’oeil by Samuel van Hoogstraten, depicting a necessary-board within an Auricular frame (1662-3; NT 1257236; fig. 18), which was probably at Kingston Lacy by 1731 and certainly by 1814-15 [21]. Indeed, Kingston Lacy is one of the Trust’s houses, like Ham House and Chirk Castle, North Wales, in which Auricular frames abound. At Ham and Chirk, each panel of the Long Gallery’s woodwork, dating from the 1630s and the 1670s respectively, is hung with a portrait in an Auricular frame.

Sir Peter Lely’s The Penitent Magdalen

Fig. 19 Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), Nicholas Wray, c.1655, o/c, 45 x 33 in (114.3x 83.8 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular revival frame, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257102

Fig. 20 Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), The penitent Magdalen, c.1650-55, o/c, 64¼ x 55⅝ in (163.2 x 141.3 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular revival frame, partly c.1760?, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT1257099

Sir Ralph Bankes paid, before 1659, ‘£20’ each ‘w[i]th frames’ to Lely for a portrait of the copyist, Nicholas Wray (NT 1257102; fig. 19), and for one subject picture, The penitent Magdalen, (NT 1257099; fig. 20) [22]. So are we looking at original ‘Lely’ frames around these two pictures? The answer has to be ‘No’. The Wray portrait frame has clearly been cut and lengthened at the sides with a somewhat alien section of Auricular style carving, typical of unexplained and eclectic alterations to other frames in the house.

Fig. 21 Fragments of an Auricular frame, carved & gilded wood, Kingston Lacy, Dorset.

A list of leftover ‘Marbles and Carvings’ at Kingston Lacy compiled in 1858 reveals that they included frames and parts of frames. Elements of dismantled Auricular frames survive (fig. 21) [23].  The canvas of Lely’s The Penitent Magdalen has been extended by just over eight inches on the left and the frame has been extensively altered. The obvious areas of alteration are in the cresting and in the equivalent section, including the mask, at the base (fig. 20). Neither looks 17th century, nor does the style of the carving.

Fig. 22 Fragments of a picture frame incorporating a male mask similar to that of the frame of Lely’s The penitent Magdalen.

A fragment of a similar male mask (NT1256744.2.2; fig. 22) suggests that The penitent Magdalen frame was originally one of a pair.

The history of the display of The penitent Magdalen can be traced in some detail. In Sir Ralph Bankes’s chambers at Gray’s Inn, London, it was part of a collection of 36 pictures, which were listed in 1659 [24]. At Kingston Lacy, the picture was first recorded in 1731, when it was treated by George Dowdney, a painter and restorer [25]. It was hanging in the Great Parlour in 1762 and 1772 [26], together with the rest of the Lelys, which indicates that it was hung in conformity with them and so was probably still its original size. The Lely series was seen in 1762 by Sir Joshua Reynolds, who wrote: ‘I never had fully appreciated Sir Peter Lely until I had seen these portraits’ [27].

The pre-1814-15 picture-hanging diagrams

Fig. 23 Picture-hanging plan of the Saloon at Kingston Lacy, showing Lely’s Penitent Magdalen (no. 23; centre top), already extended in size, flanked by two ‘50 x 40 in.’ Van Dyck portraits (nos 22 and 24) of Sir John and Lady Borlase, before 1814-15, ink & watercolour on paper, mounted on card, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1253625.

A picture-hanging diagram of the Saloon on a paper remnant of a hand-screen (NT 1253625; fig. 23), one of three made before 1814-15 [28], shows for the first time the size of The penitent Magdalen in relation to other paintings [29]. Flanking it was the pair of portraits by Van Dyck of Sir John Borlase and his wife, Lady Borlase (1637-8; figs 14-15) in their original Auricular frames. The Van Dyck portraits are accurately depicted in the hanging diagram as being smaller than Lely’s extended The Penitent Magdalen. They measure 54 x 42½ in., and The Penitent Magdalen measures 64¼ x 55⅝ in. after its extension by 8¼ in. on the left side. This alteration had already been carried out when the hand-screen diagram was made, so the presumption must be that the present frame was already around the painting.

The 18th century origins of the Auricular revival at Kingston Lacy

Fig. 24 George Dowdney (fl. 1730s), Henry I Bankes, dated 1734 on reverse, o/c, 29½ x 23¾ in (75 x 60 cm), Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257151

Henry I Bankes (1698-1776) commissioned George Dowdney to clean and restore the Kingston Lacy pictures in 1731. Dowdney’s list is the first record of the pictures in the house and he painted Bankes’s portrait in 1734 (NT 1257151; fig. 24) [30]. Henry I himself listed the pictures at Kingston Lacy in 1762 (revised 1775) and 1772, and to him has been ascribed the inauguration of the Auricular revival in picture frames there. In 1994, Alastair Laing stated that:

‘It was probably also Henry [I] who had so many of the pictures framed or reframed, probably by local craftsmen, and often with imitations of the superb 17th century ‘Sunderland’ frames on Sir Ralph’s Peter Lelys. These are the first such historicizing frames dating from the 18th century to have been identified anywhere.’ [31]

The Auricular revival frames at Kingston Lacy may indeed derive from the 18th century [32]. In 1986, John Cornforth also noted that ‘a number of the frames in the Auricular style incorporate mid-18th– century ornamental motifs, as if they were 18th-century essays in the 17th-century style’ [33].

Fig. 25 After Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), The Princes of the Palatinate, o/c, 54 x 58 in (137.2 x 147.3 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular revival frame, c.1760?, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257115

Fig. 26 After Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), The three eldest children of Charles I, o/c, 48 x 54 in (121.9 x 137.2 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular revival frame, c.1760?, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257117

The frames of two portraits after Van Dyck, The Princes of the Palatinate (NT 1257115; fig. 25) and The three eldest children of Charles I (NT 1257117; fig. 26) have crestings which are markedly rocaille. If these two frames date from around 1760, then the inserted cresting and the central section below, including the mask, of Lely’s extended The penitent Magdalen (figs 20 & 22), may be contemporaneous. Fragments of frames in store may also date from that period (figs 21-22).

Fig. 27 Massimo Stanzione (1585-1656), Jerome Bankes, Naples, c.1655, o/c, 50 x 40 in (127 x 101.6 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular revival frame, partly c.1760?, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257045

The inserted top central section of the frame of Massimo Stanzione’s portrait of Jerome Bankes (fig. 27) seems also to be be an 18th century survival, and the inspiration for the crestings of the Auricular revival frames which were presumably made for the Library before 1814-15.

Fig. 28 Studio of Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), Richard Weston, 1st Earl of Portland K.G., o/c, 84 x 48 in (213.4 x 121.9 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular revival frame, before 1814-15, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257109

Fig. 29 Edward Altham (1622-94), Self-portrait as a hermit, Rome, c.1680-90, o/c, 93 x 65 in (236.2 x 165.1 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular revival frame, before 1814-15, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257111

Cornforth illustrated two examples of what he felt might be 18th century revivalist frames: around the portrait after Van Dyck of Richard Weston, 1st Earl of Portland, KG (NT 1257109; fig. 28) and the self-portrait of Edward Altham as a hermit (NT 1257111; fig. 29) [34]. However, Henry I Bankes’s grandson, William Bankes (1786-1855), declared that he intended ‘to alter all the library frames and Lord Portland and Mr Altham to correspond with Charles and his Queen [Van Dyck Studio; figs 16-17] and Sir J. and Lady Borlase [by Van Dyck; figs 14-15]’, all four of which retain their original 17th century Auricular frames [35]. This would suggest that the two matching frames around the portraits of ‘Lord Portland and Mr Altham’, which have hung together in the Saloon since 1762, were probably made for the pictures when the Library was also rehung before 1814-15.

Fig. 30 After Guido Reni (1575-1642), The Adoration of the Shepherds, o/c, 48 x 36 in (121.9 x 91.4 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular revival frame, c.1760?, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257096

Fig. 31 Jacob Huysmans (c.1630-96) after Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), Cupid preparing his bow, before 1659, o/c, 52 x 40 in (132.1 x 101.6 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular revival frame, c.1760?, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257118

Two other paintings – The adoration of the shepherds and Cupid preparing his bow – are in matching Auricular revival frames (figs 30-31), with rocaille crestings and a prominent shell below. Apart from the additions to the sides, these two frames probably date from the 18th century, like the other similar frames and parts of frames that have already been noted, particularly the frames of the two group portraits after Van Dyck (figs 25-26). Their crestings are also similar to that of Lely’s The penitent Magdalen (fig. 20). The first is a copy (NT 1257096), adapted to a rectangular format, after Guido Reni’s octagonal The adoration of the shepherds, once in the Walpole Collection at Houghton, Norfolk, and now in the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow (inv.1608) [36]. The Reni copy (fig. 30) made its first appearance at Kingston Lacy in the Saloon picture-hanging diagram, drawn up before 1814 to 1815 (fig. 23).

Fig. 32 Nicolaes Berchem the elder (1620-83), Landscape with herdsmen, s & d 1655, o/c, 86 x 72 in (218.4 x 182.9 cm), in a carved & gilded early 19th century frame, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257110

It was then hanging to the right of Berchem’s large Landscape with herdsmen (fig. 32), which Sir Ralph Bankes acquired through Sir Peter Lely and which was re-framed in the early 19th century (not in Auricular style), as part of a group that included Lely’s The penitent Magdalen (above the Berchem), flanked by the Van Dyck portraits of Sir John Borlase and Lady Borlase. The adoration of the Magi may then already have been in its present frame in view of the adjacent 17th century and later Auricular style frames. Huysmans’s Cupid preparing his bow (NT 1257118; fig. 31), has been in the Bankes collection since the 17th century [37]. It was also listed in the Saloon in the 1814-15 picture-hanging diagram. By 1856, both pictures were in the North Parlour, when the Huysmans Cupid was clearly in the same frame (‘in gilt frame with large carved ornament over’) [38], and by 1905, both pictures were back in the Saloon [39].

19th century Auricular revival frames

Fig. 33 Pompeo Batoni (1708-87), Henry II Bankes, Rome, s & d 1779, o/c, 39 x 28½ in (99.1 x 72.4 cm), Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257055

The squire of Kingston Lacy from 1776 to 1834 was Henry II Bankes (1757-1834), politician and historian, who was painted by Batoni in Rome in 1779 (NT 1257055; fig. 33), and who was interested in pictures and Old Master drawings.

Fig. 34 The Saloon, Kingston Lacy, Dorset (NT)

He altered and redecorated the Saloon (the Great Hall of the 17th century house) in the 1780s, when it was already the main room for hanging pictures (fig. 34). The pre-1814-15 picture-hanging diagrams revealing the changes to the display of the Saloon, Library and Billiard Room, including the extension of Lely’s The Penitent Magdalen, are possibly in the handwriting of Henry II Bankes, but the picture hangs were presumably devised in consultation with his son, William Bankes (1786-1855), who was vigorously collecting paintings for the house in the early 19th century and who – after his father’s death in 1834 – transformed Kingston Hall, which he renamed Kingston Lacy, in honour of a prominent medieval owner of the estate [40].

The Library

Fig. 35 The Library, Kingston Lacy, Dorset (NT)

Fig. 36 Picture-hanging plan of the Library at Kingston Lacy, before 1814-15, ink & watercolour on paper, mounted on card, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1253624

In the Library, we have proof that alterations were made to the Auricular frames of the paintings hung above the bookcases (fig. 35) and that the hang was enriched before 1814-15, the date of one of the three picture-hanging diagrams (fig. 36).

Fig. 37 Attributed to Gerard Seghers (1591-1651), St. Ambrose, o/c, 45 x 56 in (114.3 x 142.2 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular revival frame, before 1814-15, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257057

Fig. 38 Attributed to Gerard Seghers (1591-1651), St. Jerome, o/c, 45 x 56 in (114.3 x 142.2 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular revival frame, before 1814-15, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257048

Fig. 39 Attributed to Gerard Seghers (1591-1651), St. Augustine of Hippo, o/c, 45 x 56 in (114.3 x 142.2 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular revival frame, before 1814-15, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257059

Fig. 40 Attributed to Gerard Seghers (1591-1651), St. Gregory the Great, o/c, 45 x 61 in (114.3 x 154.9 cm), in a carved & gilded Auricular revival frame, before 1814-15, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257050

The room was then hung, much as it is now, with six Lely portraits and four larger paintings of Doctors of the Western Church, attributed to Gerard Seghers, also in Auricular style frames (NT 1257057; 1257048; 1257059 and 1257050; figs. 37-40) [41].

William Bankes commended his father’s taste in moving the Lelys to the Library above the bookcases: ‘the fine family portraits are admirably placed in it [the Library], and I should be at a loss how to dispose them elsewhere’ [42]. However, he proposed ‘to alter all the library frames…to correspond with Charles and his Queen (figs 16-17) and Sir J. and Lady Borlase (figs 14-15)’ [43]. Although the four Lely portraits flanking the Library chimneypiece are in almost matching 17th century ‘Sunderland’ Auricular frames, the two Lely portraits on the end walls, each hung between two Doctors of the Western Church by Seghers, have frames with distinctive pierced crestings and with shells in the centre beneath. These two Auricular revival frames around portraits of Sir Ralph Bankes and his wife’s uncle, Charles Brune [44], correspond in style to the frames around the four Doctors of the Western Church. These changes were presumably made before the 1814-15 picture-hanging plan of the Library (fig. 36) [45].

Now hanging over the Library chimneypiece is Stanzione’s brooding portrait, painted at Naples c.1655, of Jerome Bankes (NT 1257045; fig. 27), Sir Ralph’s younger brother. This has the same type of pierced cresting that has already been doubted as 17th century, and the frame has been cut in several places [46].

Fig. 41 George Sandars (1774-1846), William John Bankes, 1812, watercolour on ivory, 11½ x 9½ in (29 x 23.6 cm), Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1251251

Fig. 42 Sir John Hayter, R.A., (1792-1871), William John Bankes, 1833, oval, o/board, 11½ x 9¼ in (28.5 x 23.5 cm), Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257128

Henry II Bankes continued his father’s revivalist taste for the Auricular during his rearrangement of the collection under the influence of his son, William Bankes (figs 41-42). The arrangements of father and son are recorded in the 1835 inventory, whereas the 1856 inventory [47], drawn up after the death of William’s brother, George, who only outlived him by a year, is the document which charts William’s further embellishments. These were on a grand scale. From 1835-41, William Bankes employed Charles Barry to transform the interior, which was further elaborated by refined Italian carvers and by Baron Marochetti’s bronzes celebrating the Bankes’s loyalty to the crown during the Civil War. The Emperor Augustus’s supposed boast about Rome is inscribed above one of the Staircase landing doorcases, beneath his Antique portrait bust: ‘I found it brick and left it marble’, which is very much what Bankes achieved in his transformation of Pratt’s 17th century house.

William Bankes, the contemporary of Byron at Trinity College, Cambridge, traveller in Egypt and the Levant, and – thanks to his friendship with the Duke of Wellington – a precocious collector of Spanish paintings during the Peninsular War, was almost entirely responsible for the acquisition of the Old Masters at Kingston Lacy, which include paintings by Sebastiano del Piombo Titian, Tintoretto, Rubens and Velázquez [48]. Like his father, he concentrated his best pictures in the Saloon, where his Spanish pictures were hanging in 1835 (fig. 35). He also took a close interest in picture frames.

Fig. 43 Circle of Raphael, The Holy Family with the infant St. John in a landscape, ‘The Kingston Lacy Raphael’, c.1516-17, o/panel, 30 x 21 in (76 x 53.3 cm), carved walnut frame by Pietro Giusti of Siena, 1853-6, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257083

His premier commission was the almost surreally precise carved walnut frame for the so-called ‘Kingston Lacy Raphael’, The Holy Family with the infant St. John in a landscape, now demoted to Circle of Raphael, which he commissioned from Pietro Giusti of Siena in 1853 (NT 1257083; fig. 43) [49]. Might Bankes have known Chambers Hall, whose Auricular revival frames survive in the Ashmolean (figs 4-5) and who published a book about the peregrinations of a Raphael Holy Family, perhaps inspired by the ‘Kingston Lacy Raphael’ [50]?

In 1841, following his second arrest for a homosexual act in a public place, Bankes fled to France and then to Italy, basing himself in Venice. He was outlawed, but the family tradition is correct that in 1854, when he may have had a terminal illness, he came surreptitiously to Kingston Lacy to inspect his continuing works there [51].

Fig. 44 The ‘Spanish Picture’, ‘Golden’ or Spanish Room, 1838-55, Kingston Lacy, Dorset (NT)

For the framing of three of his Spanish pictures in what he called the ‘Spanish Picture’ or ‘Golden’ Room (fig. 44), Bankes employed the Venetian carver, Giuseppe Foradori, who made – in Bankes’s own words – the ‘gloriously carved frames for the three central pictures’, then above and flanking the chimneypiece, which were made in Venice and were being gilded in London in November 1850 [52].

Fig. 45 Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) & studio, Philip IV of Spain, c.1626-8, o/c, 78½ x 42½ in (199 x 108 cm), sold 1896 from Kingston Lacy, still in the giltwood frame made by Giuseppe Foradori in Venice & gilded in London (November 1850), Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts; P26e18

Among them and still in Bankes’s frame was the lost jewel of the collection, sold in 1896 to Isabella Stewart Gardner and now in her Museum in Boston (P26e18): Velázquez’s full-length portrait of Philip IV of Spain (fig. 45). Bankes described these frames as being ‘in the Venetian manner’ [53]. The decoration of the room is indeed more Venetian than Spanish, incorporating a ceiling and gilded leather hangings from the palazzo Contarini degli Scrini, Venice.

Fig. 46 Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo (c.1612 – 67), o/canvas, reduced sketch after Velázquez’s Las Meninas (Prado, Madrid), 56 x 48 in (142.2 x 121.9 cm), in giltwood frame made by Giuseppe Foradori in Venice & gilded in London (November 1850), Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257140

Fig. 47 Attributed to Francisco de Zurbarán (1598 -1664) Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430) in meditation, c.1620-24, o/c, 90 x 51 in (228.6 x 129.5 cm), in giltwood frame made by Giuseppe Foradori in Venice & gilded in London (November, 1850), Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257131

Foradori’s remaining two picture frames are of a similar ‘Sansovino’ character. They were designed for Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo’s reduced oil sketch after Velázquez’s Las meninas (NT 1257140; fig. 46) and Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430) in Meditation (NT 1257131; fig. 47) attributed to Francisco de Zurbarán.

Fig. 48 Carved, painted & gilded cartouche in the Auricular style in the Spanish Room at Kingston Lacy, 1838-55, 23¾ x 55½ in (60 x 140.7 cm), carved, painted & gilded wood, NT 1254746.4, which is fixed above Pedro Orrente (1588-1645), ‘Moses at the burning bush’, o/c, 10½ x 42½in (26.7 x 107.9 cm), Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257137

Fig. 49 Carved, painted & gilded cartouche in the Auricular style in the Spanish Room at Kingston Lacy, 1838-55, 23¾ x 55¼ in (60 x 140.5 cm), carved, painted & gilded wood, NT 1254746.5, which is fixed above Pedro Orrente, ‘Samson with the lion’, o/c, 10½ x 42½ in (26.7 x 107.9 cm), Kingston Lacy, Dorset, NT 1257138

The Auricular style makes an unexpected entry into the Spanish Room’s eclectic décor in the form of two complementary but not identical cartouches, fixed above a pair of oblong pictures by Pedro Orrente (figs 48-49). With their even grander companions in a more marked ‘Sansovino’ style, they are among the most elaborate picture labels ever made.

There is therefore at Kingston Lacy compelling evidence of Auricular revivals. It is to be hoped that these initial investigations will be borne out by physical evidence during examination of the frames and by documentary proof when the Kingston Lacy archive is more thoroughly investigated.


Christopher Rowell is the National Trust’s Curator of Furniture (2002-); Chairman of the Furniture History Society (2013-); and a member of the UK Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (2015-). He has published widely on collections, furniture, historic interiors and the display of art. He was editor and principal contributor to Ham House: 400 Years of Collecting and Patronage (Yale University Press, 2013), which was shortlisted for the 2014 Berger Prize for British Art History. His contributions to the second book in the series – David Adshead and David A.H.B. Taylor, eds, Hardwick Hall: A Great Old Castle of Romance, published in November 2016 – include an appendix on the picture frames at Hardwick.



I am particularly grateful to Reinier Baarsen, Luke Dady, James Grasby, Alastair Laing, Nicholas Penny, Jacob Simon and David Taylor for generous advice and for their helpful comments on the text. I am also indebted to Nicholas Penny for allowing me to consult his frame archive at the National Gallery and to Wolf Burchard for assistance in various ways.

[1] Christopher Rowell, ‘National Trust Acquisitions 2002-2003: Silver for Uppark’, Apollo, vol. CLVII, April 2003, p. 54.

[2] Jacob Simon, Picture Frames at Ham House, Swindon 2014, p. 17. For 17th century picture frames at Ham House, see also Jacob Simon, ‘Picture Framing at Ham House in the Seventeenth Century’, in Christopher Rowell, ed., Ham House: 400 Years of Collecting and Patronage, New Haven & London 2013, pp. 144-157.

[3] Alastair Laing & Nino Strachey, ‘The Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale’s Pictures at Ham House’, Apollo, vol. CXXXIX, May 1994, pp. 3-9.

[4] Simon 2014, p. 21.

[5] See inter alia, Christopher Rowell, ‘Romantic Antiquarianism at Ham House (1799-1878)’, and Michael Hall, ‘Bodley and Garner and Watts & Co: Repairs and Renovation at Ham House for William Tollemache, 9th Earl of Dysart’, in Rowell 2013, pp. 360-73 & pp. 374-82.

[6] Peter Jackson, ‘Scharf, Sir George (1820–1895)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2010 [, accessed 17 Aug 2016]

[7] Critchfield was employed at the National Gallery from 1854 until his dismissal in 1880; see Jacob Simon, ‘Framing Italian Renaissance Paintings at the National Gallery, London’.

[8] I am grateful to Jacob Simon for this information and for sending me details of these two pictures: Queen Anne; William, Duke of Gloucester, after Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt., o/c, (c.1694) 48 in. x 39 1/2 in. (121.9 x 100.3 cm), purchased 1871 (NPG 325); and Prince George of Denmark, Duke of Cumberland, after John Riley, o/c (1687?), 49 in. x 40 in. (124.5 x 101.6 cm), purchased 1871 (NPG 326).

[9] Jacob Simon, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, exh. cat. (National Portrait Gallery, London), London 1996, cat. no. 98, pp. 179-80, & fig. 120, p. 112.

[10] Christopher White, ‘Hall, Chambers (1786–1855)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 (accessed 12 Oct 2016).

[11] The two in pre-1855 frames are the smaller of the four: Sir Peter Paul Rubens, St. Barbara pursued by her father (WA1855.178); and St. Clare of Assisi (WA1855.179). The other two Rubens sketches are: The sacrifice of Noah (WA1855.176) and The Annunciation (WA1855.171). For a detailed discussion and analysis of the Auricular and Auricular revival frames around these paintings, see Timothy Newbery and Jevon Thistlewood, ‘An Auricular frame amongst the Founder’s Collection of the Ashmolean Museum’.

[12] Jon Whiteley, ‘The Chambers Hall Letters’, Ashmolean Magazine, no. 64, Summer 2012, pp. 25-6. I am very grateful to Jacob Simon for informing me of Chambers Hall’s interest in the Auricular style and for sending a copy of Jon Whiteley’s article and photographs of relevant frames.

[13] Christie’s, London, 25 September 1989, lot 321, 50 x 40 in (Nicholas Penny Frame Archive, The National Gallery, London). I am grateful to Sharon Goodman for attempting to locate a publishable image of this painting at Christie’s, London.

[14] For an interesting 20th century episode of Auricular revival, see Caroline Oliver, ‘Frank Salisbury and the Auricular Frame’, 17 October 2016. Frank Owen Salisbury (1874-1962) was a fashionable portrait painter.

[15] Alastair Laing, ‘The Pictures and Sculpture’ in Anthony Mitchell, ed., Kingston Lacy, London 1994, revised ed. 2008, pp. 37-43, p. 37.

[16] For the architectural history of Kingston Lacy, which was designed by Sir Roger Pratt, see Mitchell 1994 and new, revised ed., 1998.

[17] Sir Ralph Bankes was born on 25 November 1631, according to an entry in a family bible (D-BKL/H/A/78); a fact kindly transmitted by Luke Dady.

[18] See Alastair Laing, ‘Sir Peter Lely and Sir Ralph Bankes’ in David Howarth, ed., Art and Patronage in the Caroline Courts, Cambridge 1993, pp. 107-31.

[19] Alastair Laing, Kingston Lacy: Illustrated List of Pictures, p. 8; see also Mitchell 1994, p. 48.

[20] Susan J. Barnes, Nora de Poorter, Oliver Millar and Horst Vey, Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, New Haven and London 2004, cat. nos. IV.29-30, p. 449 (entry by Oliver Millar).

[21] It must be ‘6. Medley by Samuel Hoogstraten’ in a picture-hanging diagram of 1814-15 of the room listed as the Billiard Room in 1835 (the companion of similar diagrams of the Saloon and Library, figs 23 and 36). It is possibly identifiable with ‘92. A peice of still life [£]0 5[s] 0[d]’ in a list of 128 paintings attended to in 1731 by the portrait painter and picture cleaner, George Dowdney, at a total cost of £56 15s (copy in the National Trust’s study collection of an original document in the Bankes Archive, deposited by the National Trust in the Dorset History Centre, Dorchester). John Cornforth connected the unsigned and undated list with an identical payment to George Dowdney, whose portraits of John II Bankes (1733; NT 1257149) and Henry I Bankes (1734; NT 1257151) are listed in the North Parlour in the 1762 inventory (John Cornforth, ‘Kingston Lacy Revisited – II’, Country Life, 24 April 1986, p. 1123).

[22] ‘A Noate of my Pictures & w[ha]t they cost w[i]th frames [undated]’, handwritten list by Sir Ralph Bankes (copy in the National Trust’s study collection of an original document in the Bankes Archive, deposited by the National Trust in the Dorset History Centre, Dorchester). This document is published in Laing 1993, pp. 121-2.

[23] ‘1858 A List of Marbles and Carvings &&c in the [Carpenters’] Shop and Store Rooms at Kingston Lacy’ (copy in the National Trust’s study collection of an original document in the Bankes Archive, deposited by the National Trust in the Dorset History Centre, Dorchester).

[24] The penitent Magdalen appears in four relevant documents: ‘Pictures in my Chamber att Grayes Inne’, ‘A Noate of my Pictures & w[ha]t thay Cost w[i]th frames’ ‘A Noate of my Pictures at Grayes Inn and what they Cost Xber [October] ye 23rd 1659’ and ‘The Value of my Pictures’; handwritten lists by Sir Ralph Bankes (copies in the National Trust’s study collection of original documents in the Bankes Archive, deposited by the National Trust in the Dorset History Centre, Dorchester). Transcriptions of these documents are published in Laing 1993, pp. 121-5.

[25] It was presumably ‘99. A Magdalen [£]0 5[s] 0[d]’ listed in 1731 by the portrait painter and picture cleaner, George Dowdney (see note 19 above).

[26] The present Drawing Room; the picture was moved to the Great Hall – the present Saloon – before 1814-15, then to the Billiard Room by 1835 and was listed again in the Saloon, where it remains, by 1856.

[27] Quoted in Anthony Mitchell, Kingston Lacy, London 1986 (second revised ed., 1987), p. 14.

[28] The dating of the Saloon picture-hanging plan, and two others also made for hand-screens, delineating the hangs in the Library and the future Billiard Room (described as such in the 1835 inventory), depends mainly on the fact that no Spanish picture is listed, apart from the copy of Murillo’s Two urchins eating melons and grapes, which had been in the Bankes collection since 1659 (NT 1257134, after the original of 1645-6 in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, inv. No. 605). William Bankes started collecting Spanish paintings during the Peninsular War in 1813 and sent his first Spanish picture home in 1814. Bankes’s Spanish pictures were hanging in the Saloon in 1835 and were subsequently concentrated in the Spanish Room (created 1838-55). All three plans are mounted on card, with on the reverse, a bistre engraving of a young woman’s head after François Boucher (1703-70) by Gilles Demarteau (the Saloon and Library) and by Louis Bonnet (the Billiard Room); copies of these engravings are in the Louvre, Paris, Réserve Edmond de Rothschild (19264 LR/ Recto; 19232 LR/ Recto 19061 LR/ Recto respectively).

[29] The penitent Magdalen was then the centrepiece of the upper register of the wall opposite the fireplace.

[30] For Dowdney’s picture list, see note 19.

[31] Mitchell 1994 (chapter by Alastair Laing), p. 39.

[32] Mitchell 1987, p. 14, describing the Auricular revival frames in the Library, writes that they were: ‘perhaps carved for the 18th century collection, [and] were altered by William [Bankes] in the 19th century ‘to correspond’’.

[33] John Cornforth, ‘Kingston Lacy Revisited – II’, Country Life, 24 April 1986, p. 1126, figs 6-7.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Quoted in Mitchell 1987, p. 28, where no date is given for the quotation. The relevant document has not been identified in the Bankes Archive in the Dorchester History Centre, but presumably dates before 1814-15, when the Library picture hanging diagram was made (fig. 36 and see notes 27-8).

[36] It was sold to Empress Catherine II of Russia, Catherine the Great, for £400 in 1779; see Andrew Moore, ed., Houghton Hall: The Prime Minister, The Empress and The Heritage, 1996, p. 100.

[37] Ralph Bankes (1631?- 1677) recorded in 1659 that he bought ‘A Cupid of Huysmans’ from ‘Mr Mathewes’ for £5, Laing 1993, p. 123. The entry on the picture in National Trust Collections online explains the picture’s subject: The pretext for the picture appears to be the passage in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book V, vv.355 ff., Pluto having surfaced from the underworld to circumnavigate Sicily in his chariot to see what damage had been wrought by his struggles to free himself, is sighted by Venus. She promptly urges her son Cupid, to bring about the union of Pluto and Proserpine. Cupid then ‘selected one of his thousand arrows, the sharpest and surest, and most obedient to the bow. Then, bending his pliant bow against his knee, he struck Pluto to the heart with the barbed shaft’.

[38] D-BKL/G/B/66: ‘Inventory of Sundry Furniture, Pictures, Plate, Linen, China & Glass, Books, Wine, and effects, on the premises Kingston Lacy, Dorset, the property of the late Rt. Honble Geo. Bankes, M.P,’ July 1856. There are two copies of this inventory.

[39] ‘An Inventory of Heirlooms at “Kingston Lacy” Wimborne, Dorset. 1905 [by] Tho[ma]s Vigers, Valuer &c, 3 Eccleston Street, London S.W,’ D-BKL/G/B/62.

[40] Luke Dady, Archives Services Officer (Bankes), Dorchester History Centre, kindly observes (written communication) that: ‘the writing looks to me to be more akin to Henry’s than William’s. However, as your email suggests, the two can be quite similar, and I could be wrong (and William’s writing when he was younger was generally much better than his later style!)’.

[41] The four Doctors of the Western Church were previously the only pictures in the Drawing Room, while the Lelys were hung together in the adjoining Great Parlour.

[42] Mitchell 1987, p. 14; the quotation, as published, is not dated and it has not yet proved possible to identify it among the voluminous documents in the Bankes Archive in the Dorchester History Centre. The same quotation is also not dated in Cornforth 1986, p. 1126.

[43] Quoted in ibid., p. 28. The date of this statement is not given (see previous note).

[44] This portrait was in the Saloon in 1814-15, 1835 and 1856 and in the pre-1814-15 picture-hanging plan its present position on the end wall of the Library was taken up by Lely’s portrait of ‘Mr Stafford’ (fig. 12).

[45] In an undated note headed ‘For the Revival of the Sunderland Frame’, Nicholas Penny observes that ‘The portraits by Lely in the library at Kingston Lacy may well be in their original Sunderland frames but the Massimo Stanzione portrait of Jerome Bankes (c.1655) and the fathers of the Latin Church by or attributed to Gerard Seghers must surely have been given frames of this character in the 1840s at the behest (or design) of William Bankes’ (Nicholas Penny Frame Archive, The National Gallery, London).

[46] In 1762, the Stanzione portrait was hanging in the North Parlour with the Lelys and by 1814-15 was in the Saloon, where – together with the Library – the other Auricular frames noted here were placed.

[47] D-BKL/G/B/66.

[48] For a biography of William Bankes, see Anne Sebba, The Exiled Collector: William Bankes and the Making of an English Country House, London 2004; for Bankes as a collector and patron, see also Mitchell 1987 and 1994; Alastair Laing, In Trust for the Nation: Paintings from National Trust Houses, exh. cat. (National Gallery London), London 1985, pp. 231-2; and Alastair Laing, Kingston Lacy: Illustrated List of Pictures, pp. 1-4.

[49] Christopher Rowell, ‘The Kingston Lacy ‘Raphael’ and its Frame (1853-56) by Pietro Giusti of Siena’, The National Trust Houses & Collections Annual 2014, published in association with Apollo, pp. 40-47.

[50] Chambers Hall, The Picture: A Nosegay for Amateurs – Painters – Picture-Dealers – Picture-Cleaners – Liners – Repairers – And all the Craft: being The Autobiography of A Holy Family by Raphael, faithfully written from Actual Dictation of the Picture Itself. by CH, London 1837.

[51] Sebba 2004, pp. 245-6.

[52] Mitchell 1987, p. 36.

[53] Ibid.

The influence of Auricular art on art of the 20th century, or Putting an ear to the ground

Steve Shriver reviews the persistence of Auricular forms and imagery in the work of contemporary artists and Modern Masters. A surprising number speak in the language of the Auricular, whether they are aware of it or not.

Johannes Lutma (1584-1669), Cartouche with the coat of arms of Amsterdam, etching on paper, c.1654-78, Rijksmuseum

Here, as an example of classic Auricular style, is a cartouche by Lutma, with characteristically pelvic shape and suggestive folds…

Charles-Cornelisz. de Hooch (1600-1638), A monument to Augustus, o/c, Private collection

… and here is a 17th century painting of a grotto by Charles de Hooch, who specialized in this genre.

Salvador Dali painting The face of war, 1940-41; photo: Eric Schaal

I will start by introducing the modern artists who seem to me associated with the Auricular, and then fleshing out these examples later. When, a few years ago, I first discovered the pleasures of Auricular ornament in Alain Gruber’s book, The Renaissance and Mannerism in Europe, I was immediately struck by the similarities of the work of the Van Vianens et al to the work of Salvador Dali and the biomorphic surrealists. This is apparent not only in the swooping curves and drooping forms of the figures and landscapes described, but also in the malleability of their meaning, where forms never quite coalesce into that which they seem to imply, instead forming an hallucinatory and often times erotic series of folds, bumps and extrusions.

Jerzy Skarzinski (1924-2004), Abelard & Heloise, 1987, gouache, watercolour & ink on canvas, 20.1 x 35.6 ins (51 x 90.3 cm.), art market

This painting is by Jerzy Skarzinski, a 20th century Polish set designer and painter who lived mostly in Krakow. He specialized in theatre design, and was also interested in comic books, an element that plays into the style of several of these artists. He employs a similar use of melting and morphing forms to Dalí, as well as his own Baroque, dramatic style.

Interior of the Domus Aurea (64-68 AD), Nero’s palace in Rome; the hole in the ceiling possibly made by Renaissance explorers

The theatrical and marine elements in both these modern works and in those of the 17th century Auricular, and the transformational aspects of the motifs they both employ, are connected to the long history of the grottesca. This relates to the cave-like grottoes installed in Italian Mannerist gardens and to the unnatural creatures which decorated them, and which eventually gave us our modern understanding of ‘grotesque’, meaning hideous or deformed.

Furthering the horrific aspect of the Auricular vernacular is the use of forms that mimic splayed skin and exposed bone, and one might find an interesting avenue to explore in the modern horror film genre, though it will not be me investigating that!

Hans Rudolph Giger (1940-2014), Alien,  1978

However, an interesting crossover to film is found in the work of H.R. Giger, the Swiss surrealist who designed some sets and creatures for the Alien movies, taking the Auricular style to a new level of both fright and eroticism. This is his original concept drawing for the Alien creature, which made it to film in 1979. Here we can see elements of the Mannerist mascarons, skulls and snarling sea monsters which are all so important in the ornament of Auricular frames.

Arent Van Bolten (after; 1573-1633), Two grotesque figures, engraving, Rijksmuseum

There is also a good deal of earthy humor to be found in the Auricular style, as exemplified by a series of prints with bawdy themes by Arent van Bolten (1573-1633), which bear a passing resemblance to Hieronymus Bosch, but without the moralizing aspect of the latter. This thread of humour can be found in many artists who are lumped together in a current movement known as “Lowbrow art”, where many parallel aspects (such as caricature, fantasy, eroticism and impish humour) can be found.

Takashi Murakami, Assignation of a spirit, 2014

Murakami’s art comes more from Japanese traditions, but it does incorporate a number of Auricular concepts, such as figural and facial distortion, mythical storytelling and creatures, and asymmetrical masks; and it conjures a sense of the humorous grotesque found in Van Bolten’s prints.

Takashi Murakami, Tan Tan Bo Puking: aka Gero-Tan, 2002, acrylic on canvas on board, Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin

This use of distorted faces and features leads us directly to the mask as ornament, which, seen throughout the history of art from the Romans onward, can be tied quite directly to the Auricular style in the work of several contemporary artists.

Roman mosaic decoration in shape of a stage mask, 1st century A.D., Museo Nazionale Romano

In the Roman theatrical mask, however, the intention is more to portray emotion or to evoke a stereotypical character.

Frans Huys after Cornelis Floris (1514-75), from Pourtraicture ingenieuse de plusieurs façon de Masques. Fort utile aulx painctres, orseures, Taillieurs de pierres, voirriers et Taillieurs d’images, a suite of 22 prints published in Antwerp in 1555

The Auricular mask is a much more bizarre and ludic motif – look at this example by Frans Huys from the early 17th century, with its meltingly fleshy folds sprouting reptiles, fruit and flowers.

Travis Louie (b. 1968), It grew from the brambles, 2012

Now consider the work of Travis Louie, a younger contemporary artist who creates many works with distorted faces – mostly derived from film sources.

Such images supply a good sample of the characteristics of the Auricular style. Many of these same characteristics form the basis of Surrealist style art, which was formalized in the 1920s, but has deeper roots throughout the history of art.

Salvador Dalí, The great masturbator, 1929, o/c, 43.3 x 59.1 ins (110 x 150 cm.), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid

This image of Dalí’s, for instance, exemplifies a dream-like image, containing unreal, stretched, and sexually charged imagery within its metamorphosing, fluid shapes.

According to Rachel Barnes, writing for The 20th-Century Art Book, in 2001, to ‘resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality’ was one of the main objectives of the Surrealist art movement. The same definition could pretty easily be applied to the Auricular style, though it was never quite so formally a movement at the time of its creation. But it did have many elements of contradiction included in its visual vocabulary, including things that were not as they appeared to be. Forms suggestive of human physiognomy, decorative faces that reveal as falsities on closer inspection, and other suggestive elements are all equally part of Surrealism and of the Auricular. From Futurism to fantasy art, the artists of the 20th century have delved into the dreamscape more thoroughly than any century before. They have (consciously or not) turned to the language of the past to express their ideas, and what stylistic movement gives them such a satisfactory and fitting vocabulary for their dreams and nightmares as the Auricular, with the anatomical riffs which seem to carry such shadowy significance?

Salvador Dalí, The persistence of memory, 1931, o/c, 9.5 x 13 ins (24.1 x 33 cm.), MOMA, New York

I will now present in more detail a number of 20th century artists whose work has Auricular style elements. At the present time we are seeing a resurgence of artists using (or at least, interested in) traditional methods of learning art. In contradiction to the laissez-faire attitude of art departments of most universities and schools, there are atelier programs around the world that are teaching traditionally.

So let’s go back to the roots of 20th century art.

Beginning around 1920, Surrealism became an Art Movement, and in many ways the figurehead was Salvador Dalí. Dalí’s surreal figures and landscapes have many Auricular aspects, including their malleable forms and distorted figures. Dalí’s work has a distinct element of world criticism and cynicism that is far more accentuated than that during the period of the17th century Auricular.

In the 1940s and later, many artists followed the tenets of abstract expressionism, which occasionally ventured into figurative work, often disguised amid obscuring geometric forms.

Henry Moore, Standing figures, c.1948, pencil, crayon & watercolour, Hauser & Wirth

Henry Moore’s figures, for instance, often stand on the cusp of Auricular forms, with almost purely abstract forms used to imply their physiognomy.

Roberto Matta (1911-2002), The red sun, coloured crayon & pencil, 19 5/8 x 25 5/8 ins (50 x 65 cm.), Christie’s, 4 February 2015, Lot 101

This is also true of the Chilean artist, Roberto Matta, whose abstractions bear a strongly fleshy overtone. Matta was in Paris with the Surrealists early on, and knew many of them personally. His work often verges on pure abstraction, but usually maintains a semblance of nature and bodies held within.

Lee Bontecou (1931- ), untitled, no date

Later, these abstracted human forms came even closer to Auricular shapes, such as in the work of Lee Bontecou, which often appears more Surrealist than anything, merged with the use of modern industrial shapes. Bontecou dealt frequently with the theme of fear, both physical and psychological.

Lee Bontecou (1931- ), untitled, 1961, welded steel, canvas, velvet, rawhide, copper wire, & soot,  56 x 39.5 x 21.125 ins, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

Lee Bontecou, untitled, 1961, detail

Bontecou conjures a mood from her work that is both playful and menacing.

Basil Wolverton (1909-78), illustration, c. 1950

Since the 1960s many artists have produced Pop Art, frequently cheekily playing with the ideals implied by advertising slogans and imagery. Amid a great diversification of media in the 1960s came an interest in the visual methods of popular culture, some of which, again, has distinctly Auricular overtones to it.

Basil Wolverton, who became famous as an illustrator for numerous younger magazines (including MAD) stretched human anatomy to totally ridiculous forms, in a way similar to the caricature produced in the Auricular period of the 17th century. Here we can see features exaggerated, twisted, and morphing into other forms, recalling the grotesque figures of Van Bolten and the masks of Frans Huys.

H.R. Giger (1940-2014), Passage X

This is equally true of H.R. Giger, who was at school in Zurich during this period; his illustration work caught the eyes of filmmakers, leading to his fame as the artist of the Alien movies.

H.R. Giger (1940-2014), Science fiction

Giger’s surrealism combined beings with machines, a style he called ‘biomechanical’, which has become very popular over the last 20 or 30 years.

H.R. Giger (1940-2014), Biomechanoid

His work often has a very blatant sexual aspect, making it a tough pull as ‘fine art’, though it must be considered as such in the longer view.

In some ways, fine art has become a very specialized field over the past century, with most average people either rejecting the gallery offerings altogether, or embracing the absurdity of it all and revelling in it. This has also prompted a serious movement in the popular arts: illustration, graffiti art, fashion, all of which have grown considerably in scale as well as discussion. The arts of architectural ornament, hit hard by the deterioration of traditional art studies, have been another refuge for the strength and repetition of ornamental work, much of which has been taken over in the 20th century by machine production.

Mario Martinez (‘Mars 1’), Tulpa #5, ink & acrylic, 48 x 52 ins, 2009, Richard Heller Gallery

One artist I’ve discovered from street art goes by the name Mars-1, (Mario Martinez) whose work has much in common with Auricular art, as you can see here. It has the same folding fleshiness, morphing forms and sense of grotesque anatomical detail.

Mario Martinez (‘Mars 1’), Strange cargo, 2008

Using the tools of descriptive art, he creates images that imply creatures and faces, but are created of plant, marine, and even mineral forms.

Mario Martinez (‘Mars-1’), Nuclear mystics, 2009

Like 17th century Auricular art, these images suggest masks and mascarons, although when inspected closely their features are abstract and unrelated to any physiognomy, animal or human.

Greg Simkins (1975- ), The artefact, 2013

Greg ‘Craola’ Simkins is an artist from Southern California, who plays with his imagery in ways related to the Auricular; his work can be found both on the streets and in the studio.

Greg Simkins (1975- ), It floats

Here are a few pieces that fit in the Auricular category in an odd, playful way.

Greg Simkins (1975- ), In with the tide, 2012

If we look back into the late 16th and early 17th centuries, we can find artists such as Joris Hoefnagel, who was employed to add pictorial decorations to manuscripts, including creatures and masks which very much anticipate the work of Simkins.

Joris Hoefnagel (1542-1601), Guide to drawing an ‘s’ and a ‘t’, with grottesca decorations, from The model book of calligraphy, 1591-96

Hoefnagel’s flourishes tend to be more symmetrical, perhaps, but they employ exactly the same methods as these 20th and 21st century artists.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Portrait of Fernande Olivier, 1909, o/c, 65 x 54.5 cm., Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Of course, one of the first modernists to play extensively with facial shapes is Pablo Picasso.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Head of a woman, 1909, bronze, 16 x 10.25 x 10 ins (40.6 x 26 x 25.4 cm.), Metropolitan Museum of Art

While his work has been dissected countless times, very few would mention numerous similarities with the Auricular – however, breakdown of form, abstraction of the human shape, and deliberate confusion are among elements in common with the earlier style.

Roberto Matta (1911-2002), Cabeza, 1938, 23 18 cm., art market

The Chilean artist, Roberto Matta, to whom I’ve already referred, represents abstraction to many people, but his work often incorporates recognizably human elements. Matta was in Europe in the 1930s and met Dalí and a number of other Surrealists.

Roberto Matta (1911-2002), Untitled, 1938/39, crayon & graphite, 40 x 65 cm., Art Institute of Chicago

He worked with what he labelled the ‘inscape’ [following Gerard Manley Hopkins], meaning the human psyche given physical form.

Roberto Matta (1911-2002), Untitled, 1937, 19.7 x 24.5 cm.

In this image in particular we are conscious of the skull-like or organ-like forms in which Matta clothes the evocation of mood and emotion.

Jason Limon (1973- ), The skies will miss you, 2010, acrylic on panel, 15 x 19 ins

A more contemporary artist, Jason Limon, has taken up the tradition of the grotesque mask and brought it into the modern era.

Jason Limon (1973- ), Invasive, 2011, acrylic on wood, 9.5 x 17 ins

As in many of the works from the 17th century, the features are more suggestions than real faces, though he does use eyes that have implied transparency and depth to them in most of his work.

Travis Louie (1964- ), Marsh floater, 2015

In this context I should mention Travis Louie again, a young artist who has been inspired by numerous films, including the work of the animator Ray Harryhausen (famous for Jason & the Argonauts, amongst others).

Travis Louie (1964- ), Strange stones, 2015

Much of Louie’s work is fairly realistic in its depiction of human faces and features, but some – where it becomes particularly fanciful – is very reminiscent of Auricular imagery.

A. J.  Fosik, Reason is the oracle, 2011, polychrome wooden sculpture

We can also find creators of actual masks – for instance A.J. Fosik, from the Detroit area. Fosik creates masks out of wood and paint.

A. J.  Fosik, Materkas witness, c.2011, polychrome wooden sculpture

Most of them are fairly conventional, but in some – where the source seems to lie in the faces and masks of Chinese figures (monsters and gods) – the features are distorted and stretched to the absurdity of Auricular dimensions.

Aaron Horkey, Capricorn blues, 2015, wall painting, Long Beach Museum of Art, & detail

I should also mention the paintings of Aaron Horkey, whose graphic work I have long admired. Horkey works with a variety of ornamental modes, which verge on the Auricular when he is in his more abstract mode.

Walton Ford, Falling bough, 2002, watercolour, gouache & pencil, 60.5 x 119.5 ins, private collection

Like Horkey, Walton Ford has a beautiful decorative style, which effortlessly combines the fluid power of sinewy and cartilaginous forms with a lyrical use of rhythm and colour.

Patrick McGrath Muñiz (1975- ), Metr@donis, 2010

Another artist who definitely seems aware of the traditions of Auricular art, especially the case of his picture frames, is Patrick McGrath Muñiz, an artist who grew up in Puerto Rico, and received a master’s degree from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2006.

Patrick McGrath Muñiz (1975- ), Supersized Holy Happy Meal

He is mostly interested in the traditions of consumerism and mythology, but he frequently employs traditional framing with his pieces, some of which verge on Auricular designs.

Decorative head on the Million Dollar Theater, Los Angeles, 1917

We should not forget the influence of the Auricular in contemporary sculpture and architecture, either. Here, for example, is an image of an architectural decoration I recently noticed on the side of the Million Dollar Theater building in Los Angeles, built in 1917 in the Spanish Churrigueresque Baroque style, but which also bears a passing resemblance to the Auricular.

Bertram Goodhue, Casa del Prado Theater, San Diego, 1915

The style was used on a number of Southern California buildings, including Balboa Park in San Diego.

The elements of the Auricular have thus never been too far from Western design since their invention in the 1600s. Sculpture and paintings suggestive of other objects than they superficially represent, motifs which are not quite as they appear, confusing imagery and zoömorphic ornaments, have all been present within the flow of Western Art for many years, perhaps particularly during the 20th century. They are central today, though they are not always expressed exactly as they might have been in the Auricular style of the 17th century. But the imaginative force out there is in many ways very closely akin to earlier manifestations of the Auricular, as can be seen by the examples collected in this paper.


Steve Shriver is a visual artist and art historian who has spoken and exhibited worldwide. He has taught at the Palos Verdes Art Center, The Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, American Society of Interior Designers, The Representational Arts Conference, and the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston, South Carolina. He has public murals in Hermosa Beach and San Pedro, California, and numerous private murals around the world. You can see more of his work at

Between Amsterdam, Paderborn and Rome: a remarkable frame in the collections of the Louvre

Dr Charlotte Chastel-Rousseau discusses a singular and unique example of an Auricular frame in the Louvre.

 Fig.1 Nicolaes Roosendael (c. 1634-1686), Ferdinand von Fürstenberg, bishop of Paderborn, receiving the thesis in theology of the young Hendrick Damien of Amsterdam, o/c, s. & d.1669, 181 x 143 cm., Musée du Louvre, RF 3717 © 1998 Musée du Louvre. Photo: Angèle Dequier

Among the vast collection of 17th century Dutch paintings in the Musée du Louvre, only one is framed in the Auricular style [1] (fig. 1). In fact, Auricular frames are very rare in French public collections in general [2]; a fact which says much about the history of taste and the relatively low interest that these sculptural and highly decorative frames have had amongst French patrons, private collectors and curators until today. Dutch ebonized frames, or French Louis XIII-XIV gilded patterns with a more restrained outline, have in general been preferred for Dutch paintings. The frame surrounding the portrait of Ferdinand von Fürstenberg, bishop of Paderborn (Paris, Musée du Louvre, RF 3717) is all the more unique as it is, very probably, the original setting of the painting, which is dated 1669 and signed by the Dutch artist Nicolaes Roosendael (c.1634-86). It is thus a notable marker, both for the dissemination of the Auricular style and for the history of framing. After briefly presenting the recent history of the frame and the results of its technical survey, this case-study concludes with hypothesis about its commission and the artistic context of its invention and execution.

The portrait, the full title of which is Ferdinand von Fürstenberg, bishop of Paderborn, receiving the thesis in theology of the young Hendrick Daemen of Amsterdam, was donated to the Louvre in November 1930 by Hortense de l’Espine, Princess Louis de Croÿ (1867-1932) as part of a very important donation of around 3800 paintings and drawings [3]. The painting entered the national collection in an antique frame, as specified in the notarial deed: ’18- Nic. Rossendael [sic] (Fürstenberg) Evêque de Paderborn s/ toile H. 181 x L.143. Avec un cadre ancien H. 230 x 195‘ [4]. Although it has not been possible to establish the full provenance of the painting, it is highly probable that it was purchased by the princess’s father, Count Oscar de l’Espine (1827-92), a diplomat and connoisseur, who collected Dutch paintings in the second half of the 19th century [5]. The painting was inventoried at the time of the donation in 1930, although it belongs to a group of twenty-seven paintings which remained in the possession of the Princess de Croÿ and only arrived in the Louvre after her death in 1932 [6]. When she very generously donated such an important part of her collection, the princess stipulated that the paintings should be exhibited together, which explains why the painting is not displayed today in the Dutch and Flemish galleries in the Louvre [7].

 Fig. 2 Details of the two labels at the back of the frame

During the Second World War the painting was evacuated to the Château de Sourches, next to Le Mans in western France, whilst the frame remained in the Louvre [8]. Two labels with the number 377 at the back reveal that it was studied by Christiane Aulanier (1897-72), curatorial volunteer in the Paintings Department at the Louvre, who seized the opportunity of having so many empty settings at hand to conduct the first inventory of the collection of antique frames under the supervision of Germain Bazin (1901-90) [9] (fig. 2). In her inventory, she identified the frame as belonging to the 17th century Dutch school, but without mentioning that it was made in the Auricular style. In her description she only noted: ‘[un] Fronton orné d’une mitre entourée d’une crosse et d’une épée entrecroisés [sic]. En bas armoieries. Etat : la croix manque au-dessus du heaume’ [10].

The frame was reunited with its painting in 1946 and – after a sojourn in storage, and then in the conservation workshop – the whole work was publicly exhibited again in 1955. On October 7, 1962, the portrait was very sadly vandalized, several tears being inflicted in the painted layer and the canvas [11]. Whilst the painting was being restored in 1962-63, the frame was sent to the framing studio [12]. Between 1964 and 1980, both were kept mainly in store: a note on file in the Paintings Department specifies that the frame was then judged to be too damaged to be presentable [13]. Although the painting received the attention of the conservation studio on several occasions, no traces of any intervention on the frame could be traced, either in the documentation of the Paintings Department, or in the files of the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France. Since 1996 both painting and frame have been displayed together in their present location (Sully, second floor, Croÿ).

Fig. 3 Detail of the letter held by Hendrick Damien

It is almost certain that the painting of 1669 is still contained in its original frame. This assumption is supported not only by the iconography of the frame but also by technical and stylistic analysis. Although the circumstances of the commissioning of the portrait are not documented, the identity of both sitters is established, thanks to the Latin inscription painted in the letter held by the young Hendrick Daemen:

FER. D.G. Episcopo Paderbonensi, Coadjuditori monasteriensi S.R.I. Princip Serenissimo Comiti Pyrmontano et libero Baroni de Fustenberg Clementissimo Domino suo has Theses Dedicat consecratque humillimus cliens Henricus Daemen, Amsteldamensis A°1669’ (fig. 3).

Fig. 4 Details of the coat of arms and the episcopal insignia at the centres of the bottom and top rails

Fig. 5 Details of the back of the episcopal insignas with the mark of the missing cross

The iconography of the frame clearly relates to the prelate: the carved coat of arms in the centre of the bottom rail (fig. 4) and the episcopal insignia (mitre, crosier, and the cross, which is now missing [14]) on top of the frame (fig. 5) all refer to Ferdinand von Fürstenberg (1626-83), who had been appointed bishop of Paderborn in 1661, and co-adjudicator of Münster in 1667, both cities being located in Westphalia in the north-western part of the German Empire.

Fig. 6 Gerard Ederlinck (1640-1707) after Charles Le Brun, (1619-90) Ferdinandi Monaster. et Paderborn. Episcopi Poëma. E Typographia Regia, engraving, 1683, in Ferdinand von Fürstenberg, Poemata Ferdinandi Episcopi Monasteriensis Et Paderbornensis, S. R. I. Principis, Comitis Pyrmontani, Liberi Baronis De Furstenberg (Paris, 1684), Universität Paderborn

Other contemporary objects, such as his episcopal crosier, preserved in the Diözesanmuseum Paderborn, coins in his effigy minted in 1671 and engraved portraits bear similar coats of arms (fig. 6) [15].

Fig. 7 Back of the lower right angle

Technical examination of the frame also allows us to accept it as original, even though it has been renovated and slightly modified throughout time [16]. The frame is composed of a carved gilded front frame in limewood, consolidated by a supporting framework in a darker soft wood, probably pine. The carved frame is composed of two layers of limewood boards, and is assembled with half-lap joints (fig. 7). The supporting structure at the back is composed of two rectangular frames, the inner one creating the rabbet. On the whole, the construction of the frame is typical of 17th century Dutch frames.

Fig. 8 Detail of the reverse of the upper rail with the marks of a previous hanging device

At the centre of the upper rail, the marks of a previous hanging device, very much in accord with 17th century devices, can also be found (fig. 8). The only feature which might bring into question the originality of the frame is the presence of a one centimetre-wide wooden strip along the sight edge. Examination of the back of the canvas reveals that the stretcher was replaced at a relatively recent date; it is possible that this replacement induced some minor changes in the dimensions of the painting [17], which could explain why the sight of the frame had to be reduced in order to retain the picture safely. The carved frame is in good overall condition, although its surface has been regilded more than once.

Fig. 9 Detail of the back of the top left angle with a wood patch

The reverse reveals traces of several minor restorations – most importantly a wood patch at the back of the top left angle (fig. 9).

Fig. 10 Detail of the back of the lower right angle with a line drawn in graphite pencil along the back structure

A more substantial but undated intervention is the replacement of the back structure by a new one [18] (fig. 10).

Fig. 11 Details of the back of the top right angle with a piece of wood attached by nails

In the top right corner an irregular piece in a wood which seems older than the back frame has been nailed on (fig. 11). It could be evidence of the previous structure, or may be an addition to the frame in order to solve difficulties with the hanging.

Fig. 12 Detail of the Auricular ornaments on the frame, bottom centre

The third quarter of the 17th century has traditionally been considered the period when the Auricular style in framing flowered in the Netherlands [19]. The style of this particular frame is therefore very much in harmony with the date of the painting (added with the signature next to the foot of the armchair: ‘N. Roosendael f. 1669’).

Fig. 13 Detail, left side of frame

Unlike most surviving Auricular frames on portraits painted between 1650 and 1680, the Louvre frame is not ornamented by festoons or other figurative motifs. C.J. de Bruyn Kops has described this relatively sober version of the style as ‘pure Auricular carving’ and dates the few remaining frames of this type to the latter part of the 1660s, which would be in line with the date of 1669 [20].

Fig. 14 Detail, bottom left corner

The Louvre frame is characterized by a relatively shallow style of carving (figs 12-14): the design of folds, ripples and volutes is in low relief, and is very graphic and stylized – almost dry – which contrasts with the fullness and plasticity of other contemporary Dutch Auricular frames.

Fig. 15 Nicolas Roosendael (c. 1634-86), Portrait of Gerbrand Moleaner, Elizabeth de Jager and their four children, o/c, s. & d. 1669, 164 x 246 cm., unlocated. Photo: RKD

The frame surrounding the Portrait of Gerbrand Moleaner, Elizabeth de Jager and their four children, for example, a contemporary family portrait painted by Roosendael, also signed and dated 1669, is much more lavishly ornamented, with opulent festoons of flowers and grapes, and is carved in high relief [21] (fig. 15). It seems, however (as far as a black-&- white photograph of this now unlocatable work can be relied on), that the design and the carving of the Auricular motifs are very similar to those of the Louvre frame. A close look at the cascades of folds on the rails suggests that both frames may have been executed in the same workshop in Amsterdam, if not by the same woodcarver. Does this ‘dry’ Auricular style characterize the hand of a particular carver [22]? Is it typical of a particular centre of production at the end of the 1660s? As the corpus of securely datable Auricular frames remains quite limited, it is not easy to interpret the reasons behind these variations in the style. Altogether, many questions remain for the moment unresolved, including the identity of the craftsman who executed the frame.

 In order to establish the reasons that this luxurious and highly-crafted frame entered the collection of an eminent German prelate from a noble family in Westphalia, one need only refer to the cultural and social environment in which it was commissioned. Interestingly, the few biographical facts we know about Ferdinand von Fürstenberg and the painter Nicolaes Roosendael highlight their mutual Roman Catholic connections. Ferdinand von Fürstenberg was born in 1626 at Bilstein Castle in the Duchy of Westphalia [23]. He studied in Cologne where he became close to Fabio Chigi (1599-1667) who, as papal nuncio, was the contemporary diplomatic representative of the Vatican. Following the election of Chigi as Pope Alexander VII in 1655, Von Fürstenberg pursued a successful career in the papal court, and was appointed bishop of Paderborn in 1661. He was, as well as a zealous Catholic, a cultivated man and a patron of the arts, who collected manuscripts and published a collection of Latin poems.

Nicolaes Roosendael was born around 1635 in Hoorn in North Holland, and married a rich Catholic wife [24]; he was active as painter and art dealer in Amsterdam between 1663-86. His Roman Catholic social network was probably instrumental in his receiving the initial commission for the portrait of the bishop, and he may have himself commissioned, or at least suggested, a frame in the Auricular style for the painting. We know that Roosendael travelled from Amsterdam to Rome and back, but it cannot be established that he actually met Von Fürstenberg in either Rome or Paderborn. The younger sitter, Hendrick Daemen (1655-88), was only fourteen or fifteen years old when the double portrait was painted. In the Latin dedication on the painting, he is introduced as an ‘Amsteldamensis’ , possibly making him key to understanding how the German bishop and the Dutch painter got in touch. Daemen was born in Amsterdam in 1655 and according to the dedication, studied theology, seeking out the protection of Von Fürstenberg for this. It has been established that Daemen spent part of his life in Westphalia: he was registered as a City Councillor in Cologne where he died in 1688 [25].

Even though the commissioning of the painting is not documented, one can assume that it was painted in Amsterdam, partly after life as far as the lively, almost dancing, Hendrick Daemen is concerned, possibly partly after an engraved portrait for the more hieratically-presented prelate.

Fig. 16 Abraham Blooteling (1640-90), after Theodor Caspar, Baron von Fürstemberg (1615-75), Portrait of Ferdinand von Fürstemberg, engraving, 1669, 41.7 × 29.2 cm, Rijksmuseum

In 1669, the Dutch engraver Abraham Blooteling (1640-1690) went to Germany [26], where he published a portrait of Ferdinand von Fürstenberg after a portrait by Theodor Caspar von Fürstenberg (1615-1675), the sitter’s brother (fig. 16). Blooteling and Roosendael were both active in Amsterdam at the same time, and it is probable that Roosendael relied on this engraving for his own portrait. The elaborate frame was probably designed in Amsterdam as well, and carved either in Amsterdam or in Paderborn. It is tempting to interpret the graphic quality of its carving as evidence that it was executed in a Westphalian workshop after the Dutch design. But this remains for the moment only a seductive hypothesis, as its style seems very different from German productions of the period.

In any case, whether the frame now in the Louvre was executed in Holland and sent to Paderborn, or executed in Paderborn in the Dutch style, close examination validates its description as an original frame. It can be dated between 1669, the date of the portrait, and 1683, the date of the death of Ferdinand von Fürstenberg, making it a remarkable landmark in the stylistic history of framing and in the development of the Auricular style. We can only hope that new information about the commission of the painting and its frame, and about their early history, will contribute to a better understanding of the dissemination of the Auricular style outside the Low Countries.


Charlotte Chastel-Rousseau was educated at the Ecole du Louvre and at Université Paris-Sorbonne; she wrote her PhD on Royal monuments and public space in Great Britain and Ireland, 1714-1820 (2005, Université Paris I- Panthéon-Sorbonne). She has published work on 18th century British, French and Portuguese monumental sculpture, and has researched the circulation of artistic models and ideas in Europe from the Renaissance to the 18th century.  She has worked for the Louvre since 2007, and was recently appointed head of framing in the Department of Paintings, with curatorial responsibilities for the collection of frames. She is currently conducting an inventory of the collection, which comprises more than 9000 items dating from the 15th to the 20th century, and is preparing for an exhibition on the history of framing at the Musée du Louvre.

[1]  With thanks to Max Dujardin, head of the gilding and framing studio in the Louvre, who was the first to draw my attention to this frame.

[2]  The only other remarkable example in a French museum has been acquired relatively recently by the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris: ‘Frame, circa 1650-1655, Utrecht, gilded and carved limewood , acquired thanks to the support of Mr and Mrs Felix Rohatyn, 2001, Inv. 999.29.1

Auricular frames are also significantly absent from the files of the Maciet documentation, in which several boxes are dedicated to frames (Maciet 341, ‘Cadres de glace et de tableaux’, Paris, Bibliothèque des Arts décoratifs)

[3]  See Catalogue de l’exposition des oeuvres provenant des donations faites par Madame la princesse Louis de Croÿ…, Paris, Orangerie, 1930-1931 ; Clotilde Briere-Misme , ‘Au Musée du Louvre, la donation de Croÿ, les tableaux hollandais’, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1er semestre 1933, pp. 231-249, p. 245 et 246 ; Les donateurs du Louvre, Paris, RMN, 1989, p. 180

[4]  Etat descriptif des oeuvres d’art faisant l’objet de la donation par Madame la Princesse de Croÿ aux Musées Nationaux suivant acte reçu ce jour par Maître Moisy, notaire à Paris, November 27, 1930, Paris, Musée du Louvre, documentation du département des Peintures.

[5]  See Jacques Foucart, Catalogue des peintures flamandes et hollandaises du musée du Louvre, Paris, 2009, Gallimard/ Musée du Louvre Editions, vol. II, p. 222.

[6]  ‘ROOSENDAEL Nicolaas [sic], Portrait d’ecclésiastique aux cheveux noirs, H.1.83 L.1.44 RF 3717′, extract of the first manuscript inventory of the Croÿ donation, Paris, Musée du Louvre, Documentation du département des Peintures.

[7]  The fact that it has been presented apart and relatively far from the main collection of Dutch painting partly explains why the frame was only mentioned and not reproduced in the reference article about the framing policy of Dutch and Flemish paintings in the Louvre. See Jacques Foucart & Philippe Lorentz, ‘Une politique d’encadrement pour les écoles de peinture septentrionale’, La revue du Louvre et des Musées de France, 1993, n°5/6, p. 117.

[8]  See Germain Bazin, Souvenirs de l’exode du Louvre 1940-1945, Paris, Somogy, 1992, p. 48-49.

[9]  Germain Bazin worked for the Louvre as curator between 1934 and 1951 and as head of the Painting Department between 1951 and 1965.

[10]  Fiche Aulanier n°377, Paris, Musée du Louvre, Documentation du département des Peintures.

[11]  Ségolène Bergeon, ‘Quelques exemples de vandalisme en peinture’, Cinquième cours international pour restaurateurs, Unesco, 1985, vol. II, pp. 35-46.

[12]  With thanks to Clarisse Delmas, from the Painting conservation studio at the C2RMF, for her kind help with this research.

[13]  See file RF 3717, Paris, Musée du Louvre, documentation du département des Peintures.

[14]  An examination of the back of the upper rail reveals the mark of the now missing episcopal cross.

[15]  See Ferdinand Molinski, Ferdinand von Fürstenberg. Fürstbischof von Paderborn und Münster 1661-1683, Städtische Sammlungen Paderborn 1963.

[16]  I am most grateful to my colleagues from the Gilding and framing studio in the Louvre, who kindly agreed to analyze the frame with me.

[17]  A label on the stretcher indicates that it was replaced before 1941.

[18]  Lines in graphite pencil might have then been drawn along the rails of the previous structure to indicate their position and facilitate their replacement. They are still visible today next to the back frames.

[19]  Paul Mitchell & Lynn Roberts, A History of European Picture Frame, London, Merell Holberton, 1996, p. 82-83; Pieter van Thiel & C.J. de Bruyn Kops, Framing in the Golden Age. Picture and Frame in 17th-Century Holland, Rijksmuseum and Waanders Uitgevers Zwolle, Amsterdam, 1995, p. 13.

[20] Van Thiel, op. cit., p. 272.

[21]  Nicolaes Roosendael, Portrait of Gerbrand Moleaner, Elizabeth de Jager and their four children, signed and dated 1669, location unknown, photo RKD, reproduced with ist frame in R. Schillemans, ‘Nicolaes Roosendael (ca. 1635-1686): portretten in katholiek Amsterdam’, in E. Buijsen, Ch. Dumas, V. Manuth (eds), Face Book. Studies on Dutch and Flemish Portraiture of the 16th-18th Centuries. Liber Amicorum presented to Rudolf E.O. Ekkart on the occasion of his 65th Birthday, Leiden 2012, p. 390. For more details on this painting see, RKD online collections 33457.

[22]  In that case, the original frame of the following portrait attributed to Jan de Baen could have been executed by the same carver: Portrait of Abraham Graswinckel, c. 1667, The Hague, Rijjkdienst Beeldende Kunst, reproduced in black and white in Van Thiel, op. cit., p. 271.

[23] On Ferdinand von Fürstenberg, see: Norbert Börste & Jörg Ernesti (eds), Ferdinand von Fürstenberg: Fürstbischof von Paderborn und Münster: Friedensfürst und guter Hirte, vol. 42, Paderborn/ Munich/ Vienna/ Zurich, 2004, Schöningh; Ein westfälischer Fürstbischof von europäischer Bedeutung Ferdinand II. von Fürstenberg, exhibition Historisches Museum im Marstall Paderborn, 17 September 2004- 9 January 2005.

[24] On Roosendael see : H. Lahrkamp, Westfalen 64, 1986, p. 129-130; P. Dirkse, ‘Nicolaes Roosendael (1634/35-1686). Historieschilder voor katholiek Amsterdam’, Antiek 19 (1984), p. 88-90; R. Schillemans, ‘Altarpieces by Carel van Savoy and Nicolaes Roosendael’, Mercury, 1992, p. 53-59; Schillemans, 2012, op. cit., p. 387-398.

[25] See RKD online collections 986195

[26] See the biography of A. Blooteling published on the website of the Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco

Auricular ornament in Dutch Architecture (1610-1675)

Dr Pieter Vlaardingerbroek examines evidence of the Auricular style in the Netherlands and the means of dating it more accurately through Dutch architecture and architectural artefacts, and through sculptural objects such as pulpits and tombstones.


Hendrick de Keyser, bust of a unknown man, 1606. Photo: Rijksmuseum


When speaking about Auricular ornament in Holland, most art historians refer either to works of art in silver and other metalwork from the first decades of the 17th century, or to the revival of the style as it can be seen in picture frames and furniture from the third quarter of that century. Generally, this revival is seen as the consequence of the issue of ornamental prints around 1650, made by the silversmiths Christiaan van Vianen, Johannes and Jacob Lutma, and by Gerbrandt van den Eeckhout, painter and son of an Amsterdam goldsmith. When describing the history of the style in this way, it seems as if there is an absence of Auricular ornament between 1600 and 1650 in all kinds of art except for that in metal. Some art historians even go so far as to proclaim that Auricular ornament in other materials than metal is virtually impossible.

This idea can be found in Framing in the Golden Age, and in the exhibition catalogue Dawn of the Golden Age: Auricular ornament

‘remained limited to the realm of the cartouche in the graphic arts and to most exclusive works in silver’. [1]

Both publications claim strapwork remained dominant in the other arts, and

‘it was not until much later in the century, around 1650, that this type of [Auricular] ornamentation appeared in picture frames, tables and chests’. [2]

The same opinion can also be found in Form and decoration by Peter Thornton:

‘So, while the fresh and exciting first fruits of fully developed Auricularism were to be seen in metalwork during the second and third decade of the century, other manifestations of the style were mostly produced in the third quarter of the century’. [3]

When looking at ornamental prints and most picture frames, this general idea seems to hold some truth – even though one could raise one’s eyebrows when art historians claim that the carved (name) sign in Auricular style belonging to a painting by Bartholomeus van der Helst from 1648 can not be contemporaneous with it:

‘if indeed they were carved, this would contradict our finding that Auricular frames originated in the early ’50s’ .[4]



Figure 1: Anonymous maker, Sign belonging to Bartholomeus van der Helst, Banquet at the Crossbowmen’s Guild in Celebration of the Treaty of Münster, 1648 (and detail), Rijksmuseum, on long term loan from the City of Amsterdam. Photo: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Johan ter Molen, perhaps the foremost connoisseur of Auricular ornament, expresses a similar opinion in his essay on the Auricular, and in his dissertation on the Van Vianen family [5]. One of the first scholars claiming to see a time gap between the early and later Auricular style was C.H. de Jonge in 1915 [6]. She saw Auricular art depicted in works by Jan Steen and H. van der Mijn; she dated all tables and furniture with Auricular ornament to around 1660-1680.

Some other Dutch publications dating from the beginning and middle of the 20th century follow the earliest writings on Dutch Auricular style, which were produced by two Germans, Carl Neumann and (especially) Walther Zülch. Zülch’s ground-breaking book, Entstehung des Ohrmuschelstiles, describes the origin of the style, which gave him the freedom to show all the ingredients that led to it, starting with the grotesque in Italy, and including Federico Zuccaro, Hendrick Goltzius and strapwork. The Haarlem painter Goltzius was an important link in the creation of Auricular ornament: ever since Neumann wrote about Auricular style in his monograph on Rembrandt in 1901, Goltzius has been cited as the link between Italy and Holland; both Zülch and Neumann see him as the ‘inventor’ of the ornament currently known as Auricular. In his print of Bacchus (and in many cartouches on other prints) Goltzius shows a bowl with characteristics of the style [7].

The influence of these works can be found in Dutch publications from around the middle of the 20th century. Lunsingh Scheurleer implies in his Rijksmuseum Furniture Catalogue the existence of Auricular ornament in furniture from the 1630s and 1640s [8]. He believed that the tester bed in Auricular style in Rembrandt’s Danaë (1636) was a real piece of furniture, owned by the painter himself. Van der Pluym indicated that around 1630 strapwork was replaced by Auricular ornament, which itself disappeared after 1660 [9]. Still, very few examples are given of early examples in the Auricular, executed in three dimensions. The dissertation of Antje-Maria von Graevenitz does mention some earlier examples of the ornament in architecture [10]. A tombstone in the Pieterskerk in Leiden served as an example from the 1620s, although we could ask ourselves whether this really is an Auricular ornament or a further development of strapwork.

Which of the two groups of academics is right? This question is difficult to answer. The case might be that both groups have a different view on what Auricular ornament is. The first group of Dutch scholars limit it to the pure style of the Van Vianens and Lutma, making it more a less a Dutch national style. The second group incorporates the development towards this ‘high’ Auricular style, and by doing so, they have a more international view of Auricular ornament. This tendency of placing the Dutch Auricular style within the context of a wider international movement is also apparent in publications by Peter Thornton[11] and Peter Fuhring [12]. Fuhring describes different groups within the Auricular family as ‘German’, ‘French’ and ‘Italian’ Auricular, while the Dutch variant is just called ‘Auricular’.

In this essay I will give an overview of Auricular ornament within Dutch architecture and architectural artefacts. As many artefacts such as picture frames and furniture are undated, this might give a clearer view on the use of Auricular through time.

Architecture and Auricular ornaments


Figure 2: Amsterdam, 506 Herengracht, 1685. Photo: the author

Auricular ornament is – apart from cartouches – rather rare in Dutch buildings. One excellent example is the scrolled gable of 506 Herengracht in Amsterdam, with its sculpted top, comprising two triangular parts in which a leg of an animal continues upwards to end in scrolls (1685).


Figure 3: Leiden, Weigh House. Photo: Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency


Figure 4: Boer, Dutch Reformed Church, entrance. Photo: Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency

Auricular ornament on façades is usually applied in cartouches or oeils-de-boeuf, either in the top of a scrolled gable or situated in the tympanum of a pediment. Two examples of sculpted tympani stand out from the crowd. One is located in Leiden in the Weigh House, in the pediment of the shed, and was made by the Leiden sculptor Gerrit Goosman[13]. The other one is in Boer, a Frisian village, where the pedimented entrance has a similar (but rather less elegantly carved) tympanum [14].


Figure 5: Amsterdam, 386 Herengracht, 1663. Photo: Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency

In Amsterdam several hundreds of oeils-de-boeuf can be found, and it is likely that master bricklayers and carpenters were being taught how to design them. These oeils-de-boeuf are usually seen as the offspring of prints by Lutma, Van Vianen and Van Eeckhout, even though their design usually lacks the three-dimensional fleshiness of these prints. Ter Molen mentions several examples from the 1650s, especially within the work of the architect Philips Vingboons. References are made to Herengracht 59-61-63 (1659, 1665-66) and Herengracht 386 (1663).


Figure 6: Amsterdam, 364-370 Herengracht (Cromhout houses), 1661. Photo: Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency

Other well-known examples are Herengracht 364-370 (1660-62), also designed by Vingboons [15].


Figure 7: Gerrit Berckheyde, View on Kloveniersburgwal and the Trippen house, 1685. Photo: Andreas Borowski, private collection


Figure 8: detail of the Trippen house façade. Photo: the author

His brother Justus Vingboons was responsible for designing the Trippenhuis (1660-1662) with its pilastered façade, covered with cartouches and lambrequins below the windows in a fully-developed Auricular style.


Figure 9: Philips Vingboons, 319 Keizersgracht in Amsterdam, 1639, taken from Afbeelsels der voornaemste gebouwen uyt alle die Philips Vingboons geordineert heeft, Amsterdam 1648. Photo: the author


Figure 10: 319 Keizersgracht, detail. Photo: City of Amsterdam

Strangely enough, the Auricular ornament in his earlier work has never been noticed, even though he used very similar oeils-de-boeuf from the 1630s onwards: Keizersgracht 319 (1639) has an example.


Figure 11: Philips Vingboons, design for an internal portico for Huydecoper house, 1639. Photo: Het Utrechts Archief

Vingboons also used these details on porches within the house, as can be seen in a design for the house of Joan Huydecoper (1639) [16].


Figure 12: 69 Oudezijds Achterburgwal Amsterdam, 1645. Photo: the author

Other houses also have early specimens of Auricular oeils-de-boeuf, as Oudezijds Achterburgwal 76 shows (dated 1645; architect unknown).


Figure 13: Utrecht, Brunten alms houses, 1621. Photo: Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency


Figure 14: Adam van Vianen, tazza, 1610. Photo: Rijksmuseum

Outside Amsterdam, earlier examples can be found. An interesting specimen is the gate of an almshouse in Utrecht, home town of the Van Vianen family. The Bruntenhof (1621) has a Doric gate with three cartouches with Auricular features; the large one in the frieze even resembles elements from the Adam van Vianen tazza of 1610, now in the Rijksmuseum. Another, and probably more important, source of influence for architects and stonemasons was to be found in prints and books.


Figure 15: Samuel Marolois, Oeuvres Mathematicques traictans de Geometrie, Perspective, Architecture et Fortification, The Hague, 1614. Photo: ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Rar 9726 GF

One example was that essential mathematical textbook by Samuel Marolois, Oeuvres Mathematicques traictans de Geometrie, Perspective, Architecture et Fortification. Its publisher, Hendrick Hondius, published many editions with title pages filled with Auricular cartouches.


Figure 16: Haarlem town hall, balcony, 1630. Photo: Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency

In Haarlem we find two interesting examples of Auricular cartouches. The first is on the balcony of the town hall, dated 1630 and very much in the German tradition of the style. The painter and architect Salomon de Bray was probably responsible for its design.


Figure 17: Haarlem, Meat Hall, 1602-03. Photo: Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency


Figure 18 Haarlem, Meat Hall, the city´s coat of arms, 1602-03. Photo: Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency

The earliest specimen of Auricular design may be the coat of arms of the city of Haarlem, which was made for the Meat Hall, a building designed by Lieven de Key in 1602-03. The building is regarded as one of the best examples of architecture with strapwork, but the coat of arms has a soft surrounding, which is considered to be the first piece of Auricular ornament in stone in the Netherlands [17].

Haarlem was the city where Hendrick Goltzius lived, and it is very tempting to credit him with the design of this coat of arms, which must have been executed by a skilled sculptor. Goltzius and the architect and sculptor Hendrick de Keyser (1565-1621) cooperated in 1604 on the so-called Saint Martin’s cup for the Haarlem Brewer’s Guild (1604); they were good friends and must have discussed their views on art [18].


Figure 19: Jonas Suyderhoef after Thomas de Keyser, Portrait of Hendrick de Keyser, 1621. Photo: Rijksmuseum

Goltzius, this versatile artist who was already designing prints with Auricular ornament in the 1590s, almost certainly influenced De Keyser. In the latter’s work, Auricular ornament can be found from 1606 onwards. As a sculptor he also worked with bronze, which might explain his early use of Auricular ornament and its subsequent transference to stone. Interestingly enough, he was born and educated in Utrecht, the centre of the Auricular style in the Netherlands. As a result of the friendship between Goltzius and De Keyser it is hardly surprising either that Auricular ornament found its way to architecture and the decorative arts in Amsterdam. Hendrick de Keyser used it in his architecture, as did his sons and son-in-law in the second, third and fourth decades of the 17th century.


Figure 20: Hendrick de Keyser, bust of a unknown man, 1606. Photo: Rijksmuseum

A very early work in which the influence of Auricular ornament can be found is the bust of an unknown man (dated 1606; Rijksmuseum). Note especially the wooden pedestal with its cartouche, as well as the lower part of the bust itself.


Figure 21: Hendrick de Keyser, Sign on top of the Mausoleum for William the Silent in Delft, 1614-23. Photo: Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency

Another work which shows Auricular ornament at its best is the mausoleum for William the Silent in the New Church in Delft, which De Keyser designed in 1614 and which was finished after his death by his son Pieter (1623). Both the bronze elements and especially the sign on top of the structure may be described as Auricular [19].


The friendship between Hendrick Goltzius and De Keyser may have led to the introduction of Auricular ornament into the field of sculpture and architecture. De Keyser transferred Goltzius’s works on paper to stone and bronze. This resulted in the use of cartouches all through the 17th century, which can be called Auricular as long as one takes the more international point of view. By incorporating the Italian, German and French traditions and ideas on Auricular style, one can see a continuous use of Auricular ornament in Dutch art and architecture.

A short excursion to Auricular ornament in churches: pulpits and tombstones 


Choir screen, Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, detail. Photo: groenling

The Auricular style seems to have been very popular in churches. The most famous example is the magnificent choir screen of the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, dating to c.1650 – a combination of classicisizing architecture with fillings of metalwork in Auricular style by Johannes Lutma. We know that this screen was made after the fire of 11th January 1645, which destroyed the main roof of the church. It was probably made during the same campaign as the monumental pulpit (1647-49) by Albert Jansz Vinckenbrinck (1605-1664), which also combines classical and Auricular ornament.


Figure 22: Nijmegen, St Steven’s Church, pulpit by Joost Jacobsz. Photo: Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency

It is one of at least eighteen pulpits in Holland which have Auricular ornament. In some cases they are documented, giving us dates of fabrication as well as names of makers. The earliest example is to be found in the Church of St. Steven in Nijmegen; the Amsterdam joiner Joost Jacobsz was responsible for its design and execution [20].

The ornaments are not taken from prints by Lutma, Van Vianen or Van den Eeckhout, but show a similarity to those by Lucas Kilian and especially Michel le Blon. This goes for both the infill of the panels and the cartouches on the lower part of the pulpit, which are very similar to Le Blon’s Verscheyden Wapen-schilden verciert met helm en lof [21]. The same goes for the pulpit of the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, which was made by the joiner Jan Pietersz in 1642. Its brass banister was made by Joost Gerrits and executed in the so-called pea-pod style [22].

When looking for pulpits influenced by the prints by Van den Eeckhout and Van Vianen, we have to go to a later date. In 1656 Engel Westerwout designed the pulpit of the Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague. The pulpit with its fenced-off baptismal garden (an area around the pulpit where baptisms took place) reveal Auricular ornament in almost all its elements: banisters, friezes, panels, as well as the rounded base of the pulpit itself [23]. The same can be said of the work of Henrick Widtfelt, who was responsible for three – and possibly four – pulpits in the province of Gueldern. In 1657 he executed the pulpit for the Catholic Church in Zevenaar, dedicated to St Andrew, adorned with statuettes of the Holy Virgin and other saints. Auricular ornament was used in areas of secondary importance, such as the sides and the stairs [24]. The pulpit was generally admired in this small town, as appears from the fact that the Protestants asked the same Henrick Widtfelt to make a pulpit for their church (1659). Instead of statuettes, Auricular cartouches were applied. Widtfelt agreed to make the pulpit for 400 guilders and one ‘rosenobel’ (11 guilders); the work was to be delivered within ten weeks and would be modelled on the ‘old church’ in Arnhem [25]. This old church can be identified as the main Protestant church in Arnhem; it was originally dedicated to St Eusebius when it was built as a Catholic church. The similarity between the two pulpits is indeed striking [26]. Another (undated) pulpit which may have been made by Widtfelt stands in the Reformed church Doesburg, formerly dedicated to St Martin [27].

Apart from these examples, other dated pulpits can be found in the Protestant churches in Bolsward (1662, made by J. Kinnema), Batenburg (1665) and Leersum (1676), while undated ones can be found in churches of Appingedam, Boer, Grave, Grootebroek, Landsmeer, Maasbommel, Zuiderwoude, Zuidhorn en Zutphen [28]. The influence of prints by Van den Eeckhout, Van Vianen and Lutma is more obvious in the pulpits which are situated in or around Amsterdam and The Hague from 1650 onwards, as well as in the works by Henrick Widtfelt. In other pulpits, Lucas Kilian’s prints have had more influence, as well as in the early pulpits in Amsterdam or made by Amsterdam joiners. Except for one, all pulpits were made for Protestant churches.


Figure 23: Amsterdam, Old Church, tombstone for the De Graeff family, 1638. Photo: the author

Auricular elements inspired by Van den Eeckhout’s, Lutma’s and Van Vianen’s engraved ornamental prints are to be found quite regularly on tombstones. The earliest examples seem to date from the 1630s, even though one has to be careful with these dates; it is not always true that burial dates give the correct date for a tombstone. Probably one of the earliest examples of a tombstone in the Auricular style can be found in the Old Church in Amsterdam, made for the De Graeff family, one of the most powerful dynasties in the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic. They owned a grave in the choir of the church, where they buried mayor Dirck Jansz de Graeff in 1638. Possibly the tombstone was made at the same time; from 1648 onwards the family buried their members in their newly-acquired chapel, for which the sculptor Artus Quellinus made a screen in marble [29]. 1638 is very early, considering that all ‘classical Auricular’ prints were made more than a decade later, but we have to bear in mind that the De Graeff family kept in close contact with Johannes Lutma, who made (a.o.) a ceremonial silver trowel in Auricular style which was used by the son of Cornelis de Graeff in 1648, when laying the first stone for the Amsterdam Town Hall. In other parts of the Netherlands we find also tombstones which seem to have been made earlier than the prints [30].


Figure 24: Jacob Lutma naar Johannes Lutma, Verscheide Snakerijen dienstich voor Goutsmits, Beelthouwers, Steenhouwers en alle die de Const beminnen, Amsterdam 1654. Photo: Rijksmuseum


Dr Pieter Vlaardingerbroek is an architectural historian, working at the Heritage Office of the City of Amsterdam and as an assistant professor at Utrecht University. In 2011, he published his Ph.D. research on the Amsterdam Town Hall. In 2013, he wrote and edited books about the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, the architect Adriaan Dortsman (1635-1682) and the Amsterdam Canals.


[1] Pieter J.J. van Thiel, C.J. de Bruyn Kops, Framing in the Golden Age. Picture and Frame in 17th-Century Holland, Amsterdam/Zwolle 1995, p. 210, 212.

[2] Wouter Th. Kloek, ‘Northern Netherlandish Art 1580-1620’, Dawn of the Golden Age. Northern Netherlandish Art 1580-1620, Amsterdam/Zwolle [1993], p. 15-111, citation from p. 54. The same opinion is expressed by Reinier Baarsen, Dutch Furniture 1600-1800, Amsterdam/Zwolle 1993, p. 34, 40.

[3] Peter Thornton, Form and Decoration. Innovation in the Decorative Arts 1470-1870, London 1998, p. 96.

[4] Van Thiel/De Bruyn Kops 1995 (note 1), p. 210.

[5] J.R. ter Molen, ‘Auriculaire’, in: A. Gruber (ed.), L’Art Decoratif en Europe. Classique et Baroque, 3 vols, Paris 1992, vol. 2, p. 27-91; J.R. ter Molen, Van Vianen. Een Utrechtse familie van zilversmeden met een internationale faam, 2. vols, diss. Leiden 1984, vol. 1, p. 59.

[6] De Jonge saw Auricular art depicted in works by Jan Steen and H. van der Mijn; she dated tables and furniture with Auricular all around 1660-1680; C.H. de Jonge, ‘Ornament en meubelen in de tweede helft der zeventiende eeuw’, Oude Kunst, 1 (1915), p. 3-7. Interestingly enough, she mentions a tester bed, being modelled by the sculptor Rombout Verhulst, by which she seems to indicate that sculptors had an important hand in creating furniture in Auricular style. See also C.H. de Jonge, W. Vogelsangh, Holländische Möbel und Raumkunst 1650-1780, The Hague 1922.

[7] Zülch elaborated on Carl Neumann’s book on Rembrandt, who typified the style as ‘unfőrmig’ and saw many examples of auricular style in Rembrandt’s paintings of the 1630s.W.R. Zülch, Entstehung des Ohrmuschelstiles, Heidelberg 1932; C. Neumann, Rembrandt, 2 vols, Munich 1922 (Heidelberg 19011), p. 758-782 (Rembrandt und der sogenannte Ohrmuschelstil).

[8] Th.H. Lunsingh Scheurleer, ‘Inleiding’, in: Catalogus van meubelen en betimmeringen, Amsterdam 1952, p. 13-78, in particular p. 55. More explicitly Van haardvuur tot beeldscherm. Vijf eeuwen interieur- en meubelkunst in Nederland, Leiden 1961, p. 61-62.

[9] Willem van der Pluym, Vijf eeuwen binnenhuis en meubels in Nederland 1450-1950, Amsterdam 1954, p. 46, 73.

[10] Antje-Maria von Graevenitz, Das niederländische Ohrmuschel-Ornament. Phänomen und Entwicklung dargestellt an den Werken und Entwürfen der Goldschmiedefamilien van Vianen und Lutma, diss. München 1973, Bamberg 1973, p. 57.

[11] Peter Thornton, Form and Decoration. Innovation in the Decorative Arts 1470-1870, London 1998. He described the prints of Daniel Rabel in his chapter on Amsterdam and Auricular art saying that Rabel ‘produced a book of cartouches with Auricular features’. The image however is depicted in his chapter on Rome and Bologna, and Thornton characterizes it over there as ‘highly grotesque’.

[12] Peter Fuhring, Ornament Prints in the Rijksmuseum II. The Seventeenth Century, 3 vols., Rotterdam 2004.

[13] C. Willemijn Fock, ´Leidse beeldsnijders en hun beeldsnijwerk in het interieur´, in: Th.H. Lunsingh Scheurleer, C. Willemijn Fock, A.J. van Dissel, Het Rapenburg. Geschiedenis van een Leidse gracht. Deel IVa: Leeuwenhorst, Leiden 1989, p. 7-78, esp. 17.

[14] Information kindly supplied by Albert Reinstra.

[15] Ter Molen 1992 (note 5), vol. 2, p. 48, 82.

[16] Pieter Vlaardingerbroek (ed.), The Amsterdam Canals: World Heritage, Amsterdam 2016, p. 68, 71.

[17] Von Graevenitz 1973 (note 10), p. 54-55.

[18] L.W. Nichols, ´Hendrick Goltzius – documents and printed literature concerning his life´, Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, 42-43 (1991/1992), p. 77-120. Nichols refers to Salomon de Bray, Architectura Moderna ofte Bouwinge van onsen tijt, Amsterdam (published by Cornelis Danckerts van Sevenhoven) 1631, p. 7; Huigen Leeflang, Ger Luijten e.a., Hendrick Goltzius. Tekeningen, prenten en schilderijen, Zwolle/Amsterdam etc. 2003, p. 28-29 and 20, note 54.

[19] For the monument itself, see Nicole Ex and Frits Scholten, De Prins en De Keyser. Restauratie en geschiedenis van het grafmonument voor Willem van Oranje, Bussum 2001.

[20] The same Joost Jacobs was also responsible for the design of the ‘Herenbank’, the benches for the city’s ruling class (1644). Here we find panels influenced by the prints of Lucas Kilian and Christoph Jamnitzer.

[21] Cf. Peter Fuhring, Ornament Prints in the Rijksmuseum II. The Seventeenth Century, 3 vols., Rotterdam 2004, vol. 1, no. 1344.

[22] H. Janse, De Oude Kerk te Amsterdam. Bouwgeschiedenis en restauratie, Zeist/Zwolle 2004, p. 325. Joost Gerrits produced some wonderful brass works in auricular style which were a gift to the Shogun and are now in the sanctuary in Nikko (Japan). Joost Gerrits was born around 1598 in the Bijlmermeer and became citizen of Amsterdam in 1641. He also made a brass candle-arm for the pulpit in Nijmegen in 1640.

[23] Cf. A. Landheer-Roelants (ed.), Uit Padmoes verrezen. De Nieuwe Kerk in Den Haag, Utrecht 2011.

[24] E.H. ter Kuile, De Nederlandse monumenten van geschiedenis en kunst: deel III: de provincie Gelderland, tweede stuk: het kwartier van Zutfen, Den Haag 1958, p. 186.

[25] For the full text of the contract, see F.A. Hoefer, “Nederlandsche Meubelen”, Bulletin Nederlandschen Oudheidkundigen Bond, 8 (1907), p. 148-149.

[26] There seems to be no archival record about the work of Henrick Widtfelt for this church; cf A.G. Schulte (ed.), De Grote of Eusebiuskerk te Arnhem. IJkpunt van de stad, Utrecht 1994.

[27] Ter Molen 1992 (note 5), vol.2, p. 78.

[28] The images of these pulpits can be found on the website of the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency: Bolsward; Batenburg; Leersum. The undated pulpits: Appingedam; Boer; Grave; Landsmeer (with thanks to Albert Reinstra); Zuiderwoude; Zuidhorn  and Zutphen.

[29] Janse 2004 (note 22), p. 261, 348.

[30] See the tombstone in Hogebeimtum, made for Focko van Aysma, who died in 1651.

Documenting developments in the taste for Auricular framing in Britain, 1620-80

Jacob Simon examines the growth of a British Auricular style from its beginnings in the Royal court under the influence of engraved borders, imported Italian (‘Sansovino‘) frames, and the movement of craftsmen, sculptors and other artists from the Continent into Britain. He considers the different patterns which developed; the maturing and waning of the style, and its legacy.


Sir Peter Lely, Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, c. 1655-59, o/c, 30 x 25 in (76.2 x 63.5 cm), National Portrait Gallery, London

The taste for Auricular picture frames, indeed for carved and gilt frames, rather than plain black mouldings, is one of the most extraordinary developments in the history of framing in Britain. How does one explain this sudden flowering from the 1620s onwards and why was the Auricular style one of those chosen? What did the style take from the Continent and what did it give back? How did the taste for the Auricular develop over the following two generations and why did it then decline?

The flowering in carved and gilt frames is largely explained by the huge expansion in collecting old master paintings and commissioning works of art among leading members of the courts of James I and, more especially, his son, Charles I, who became king in 1625. Those old masters that came with frames from abroad set up expectations among collectors. An expensive picture usually required an expensive frame.


Fig 1 Simon de Passe, after Paul van Somer, William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, 1617, engraving, 7 ¼ x 4 5/8 in (18.5 x 11.7 cm), National Portrait Gallery, London


Fig 2 John Payne, after Richard Greenbury, Arthur Lake, c. 1629, engraving, 10 5/8 x 7 1/8 in (26.9 x 18.0 cm) , National Portrait Gallery, London

As to the choice of the Auricular style, this was partly a matter of the visual environment of engraved ornament and imported frames. It was also dependent on the training and experience of the carvers and craftsmen involved. The earliest manifestations of the style in wide circulation in London in the 1610s took the form of engravings, whether portraits or other images. Both Simon de Passe’s Lord Pembroke (1617) and John Payne’s Bishop Lake (c.1629) show how engravers used intricate Auricular surrounds for their portraits (figs 1, 2).


Fig 3 Wendel Dietterlin , Illustration to Dietterlin’s ‘Architectura’, Nuremberg, 1598, etching, 10 x 7 3/8 in (25.2 x 18.7 cm), ©Trustees of the British Museum

Ornament books were published with the intention of being a source for craftsmen. While it is difficult to demonstrate that craftsmen had access to particular engravings, the evidence does survive in the case of two leading individuals involved in producing picture frames in London in the 1620s and 1630s. The carver, Zacharie Taylor, left ‘Dittenlyns Book of Architecture’, presumably Wendel Dietterlin’s Architectura (1598), to one of his servants in his will (fig. 3) [1]. The decorative painter, Matthew Goodricke, owned Barbaro’s Commentary on Vitruvius (his ownership inscription is dated 1618) and Domenico Fontana’s Della trasportatione dell’obelisco vaticano (inscribed and dated 1621) [2].

In 1621 the Duke of Buckingham’s agent, the Dutchman, Balthazar Gerbier, arranged for two great frames to be made in Venice ‘after the Italian fascion’, for the Duke’s purchases, Titian’s large Ecce Homo and Tintoretto’s The Woman taken in Adultery, at a cost of £22 in all [3]. These frames may have been in the Sansovino style. The great appeal of Venetian pictures to English collectors may explain why Sansovino frames seems to have been particularly influential, giving rise to elaborate frames with scrolls and volutes. No documented English frames from the 1620s or early 1630s survive but some descriptions are known. John de Critz, the king’s serjeant-painter, decorated a set of frames for Titian’s Caesars for the king in 1631. His bill describes the frames as carved with broad sight edges, mask heads, festoons, draperies, greater and lesser flowers, greater and lesser scrolls, and edges between the flutes [4]. The pictures were hung high in the Gallery at St James’s Palace. From the description, these lost frames were probably more Sansovino in style than Auricular but it seems probable that for London collectors at the time, Sansovino and Auricular were both seen as the latest fashion, and in a sense two sides of the same coin.

Artefacts such as engravings and imported frames were no doubt influential. However, arguably of greater importance was the rôle played by artists, engravers and craftsmen with international experience. In picture framing, many people played a part in deciding their form. The influential players in the choice of frames or in the formation of a style included the architect Inigo Jones, the keeper of the royal collection Abraham van der Doort, artists such as Daniel Mytens, Cornelius Johnson and Anthony Van Dyck, sculptors such as Maximilian Colt and Nicholas Stone and, of course, framemakers and suppliers like Zacharie Taylor, Henry Norris and George Geldorp. Many craftsmen in London came from the Netherlands or had close connections, meaning that the dominant influences on taste were northern European. It is the cultural backgrounds of the people involved, which explain why frames in the Auricular style were so different, say, in Florence from in London. The differences between the Netherlands and London were less marked because of the movement of artists and craftsmen between the two locations.

Routes into framing

It is worth thinking about routes into framing in London at the time and more particularly as to how frames were commissioned for King Charles I and his palaces.


Fig 4 Robert van Voerst after Anthony Van Dyck, Inigo Jones, 1635, engraving, 9 ½ x 7 in (24.2 x 17.7 cm), National Portrait Gallery, London

One of the dominant figures at court in terms of taste was Inigo Jones (fig. 4), who knew Italy well and occupied the influential position of Surveyor of the King’s Works. While well versed in the classical style, his drawings of interiors sometimes show elaborate frames or cartouches with Auricular elements, as with his designs for Queen Henrietta Maria at Greenwich [5].  On occasion he was called on to approve bills for picture framing, as in 1623 for some ebony frames made by Richard Norris for the future King Charles I [6].  As such, whether or not Jones designed frames, it would seem that he was of importance in the choice of frames and would have been in a position to influence their appearance. With Richard Norris, we meet the first of the Norrises who occupy a central position in picture framing in London in the 17th century.

The King’s Office of Works arranged framing of pictures to ornament the royal palaces, using craftsmen such as the serjeant painter, John De Critz, the carver Zacharie Taylor and the gilder Matthew Goodricke, all of whom we have met already. At Somerset House from 1628, Goodricke worked for Charles I’s wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, decorating interiors and picture frames. Much of the design work was done by Inigo Jones [7].

Another important figure was the Dutch medallist, Abraham van der Doort, Surveyor of the King’s Pictures. In 1624 he approved a large bill for picture frames in ebony and other woods [8]. Later, work was done on other pictures through the Lord Chamberlain’s department, under Van der Doort’s supervision [9]. This work was carried out by Henry Norris, probably Richard Norris’s son [10].


Fig 5 Anthony Van Dyck, King Charles I, c.1635-37, o/c, 47 5/8 x 37 1/4 in (121 x 94.6 cm), Ham House, National Trust

Another route for framing was through individual artists or agents, who might supply pictures with frames directly to the King or to a patron. To take the case of Van Dyck: that he actually supplied frames from time-to-time is shown by his bill to Charles I in about 1638 for portraits delivered [11]. The bill is written in French. It was personally approved by the King, who actually reduced some of Van Dyck’s prices in his own hand. It starts with a reference to frames charged by Van Dyck in a former account which, from the size of the charge, £27, suggests that he had previously supplied several frames. Included in the bill is the portrait of

‘Le roi vestu de noir… avec sa mollure’ (The King dressed in black… with its frame)

which is fairly certainly the portrait that the King gave to William Murray of Ham House, where it remains (fig. 5). Not surprisingly given that it was paid for by the King, it is a frame of exceptional quality, mixing the Auricular and the Italianate in a unique design.


Fig 6 Anthony Van Dyck, Self-portrait, c.1640, o/c, 22 x 18 1/8 in (56.0 x 46.0 cm), National Portrait Gallery, London

Another exceptional frame of the period can be found on Van Dyck’s Self-portrait, c. 1640 (fig. 6). How the picture came to be framed is uncertain but see Van Dyck, Dobson and their Mannerist frames on The Frame Blog.

Workshop practice

The workshop practice of the time can help us understand the spread of the Auricular style. By the 1630s, as picture framing began to become a specialised business in London, various features of the trade begin to take shape. These hold good in the following centuries. We are looking at five factors: the use of standard frame patterns, the practice of scaling patterns up and down, the development of standard sizes in portrait painting, the move towards frames made to a price and the birth of specialised framing workshops.

There were several standard frame patterns which were used in the 1630s and subsequently. For the most part these were frames in the Auricular style. They can be categorised by the differing mask types which crown the frame, or by other distinctive features:


Fig 7 Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), Elizabeth Murray, Lady Tollemach, later Countess of Dysart & Duchess of Lauderdale with a black servant, c.1651, Ham House, Richmond, National Trust

— the lion mask at top centre and paws, highly stylized. The sides of the frame are like a flat skin, the edges of which are irregular and curling. Examples include Lely’s Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart with black servant, c.1650 (fig. 7).


Fig 8 Cornelius Johnson (1593-1661), Margaret Nevinson, wife of Sir James Oxenden, 1636, Christie’s, 23 November 2004

— the scroll-topped grimacing mask at top centre, with a monster mask at the bottom and stylised foliage. Examples include Cornelius Johnson’s Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester, 1632 (Penshurst Place, Kent), his Anne Oxenden, 1636 (with Lane Fine Art, 1994), and Lady Oxenden (fig. 8).


Fig 9 Van Dyck workshop, Mary, Lady Verney, late 1630s, o/c, 50 x 40 in (127 x 101.5 cm), Claydon House, Buckinghamshire


Fig 10 British School, Portrait of a youth, said to be Sir John Suckling, c.1625-40, o/c, 33 x 27 ¼ in (84 x 69 cm), F676, ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

— the eagle heads and wings at the top of the sides, with mask at top centre and often a shell at bottom centre. Examples include the Van Dyck workshop Mary, Lady Verney, late 1630s? (fig. 9; Claydon House, Buckinghamshire) and the anonymous Portrait called Sir John Suckling, c.1630-45 (fig. 10; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford).


Fig 11 Anon., Penelope, Lady Herbert, late 1630s, o/panel, 15 ½ x 12 3/8 in (39.5 x 31.5 cm), Christie’s South Kensington, 30 April 2015, lot 174


Fig 12 Anon., Penelope, Lady Herbert, detail

— paired dolphins and fantastic masks at top and bottom. An example is the anonymous Penelope, Lady Herbert, late 1630s (figs 11 & 12; Christie’s South Kensington, 30 April 2015, lot 174).


Fig 13 Sir Peter Lely, Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, c. 1655-59, o/c, 30 x 25 in (76.2 x 63.5 cm), National Portrait Gallery, London


Fig 14 Sir Peter Lely, Diana Russell, Lady Newport (detail), o/c, 50 × 40 in (127 × 101.5 cm), Christie’s, 9 December 2015, lot 141


Fig 15 Sir Peter Lely, Arthur Capel, 1st Earl of Essex (detail), c. 1655-60, o/c, 50 1/8 x 67 3/8 in (127.4 x 171.2 cm), National Portrait Gallery, London

It is particularly interesting to see how standard patterns could be scaled up and down according to the size of the picture. Element by element the particular pattern is more or less retained, by elongating or attenuating the forms, according to the size of the picture, as is illustrated above (figs 13, 14, 15).

The 1630s is the point at which portraits, the dominant market in Britain, begin to be painted to standard sizes, most obviously a bust-length portrait to above the waist at 30 x 25 in (76 x 63.5 cm), and a three-quarter-length, to the knees at 50 x 40 in (127 x 101.5 cm).[12] This made it possible for framemakers to keep certain frames in stock, rather than making them to order. One should add the caveat for the frame historian that as soon as picture sizes became standardized, it became readily possible for an owner or dealer to swap frames from one standard-sized picture to another.

This standardization in both portrait sizes and frame patterns are a feature of a market economy where even a luxury product such as a carved-and-gilt frame could be made to a price. That price was all more competitive given the standardization of patterns and sizes. For patrons commissioning a portrait, the dominant market in London, the artist could quote a firm price for the picture with its frame.

It is the case later in the 17th century that a successful pattern, originating in one workshop, would be taken up in others with little variation. It is for this reason that it is very difficult to attribute the more ordinary Auricular frames to particular makers. In any case, the scarcity of documentation means that it is rarely possible to identify the makers of surviving frames before the 1660s.

The Civil War and the Restoration

The market for carved and gilt picture frames met with a severe setback in the 1640s. With the outbreak of civil war, the court was dispersed and the demand for portraits and other pictures largely dried up, and with it the demand for frames. Great collections, such as those of King Charles I and of the Marquis of Hamilton, were scattered and often sold abroad.


Fig 16 David Teniers, The Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s Gallery in Brussels, c.1651, detail, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

They were sometimes exported with their frames, as is evident from the depiction of an English frame on a picture, Cain and Abel, in Teniers’s painting, The Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s Gallery (fig. 16) [13]. Artists such as Cornelius Johnson left for the continent. He took with him his longstanding experience of framing in the Auricular style.

But although the demand for pictures, and with them frames, diminished, the taste for portraiture continued. Peter Lely, born of Dutch parents, arrived in London in about 1641, and established a reputation as a portraitist. He was appointed as Charles II’s Principal Painter in Ordinary in 1661 following the Restoration.


Fig 17 Anon., Penelope, Lady Herbert, late 1630s, o/panel, 15 ½ x 12 3/8 in (39.5 x 31.5 cm), Christie’s South Kensington, 30 April 2015, lot 174


Fig 18 Sir Peter Lely, Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, c. 1655-59, o/c, 30 x 25 in (76.2 x 63.5 cm), National Portrait Gallery, London


Fig 19 Sir Peter Lely, Diana Russell, Lady Newport (detail), o/c, 50 × 40 in (127 × 101.5 cm), Christie’s, 9 December 2015, lot 141

The Auricular, like many styles, endured for two generations, that is, for 50 or 60 years, becoming richer over time as craftsmen explored the possibilities of the style. New Auricular frame types emerged, including the sea-monster-and-shells pattern favoured by Lely and others in the 1650s and early 1660s (figs 17, 18, 19). This design is found at the National Portrait Gallery on pictures of three different sizes, another example of a pattern being scaled up and down [14].  There are stylised nautilus shells at the frame corners, scallop shells near the side centre, fantastic masks of a sea monster at the top, and a winged monster at the bottom. Somewhat similar monsters can be found on portrait engravings published in England in the 1630s, such as those by John Payne, and on engraved cartouches published in Amsterdam by Johannes Lutma in 1653 [15].


Fig 20 Jean Lepautre, Tabernacles pour orner et embellir les autels, c.1660-80, etching, 9 x 6 in (22.6 x 15.2 cm), ©Trustees of the British Museum

When Christopher Wren visited Paris in 1665 he made a point of bringing back with him a collection of engraved designs, as he explained:

‘I have purchased a great deale of Taille-douce [engravings] that I might give our Countrymen Examples of Ornaments and Grotesks, in which the Italians themselves confess the French excell’ (fig. 20) [16].

Wren’s influence was considerable. To give the example of the Duke of Somerset, the so-called ‘Proud Duke’: he ordered panelling, mouldings and picture frames in 1686, which were to be made ‘according to those in his Majesties new lodgings in Whitehall’, work which had recently been carried out under Wren’s supervision [17].  There was a tide of taste in which French styles were increasingly à la mode. In framing these take the form of running mouldings, ornamented with foliage and sometimes berries, flowers and leaves. In this context, the importance of engravings should not be underestimated.

As a more modest level, we can see how frames might be chosen from Samuel Pepys‘s description of visiting the workshop of Henry or John Norris in Long Acre in 1669 to select frames for his prints. He noted in his diary that there were ‘several forms of frames to choose by; which was pretty, in little bits of mouldings to choose by’  [18].

The Sunderland frame and ‘leatherwork’


Fig 21 The Long Gallery, Althorp

A new fashion in Auricular frames in the 1660s and 1670s was the Sunderland frame. The term itself, ‘Sunderland frame’, was a 19th-century invention specific to picture framing, taking its name from a prominent Restoration figure, Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland, many of whose pictures at Althorp are framed in the style (fig. 21) [19]. It was the presence of such a fine array of frames on pictures from the Sunderland collection that gave rise to the term.

This frame type achieved a bewilderingly complex appearance, with highly stylised patterns of flowing stalks, leaves, fronds and scrolls, centred at the top on a cartouche, and at the bottom on an animal mask or other grotesque mask. In no other type does the inner sight edge cut into the space of the picture in such an irregular way. Take the case of the portrait painter, John Michael Wright. Writing to his patron, Sir Walter Bagot, in 1676, Wright told him that,

‘Yor frames . . . are richer than the first patterne I shewed you . . . but my Lady Wilbraham comming hither caused her’s to bee made broader and richer . . . wch occasioned that I did the like to all yors that they might not bee inferiour to any in that Country’ [20].

Wright’s letter is revealing in the way that it shows that the framing of pictures was arranged by the artist but subject to the dictates of fashion and of cost. From what we know of Wright’s other frames, he was probably supplying a Sunderland frame.


Fig 22 Mary Beale (1633-99), Portrait of a young boy in a white chemise, 49.2 x 40 in 125 x 101.7 cm, art market

In 1681 Mary Beale, a middle-rank portrait painter with a diverse clientele, was offering five different frame styles for her paintings, as we know from the records her husband kept of her output [21]. For bust-length portraits, size 30 x 25 in, she charged her clients £2 for a leatherwork frame, probably a Sunderland frame, but only £1 for a bunched frame or for a raffle leaf frame, making a Sunderland frame with its elaborate carving twice as expensive as the new style French bunched leaf frames or the more Italianate raffle leaf frames. Cost, then, was a factor in the eventual demise of the Auricular style.

This brings us to the terminology of the time. ‘Leather work’ is how such frames were known in the trade to artists and craftsmen, at least from the 1670s [22]. The name occurs as a ‘leatherwork gilt frame’ in Mary Beale’s accounts in 1677 and 1681, and as a ‘guilt leatherworke frame’ in the records for Peter Lely’s estate in about 1680 [23]. The term appears as ‘leatherwork’ in the accounts of Grinling Gibbons for architectural woodwork at St Paul’s Cathedral in 1697 and at Hampton Court Palace in 1701 [24]. As late as 1754 the Foundling Hospital paid for an ornament of ‘Shield & Leatherwork’ for a frame for a painting [25]. By then the ornament begins to have a Rococo character.

The aftermath

In the absence of an equivalent source from the 17th century, the remarkable autobiography of the Rococo carver, Thomas Johnson, is illuminating. He will have been familiar with the Auricular style from his journeyman years in the 1740s. In 1758 he published his New Book of Ornaments, including numerous frames in the Rococo style, as ‘assistance to young artists’, adding that ‘when honoured by the hand of the skilful workmen, that they shall think proper to put them in Execution’ [26]. Should we view the Rococo, with its flowing organic freedom, as the successor to the Auricular?

Johnson’s autobiography highlights four ways in which styles spread. Firstly, the copying of ornament within a workshop. His carving was thought so remarkable, or so he claimed, that his fellow journeymen made mouldings from his work [27]. Secondly, the circulation of engravings. Johnson’s pattern books reached a wide market and were highly influential [28]. Thirdly, the movement of finished carved work. We know that one of his Rococo mirrors was sent from London to Liverpool [29]. Fourthly, the movement of craftsmen. Johnson himself travelled to Liverpool and Dublin and one of his apprentices emigrated to Philadelphia, thus between master and pupil taking the style to Ireland and America [30]. These four factors explain the spread of the rococo but are equally applicable to the Auricular.

Lastly, let us look at the origins of the term, ‘Auricular’, in framing. It was the development of art history as a discipline in the 19th century which drove the search for terminology to categorize works of art. The term, ‘Auricular’, apparently deriving from German usage, was adopted to describe a particular kind of ornament found in engravings, carved work and silver. But its original use in the English language was in medicine and anatomy to refer to matters pertaining to the human ear [31]. Lewis F. Day’s article, ‘Some Masters of Ornament’ in 1893 contains one of the earliest examples in the English language of the word ‘Auricular’ as a description for ornament [32].


Jacob Simon is Research Fellow at the National Portrait Gallery and Editor for the Walpole Society, both voluntary positions. He is responsible for the online resource, British picture framemakers, 1600-1950.


[1] National Archives, PROB 11/220/303. For Zacharie Taylor, see the online resource, British picture framemakers, 1600-1950, on the National Portrait Gallery website.

[2] For Matthew Goodricke, see British picture framemakers, 1600-1950.

[3] Jacob Simon, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1996, p. 52, cited here as Simon 1996.

[4] Simon 1996, p. 16.

[5] See John Harris, ‘Inigo Jones and his French sources’, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 19, 1961, pp. 253-64.

[6] National Archives, SC 6/Jas.I/1686. For Richard Norris, see British picture framemakers, 1600-1950 on the National Portrait Gallery website. Norris received £31.10s for work done for Prince Charles in October 1622 and January and February 1623 including three ebony frames, one for a Dutch picture, another for the Duke of Bullen’s picture and the third for a great glass(?). Together with William Booreman, locksmith, he received the large sum of £179.13s by warrant dated January 1623 for materials and workmanship for the cabinet at St James’s, as approved by Inigo Jones and Thomas Baldwin (National Archives, SC 6/Jas.I/1686). The cabinet formed a room rather than being a piece of furniture, as is apparent from a payment to Abraham van der Doort as keeper of the cabinet room at St James’s (National Archives, SC 6/Chas.I/1630).

[7] See Mary Edmond, ‘Limners and Picture Makers: New light on the lives of miniaturist and large-scale portrait painters working in London in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’, Walpole Society, vol. 47, 1980, pp. 158-75.

[8] Norris was paid ‘for other things done in wainscott at his highness’s command’, as approved by Abraham van der Doort (SC 6/Jas.I/1687). He received £49.7s.8d for very similar work carried out in 1625 (SC 6/Jas.I/1687).

[9] National Archives, LC 5/132, p.329.

[10] For the Norris family, see British picture framemakers, 1600-1950 on the National Portrait Gallery website.

[11] Christopher Brown, Van Dyck, 1982, pp. 164-5.

[12] See Jacob Simon, Three-quarters, kit-cats and half-lengths’: British portrait painters and their canvas sizes, 1625-1850 – National Portrait Gallery, 2013, on the National Portrait Gallery website.

[13] Given that Teniers sometimes depicted the same picture in different frames in his various views of the Archduke’s gallery, we cannot be certain that the picture, Cain and Abel, was actually housed in the frame shown. What we can say with considerable confidence is that there was an example of this English frame type in the gallery.

[14] Simon 1996, p. 55.

[15] Simon 1996, p. 55.

[16] Simon 1996, pp. 138-9.

[17] The Duke of Somerset went to the joiner, Thomas Larkin, see Simon 1996, pp. 138, 205 note 85.

[18] Simon 1996, p. 138.

[19] The National Portrait Gallery’s first director, George Scharf, recorded a restorer as bringing back a portrait, ‘well cleaned and in a gilt Sunderland frame’ in 1869, so far the earliest documented use of the term (National Portrait Gallery archive, Secretary’s Journal, 12 January 1869). For payments for frames for the Sunderland collection in 1660s, see Jacob Simon, Framing in the reign of Charles II and the introduction of the Sunderland frame, 2002, on the National Portrait Gallery website.

[20] See Simon 1996, p. 91.

[21] The five different styles used by Mary Beale are referred to in the 1677 and 1681 notebooks of Charles Beale, her husband, the only two of the series to survive. See Simon 1996, p. 91.

[22] The term seems to have been used in the trade and has not been found in bills to patrons, where frames are simply referred to as carved and gilded or richly carved and gilded.

[23] Simon 1996, p. 55.

[24] David Green, Grinling Gibbons, 1964, pp. 77, 92.

[25] Charles Brooking, Flagship before the Wind, frame made by James Dryhurst, 1754. See Jacob Simon, Picture frames at the Foundling Museum, London, 2006, on the National Portrait Gallery website.

[26] Jacob Simon, Thomas Johnson’s The Life of the Author, Furniture History Society, 2003, p. 13.

[27] Ibid., p. 51.

[28] Ibid., pp. 11-13.

[29] Ibid., p. 3.

[30] Ibid., p. 2.

[31] The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘auricular’ as meaning ‘of the ear’.

[32] The word, ‘auricular’, was used to describe ornament of German origin by Lewis F. Day, ‘Some Masters of Ornament’, Journal of the Society of Arts, vol. 41, no. 2123, 28 July 1893, p. 824.

Anthropomorphism and Zoömorphism in the ‘Medici’ picture frames

Marilena Mosco discusses the ‘Medici’ frames: Italian frames made in the Auricular style and which are part of the Medici collections, more particularly those of Leopoldo and Giovan Carlo de’ Medici (now divided between the Galleria degli Uffizi and the Palazzo Pitti), possess a special feature – they use decorative motifs which frequently remind us of the ‘grotesque’, and which are typical of Mannerism.


Grotesque faces, 1st century AD, Domus Aurea, Rome

As is well known, the term ‘grotesque’ comes from the discovery of the ancient decorations in the ‘grotto’, as the Domus Aurea was nicknamed. When it was uncovered in 1480 it immediately became very popular.


Michelangelo (1475-1564), anthropomorphic mask (detail on the breastplate of Giuliano de’ Medici), c.1526, Medici Chapels, Florence

In the first decades of the 16th century, Pirro Ligorio[1] had already commented on the ‘strange effigies’ – the grotesque masks – on works by Michelangelo: for example, on his statue of Giuliano de’ Medici in the Medici Chapels.


Marco da Faenza (c.1528-88), grotesques, c. 1566, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Similarly, Giorgio Vasari[2] remarked on the ‘new fantasies in the grotesque style’ of his contemporaries, such as these in the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio, above, by Marco da Faenza, a pupil of Vasari.


Perin del Vaga (1487-1564), grotesques with mascaron, drawing, 184 orn., Gabinetto disegni e stampe, Uffizi

There are also remarkable grotesques[3] in the Logge of the Vatican which were painted in about 1518 by Raphael’s pupils, Giovanni da Udine and Perin del Vaga. We can see a similar drawing of grotesques with a mask in the Cabinet of Drawings & Prints in the Uffizi; this was formerly attributed to Giovanni da Udine but has recently been reattributed to Perin del Vaga[4].


Pellegrino Tibaldi (1527-96), study for a coat of arms, c. 1554, drawing, 407 orn., Gabinetto disegni e stampe, Uffizi

A related study for a coat of arms, formerly attributed to Perin del Vaga but now given to Pellegrino Tibaldi[5], confirms the derivation of the Auricular style from the scrolling edges of a shield or cartouche: a source which many scholars will recognize[6]. There are numerous literary references to the grotesque element in art, for instance in the essays of Lomazzo, who justifies this taste as an ancient leitmotif in his Rime (Poems imitating grotesques), or in Cardinal Paleotti’s Discorso intorno alle imagini sacre e profane (Discourse on sacred & profane images), which criticizes the grotesque as a freak of nature made by mediocre painters, who could not therefore be trusted to work in churches. It is very probable that in the stunning and bizarre aesthetic qualities of these masks and monsters, artists saw – or thought they saw – the chance for a two-fold liberation: from a simple imitation of nature, and from the religious subjects imposed by theologians; as well as from the rules of the architectural orders.

Bartolomeo Ammannati (1511-92), brackets in the form of masks, drawing for courtyard in the Palazzo Pitti, vol. E, nn.111,112, Biblioteca Marucelliana, Florence


Bernardo Buontalenti (1523-1608), mascaron on the façade of the Palazzo Nonfinito, 1596, Florence


Giambologna (1529-1608), Il diavolino, 1560, original in Museo Stefano Bardini, Florence (copy installed between Via dei Vecchietti & Via Strozzi). Photo: Matteo Bimonte


Raffaello Corradi, bracket in the form of a harpy, 1637, façade of Palazzo Marucelli, Florence

Ammannati’s brackets in anthropomorphic form, Buontalenti’s bat in the Palazzo Non Finito, the small devil by Giambologna on Palazzo Vecchietti, the harpies by Raffaello Corradi on Palazzo Marucelli – all these are fantastic fauna, which sprawl in the tympani, corbels and windows of Florentine palaces, inciting fear and influencing the collective subconsciousnes of the observers.


Andrea di Michelangelo Ferrucci (1559-1626), Fontana dello Sprone, 1598 (between Via dello Sprone e Borgo San Jacopo), Florence

Fountains too assume some considerable importance, as it is here that sculptors can give free rein to their fantasies. A prototype of these I7th century fountains and of their expression of the Auricular style can be seen in the Fontana dello Sprone, sculpted in 1598 by Andrea di Michelangelo Ferrucci[7]. It has a basin shaped like a shell, fastened at the sides on ear–like brackets, and a grotesque mask with long whiskers, a frequent motif in the Medici frames of the 17th century.


Giusto Sustermans (1597-1681), Portrait of Pandolfo Ricasoli, 1630/41, canvas 116 x 86 cm, frame 136 x 106 cm, 2nd half 17th century, Galleria Palatina, Florence

The taste for anthropomorphic motifs inspired the frame of Sustermans’s portrait of Pandolfo Ricasoli. Ricasoli was a theologian condemned by the Inquisition for his ideas, as set out on the document pinned up in the background, which was added by the painter in 1641. According to three 17th century archival sources, the painting belonged to Ferdinand II and later to his son Cosimo III, and it is described in all these inventories, etc., as being without frame. The frame which now holds it is a typical exemplar of the Auricular style, with a series of gigantic volutes in the form of ears, and large masks with spread wings at the corners; it was probably made in about 1660 and put on the painting later.


Raphael (1483-1520), Portrait of Tommaso Inghirami, 1509, panel 89.5 x 62.8 cm., frame 138 x 110 cm., Galleria Palatina, Florence

The frame for Raphael’s portrait of Tommaso Inghirami – which was bought by Leopoldo de’Medici about 1640 from the Inghirami family and registered in his patrimonial inventory in 1663 – was probably made in 1660.


Raphael, Portrait of Tommaso Inghirami, detail of frame

Around the entire frame runs a series of repeated Auricular volutes which start in the centres of the sides and wind outwards to mingle with other foliate volutes; there are grotesque masks in the corners, with sweeping whiskers, hooked noses with large nostrils, and protruding tongues.


Stefano della Bella (1610-64), drawing of a mascaron, Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica, Rome

These masks recall a drawing by Stefano della Bella, which may well have been seen by the carver when the frame was commissioned by Leopoldo.


Caravaggio (1571-1610), Sleeping Cupid,1608, canvas 72 x 105 cm., frame 119 x 147 cm., Galleria Palatina, Florence

Caravaggio’s Sleeping Cupid was bought by Leopoldo in 1667, when the latter probably also commissioned the frame which is so closely connected to the subject of the picture by its carved trophies.


Caravaggio, Sleeping Cupid, detail of mask at corner of frame


Caravaggio, Sleeping Cupid, detail of frame with Cupid’s trophy

Here too the corners are ornamented with masks, similar to that designed by Stefano della Bella, whilst the crest is surmounted by a bow and arrows set inside cartouches supported by flying eagles.


Stefano della Bella (1610-64), Two different halves of cartouches each showing an eagle fighting a serpent, 1646, etching, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Despite much research it has been impossible to identify the designer of this frame, who may have been inspired to produce the motif of the two eagles by an etching by Stefano della Bella which shows a pair of eagles attacking serpents.


Baciccio (Giovanni Battista Gaulli; 1639-1709), Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici, 1670, 72.2 x 59.6 cm., frame 93 x 83 cm., Galleria degli Uffizi

As regards zoömorphism and the link between picture and frame, the setting of Baciccio’s portrait of Leopoldo de’ Medici is contemporary with the picture, dating from 1670 when Leopoldo went to Rome for the election of the Pope Clement X and met the artist. The broad frame, carved with double-edged scrolls at the top and bottom, is centred with paired serpents’ heads, their tails transforming into volutes which spread wider towards the outer contour of the frame. The serpents refer covertly to Leopoldo’s enemies, who were envious of his appointment as a cardinal.


Dosso Dossi (c.1490-1542), Allegory of Hercules, 1535, canvas 143 x 144 cm., frame 208 x 204 cm., Galleria degli Uffizi

The frame of the Allegory of Hercules by Dosso Dossi, which was commissioned in 1535 by Ercole Ii d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, and bought by Leopoldo in 1665 (above), is carved with even more prominent serpents. Their heads curve upwards on either side of the large pierced central scrolls, and their long tails wind around the entire profile, entwined with the volutes. In yet another frame, on Guido Reni’s Hercules at rest in the Palatine Gallery[8], probably made by Carlo Galestruzzi for Giovan Carlo de’ Medici in 1660, we can see coils of serpents emerging from the heads of lions, The myth of the infant Hercules strangling serpents in his cradle, an allegory of his power even as a child, was very popular with the Este and Medici dynasties.


Stefano della Bella (1610-64), Two lizards, drawing, Gabinetto disegni e stampe, Uffizi

Regarding the design of the various serpents, the carver may have been aware of the drawing (above) by Stefano della Bella which shows lizards entwined by their tails.


Carlo Dolci (1616-88), St John on Patmos, oil on copper, 38 x 49 cm., frame 73 x 87 cm., Galleria Palatina, Florence

The frame on Carlo Dolci’s St John on Patmos is another fine example of a zoömorphic frame: pairs of hydras with their wings spread and with long tails punctuated by nodules emerge from all four corners, out of the mouths of monstrous masks with eyes made of glass paste. All along the profile there are foliate and Auricular volutes flanking grotesque heads with caudal fins in the centres; these create a fascinating and intense rhythm of solid and empty spaces, composed of the pierced shapes and their metamorphosing forms which sweep out from the corners.


Carlo Dolci, St John on Patmos, detail of hydras at corner of frame

The carved hydras echo the hydra with seven heads painted in the background of the painting, which follows the description in the Book of Revelation by John the Evangelist; this confirms the close connection between picture and frame. The date 1656 is inscribed on the reverse, and the signature can be seen at the top left of the copper plate. The carver may very well be the same craftsman who produced the frame for the missing replica on canvas, recorded in the inventory of Giovan Carlo’s account book, as ‘a large painting with St. John Evangelist by Carlo Dolci with frame by Cosimo Fanciullacci’[9].


Pietro Tacca (attrib.; 1577-1640), a pair of dragons, bronze, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence

Whoever he was, the carver might have seen the bronze dragons attributed to Pietro Tacca, now in storage in the Bargello.


Pietro Tacca (1577-1640) & assistants, fountain, 1629, in Piazza della SS Annunziata, Florence

Tacca’s fame rests principally on the pair of fountains in Piazza della SS. Annunziata: each one is crested by two monstrous tritons with serrated crests on their heads, coiled shells for ears and fan-shaped whiskers, and entwined serpents’ tails which link the monsters together. The basins are also made of strange fish with sharp pointed fins, whilst slimy living creatures arise from the seabed and gaze at the tritons above, as water flows from their mouths into the basins. Jessica Mack Andrik, in her book on Pietro Tacca[10], reveals the importance of these two fountains as a source of inspiration for the Auricular style, and stresses the sculptural quality of the soft and malleable bodies – not unlike shellless molluscs – from which figurative, constantly-changing motifs emerge. In an essay on the Auricular style, Johan ter Molen[11] describes it as a zoömorphic mass in ferment, containing limbs which are like animated beings of indefinite form. The bones, nerves and muscles of dolphins, marine creatures, and molluscs are reassembled into fantastic compositions, and the various figurative elements merge into each other seamlessly, in a continual process of regeneration and growth.


Titian (fl. c.1506-d.1576), Portrait of Bishop Ludovico Beccadelli, 1552, canvas 117 x 97 cm., frame 135 x 156 cm., Galleria degli Uffizi


Titian, Ludovico Beccadelli, detail of side of frame

Titian’s portrait of Beccadelli has a frame which was probably made for it after its acquisition by Leopoldo in 1653. It is decorated with large, elaborate fish: the heads have bulging eyes, dilated gills, a fine web of scales, and the dorsal fins lined with nodules curving along the sides of the frame.


Dosso Dossi (c.1490-1542), Rest on the flight into Egypt, 1520, panel 52 x 43 cm., frame 72 x 63 cm., Galleria degli Uffizi

Another leitmotif of the Medici frames is the dolphin, symbol of protection, wisdom and caution in the iconography of the Medici family; it appears, notably, on the frame of Dosso Dossi’s Rest on the flight into Egypt, where paired fish-like forms curl along the profile, along with other marine elements. This frame was probably made by the carver Giovanni Magni, whose name is also connected with the craft of furniture carving[12].


Franciabigio (Francesco dio Cristofano; c.1484-1520) The calumny of Apelles, 1513-14, panel 37 x 48 cm.; frame 73 x 82 cm, Palazzo Pitti

The calumny of Apelles by Franciabigio has a broad frame similarly carved with dolphin tails, with gilded scaley bodies curving around the sides and flanking paired volutes in the centres, which are surmounted by heads with deep eye sockets. This painting formerly belonged to Don Antonio de’ Medici, but was moved from the Casino di San Marco to Ferdinand II’s collection in 1666, at which point this frame was most probably put on the painting.


Giambologna (1529-1608), owl, bronze, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence

The heads, which look rather like those of owls, may have been inspired by Giambologna’s sculpture in the Bargello: evidence of his continuing influence on the decorative arts of the 17th century[13].


Jacopo Bassano (1515-92), Adam & Eve, 1562, canvas 45.2 x 76.3 cm., frame 112 x 90 cm., Galleria Palatina, Florence

The frame of Jacopo Bassano’s Adam & Eve was probably made when the painting was bought by Leopoldo in 1654; the centres feature bucrania – a motif loved even by Michelangelo.


Cesare Gennari (1637-88), Holy Family, 1674, canvas 57 x 71 cm., frame 100 x 120 cm., Galleria Palatina, Florence

The frame of The Holy Family by Cesare Gennari has volutes formed by projecting cornucopia (symbols of generosity and charity) intertwined with acanthus leaves; the frieze is grasped in the corners by leafyl volutes like crabs’ claws, and in the centres by horned masks. It is contemporary to the painting, which was given as a present to Leopoldo by the artist in 1674. The framemaker could have been Carlo Galestruzzi, who was cited in Leopoldo’s patrimonial inventory as a maker of cornucopiae[14].


Jacopo Vignali (1592-1664), St Francis in ectsasy, c.1620, oil on copper, 29 x 28 cm.; frame 48 x 38 cm.,Galleria Palatina, Florence

The development and evolution of the Auricular style is emphasized by the frame of St Francis by Jacopo Vignali. The smooth oval sight with broad ogee profile is clasped by four volutes engraved with trefoils at the centres of the sides : these engage with zoömorphic heads from which pairs of stylized acanthus leaves extend, culminating in fans of palmettes sloping towards the wall. The frame (c.1675) may be one of the finest works of the Sienese carver, Antonio Montini, who is mentioned in Cardinal Leopoldo’s patrimonial inventory[15]; his use of pierced work throughout the surface of the frame anticipates by half a century the lightness of the Rococo style. Leopoldo died in 1675 and his collection was joined to that of his successors, so that we can still appreciate today both paintings and frames, which testify to his sophisticated choices and to the greatness of his legacy. His predilection for animal and vegetal decoration would last for many centuries, as can be seen in 19th century furniture; it would also diffuse throughout Europe.


An art historian specializing in the Baroque period (author of Itinerario di Firenze barocca, 1974), Marilena Mosco was previously director of the Museo degli Argenti at the Pitti Palace. She has produced many works on the collections of the Pitti, and curated numerous exhibitions there.

Since 1982 she has researched the relatively unexplored area of picture frames, curating exhibitions which include Antiche cornice italiane dal Cinquecento al Settecento, Tokyo, 1991; A Tuscan Renaissance frame from Palazzo Davanzati i in Florence, Accademia Italiana delle Arti e Arti Applicate, London, 1993-94; and Cornici barocche restaurate dai depositi di Palazzo Pitti, Palazzo Pitti, 1998. The latter was followed by the creation of a special room devoted to frames in the Museo degli Argenti .

She participated in the 2002 frame conference Global embrace: celebrating 300 years of European frames, and in the 2004 conference From classicism to expressionism: a synthetic approach to the frame, both at New York University; and her publications include ‘La Galleria Palatina: il quadro e la cornice’, La città degli Uffizi, Firenze, 1982-83; ‘Cornici artistiche negli Appartamenti reali’ Appartamenti reali di Palazzo Pitti, 1993; ‘Cornici naturalistiche nelle collezioni medicee’, Il Giardino del Granduca, 1997; ‘Una cornice intagliata di Vittorio Crosten’, Opere in luce al Museo degli Argenti, 2002; ‘Due cornici a soggetto e una a piacere del Gran Principe Ferdinando’, Arte, collezionismo e conservazione: scritti in onore di Marco Chiarini, 2004; ‘Un disegno di Baldessare Volterrano per la cornice del Battesimo di Cristo di Paolo Veronese nella Galleria Palatina’, Disegno, Gudizio e Bella Maniera. Studi sul disegni italiano in onore di Catherine Monbeig Goguel, Milan, 2005. Her most recent publication is Cornici dei Medici, la fantasia barocca al servizio del potere: Medici frames/ Baroque caprice for the Medici Princes, Florence, 2007.    See her publications here.

She lives and works in Florence.


[1] Pirro Ligorio in Scritti d’arte del Cinquecento a cura di P.Barocchi.II, Milano–Napoli 197, p.1435

[2] Giorgio Vasari, Le Vite…. , Milanesi ed.1878-85, VII, p.193

[3] N. Dacos, La decouverte de la Domus Aurea et la formation des grotesques à la Renaissance, London, 1969

[4] Drawing (pen-&-ink), 200 x140 mm., Orn.184 GDSU, see Master Drawings, 1966, p.172

[5] Drawing (pen, watercolour & pencil), named ‘Perin del Vaga’. Orn. 407 GDSU; reattributed to Pellegrino Tibaldi by F. Davidson, in ‘Mostra dei disegni di Perin del Vaga e la sua cerchia’, Florence, GDSU, 1966

[6] See M. Mosco, Medici Frames, Firenze, 2007, p. 44

[7] Andrea di Michelangelo Ferrucci, born in Florence in 1559, pupil of the sculptor Valerio Cioli, with whom he worked on the façade of the Palazzo dei Visacci; and in 1612 produced the small fountain known as the Fonticina, in a room of the Palazzo Pitti (Museo degli Argenti); he also sculpted two angels for the church of Ognissanti, and a small Eros with a swan for the Artichoke Fountain in the Boboli Gardens. See S. Bellesi, Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani

[8] See M. Mosco, Medici Frames, nr.25, p.154

[9] Ibid.,, p.114. See also Carlo Dolci by S. Bellesi & A.Bisceglia, Florence, 2015, catalogue of the exhibition, p.244

[10] J. Mack Andrik, Pietro Tacca, Hofbildahauer der Medici (1577-1640), Bamberg, 2005

[11] J. Ter Molen, ‘The Auricular style’ in The history of decorative arts, vol. 2, NewYork, London, Paris, 1996, pp.26-91

[12] See the base for sculpture with dolphin tails sculpted by Giovanni Magni, now in the Galleria Palatina: published by E. Colle, I mobili di Palazzo Pitti: il periodo dei Medici, 1537-1737, Firenze, 1997, pp.244-45

[13] See M. Mosco, pp.110-12

[14] Ibid., p.168

[15] Ibid., p.176

Who’s afraid of the French Auricular?

Marika Takanishi Knowles considers the French resistance to Northern Italian models of the Auricular, and the peculiarly idiosyncratic appearances of the style in the work of French designers and ornemanistes.


Denis Boutemie, page from Ouvrage rare et nouveau contenant plusieurs desseins de merveilleuse recreation … (detail), 1636, engraving, 12 x 20.6 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

‘Who’s afraid of the French Auricular?’ The answer, in fact, is the French themselves, whose ornament designers consistently refused to push their work in the direction of the Auricular. While the French toyed with certain elements of the style, and in one case riffed extensively on a single Auricular motif, only a few French designers embraced the kind of Auricular style seen in the work of Dutch, German, and Italian metalworkers and print- and framemakers. Nevertheless, in the single comprehensive work published to date on the Auricular, Walter Karl Zülch’s Entstehung des Ohrmuschelstiles, Zülch attributes the origins of the Auricular style to innovations made by the artists of the School of Fontainebleau.[1] The grainy, black and white plates at the back of Zülch’s text begin with two full pages reproducing the designs of artists working in France in the 16th century. After these two pages, however, only two of the following 164 images show objects made or prints published in France. In other words, France initiated an ornamental style that would lead to the Auricular, but it did not participate in its flowering.

Here, I will confirm that Zülch’s thesis holds, but I will also discuss the exceptions, two designers who produced variants of the Auricular style in early 17th century France: Daniel Rabel and Denis Boutemie. I also posit some reasons why the Auricular did not prove popular in France, namely that the shift towards an aesthetic style broadly described as ‘classicism’ was already palpable in the early 17th century. In addition, as I show, the French, clambering out from under the thumb of Italian influence, eagerly explored a ‘local’ variation on grotesque ornament in the form of the peapod (cosse de pois). Chasing after peas distracted these designers from the cartilage-work of their European counterparts; the pursuit of the cosse de pois also allowed the French to lay claim a national tradition of ‘gothic’ vegetal ornament.

The preference for the vegetal over the fleshy points to the underlying reluctance of the French sensibility to pursue a style in which the material of the human body was represented in a constant and perilous state of flux, shifting from solid to liquid, from stone to leather, from the slippery slime of fish scales to the ridges of a lion’s knuckles. This gooey medium produces the Auricular style’s lumps and ridges; the Auricular tends towards the drooping and the bulging rather than the erect or contained. Take, for example, Johannes Lutma’s cartouche, published in 1650-54.


Figure 1. Johannes Lutma, Cartouche from Veelderhande Niewe Compartemente, 1650-54, engraving, 22.5 x 18.7 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Two ‘faces’ or ‘masks’ ripple outwards at the cartouche’s crown and base. The masks suggest a number of possible animal forms, from bats to lizards, to birds, to the mysterious whiskered ‘sea-monster’ that proliferates in many of the designs of this period. Yet there are also vegetal allusions: the upper part of the cartouche evokes the crumpled leaves of an oak tree, but the ‘leaves’ are ridged like the erect ears of a bat. The human body also appears. Lutma has studied the qualities of human flesh, of the way loose skin folds and bunches. He has also attended to the anatomy of the female sex, an association suggested as well by the yawning ‘mouth’ at the center of the frame, evocative of what the 17th century botanist Paul Contant described evasively as ‘that which I do not want to name from which the world emerges’.[2] Lutma’s achievement is to represent a medium that never settles into a single substance, but constantly shifts its allusion from plant, to animal, to human.

Lutma’s ‘indeterminate medium’ is the hallmark of what I would like to call the ‘high’ Auricular style. This is the style at its most extreme and also at its most unified. While the medium of Lutma’s cartouche might allude to many different substances, the cartouche appears to be wrought out of a single substance: an indeterminate medium, but a single medium. There is little sense of elements added or affixed to the frame; its substance appears to be continuous, as if one single sheet of the indeterminate medium had been folded and cut in order to make this cartouche. In France, there is no ‘high’ Auricular style, only what I would call a ‘hybrid’ Auricular, in which elements of the high Auricular mingle with other elements that can be described as distinctly French.

Before describing early 17th century examples of the French Auricular, I would like first to address the question of the School of Fontainebleau, to which Zülch grants importance in the formation of the Auricular style. The School of Fontainebleau was an artistic style that emerged from the decorative projects and the artisanal ateliers at the Chateau of Fontainebleau, where François I situated his court in the 16th century.[3] One of the most important legacies of the School of Fontainebleau was its production of prints, which disseminated in two dimensions the style’s distinctive mixture of painting, sculpture, and architectural decoration.[4] I would like to focus here on the frames designed by Primaticcio for the chamber of the Duchesse d’Etampes, one of the favorites of Francçois I.


Figure 2. Francesco Primaticcio, Female figures and putti, Alexander taming Bucephalus, 1541-44, stucco & fresco. Fontainebleau: Château de Fontainebleau. Photo © Bridgeman-Giraudon/Art Resource, NY.

These sculptural frames were positioned in the upper register of the walls of the Duchesse’s chamber, now a staircase; the frames surround frescoes, also by Primaticcio. Three elements compose the frame: fruit, human figures, and strapwork. Two slender, elongated female figures stand to either side of the oval fresco, atop which three putti perch. Garlands of squash, pears, artichokes and pomegranates fill the space between the figures, whose hands are raised in order to grasp the edges of two rectangular strapwork cartouches. All the ingredients of Auricular materiality – inorganic architectural substance, flora and fauna, human flesh – are present in this frame. Nevertheless, at no point do the individual elements merge into a single substance in order to form the typical hybrid medium of the high Auricular. The human bodies remain human; they touch, but they do not seep into or join the spherical fruits. Boundaries between bodies of human, animal, and vegetal origin are strictly maintained. While it is possible to establish analogies between the garlands of fruits and the spherical forms of the female nudes – an apple is like a breast, a pomegranate is like an ovary, and so on – no single form ever attempts to merge the body and the fruit together in the way that Lutma merges bat-skin, leaf, and intimate membranes to make the material of his cartouche.

As a point of origin for the Auricular, then, Fontainebleau frames offer up the distinct ingredients of the Auricular, but unblended, as it were. At Fontainebleau, the decorative frame becomes an animated source of visual interest that distracts the viewer from comparatively diminutive frescoes. Strap-work, which is a key element of all Fontainebleau frames and decoration, also plays an important role in the evolution of the Auricular. Strap-work is a peculiar entity, a flat sheet of varying thickness – the ‘strap’ – that is folded and curled in order to create volume. Intimately related to the cartouche, which in turn was related to the shield or the coat of arms, often made of thick sheets of moulded leather, strap-work is massive but also dynamic; it has the uncanny character of appearing inorganic but yet still possessing organic dynamism and liveliness. In this sense, strap-work anticipates the Auricular as a lively, mobile, and sculptural frame. Lutma’s cartouche, for example, is basically one large strap, which has been folded and pleated into the shape of the cartouche. Along the way, organic energies have begun to pulse up from inside the medium of Lutma’s cartouche, causing the smooth surface to undulate.

While Fontainebleau ornament may have pointed a way towards the Auricular style, French designers participated only marginally in the motif’s flowering during the early- and mid-17th century. It must be remembered, as an important factor in considering any artistic work in France during the early 17th century, that for the last thirty years of the 16th century, France was embroiled in a terrible series of civil wars, the Wars of Religion (1562-1594) between Catholics and Protestants.[5] During these thirty years, artistic production ground to an almost complete halt. After Henri IV took the throne in 1594, the situation began to improve and artists once again were active in Paris.[6] It makes sense that a new style would be sought, rather than a return to old models. While painters did continue to rely heavily on the example of Fontainebleau, giving rise to the ‘Second School of Fontainebleau,’ metalworkers and printmakers looked in different directions.[7] A particularly important feature of artistic production in early 17th century France was the lively field of print-making, a relatively inexpensive medium that allowed for stylistic flexibility and experimentation.[8] It is in the world of print-making, not of metalwork, that the first example of the French Auricular is found, in two series of cartouches designed by Daniel Rabel (1578-1637).

Unlike many of designers of ornamental prints during the early 17th century, Rabel was not a goldsmith, but he was trained in engraving and etching, as well as painting.[9] Rabel’s two series were both published during the 1630s, one in the vertical ‘portrait’ orientation, the other horizontally oriented.


Figure 3. Daniel Rabel, Plate 12 from Cartouches de différentes inventions, 1634, engraving, 13.4 x 18.9 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

In plate 12 from the horizontal series, Rabel explores the motif of a flayed, scaly sea monster, whose head lurks at the bottom of the frame, which contains a peaceful agrarian landscape showing a farmer at his plow and another tilling the soil. The medium of the cartouche does not approximate the character of skin, but rather appears to be a sheet of curled stucco or thick leather. A few passages of indeterminate medium do appear, however, particularly in the lower half of the cartouche, where two puffy, blubbery lozenges are juxtaposed with hanging festoons of fruit. The juxtaposition of swag of fruit and fatty rolls cleaves to the structure of analogy identified in the Fontainebleau frames: the two represented mediums are placed side by side and compared, with the round bottoms of apples or persimmons in the garlands rhyming the spherical characteristics of the fleshy passages. While comparison suggests likeness, it is also a structure of separation and distinction – ‘never the twain shall meet’.

Rabel’s interest in a reptilian skin was shared by his contemporaries, including the goldsmith Pierre Delabarre. Delabarre is known today for two extraordinary ewers made of precious stone surrounded by enameled and gold ornament.[10]

Delabarre Pierre (reÁu maÓtre en 1625-vers 1654). Paris, musÈe du Louvre. OA10409;MR130.

Figure 4. Pierre Delabarre, Ewer, ca. 1630-1635, enamel in the round, gold, diamond, emerald, ruby, opal, carnelian, sard, 26.1 x 13.4 x 6.9 cm. Paris: Musée du Louvre. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY.

The ewer illustrated here features a large body made of a hard quartz called sard. The ewer’s handle is rendered as an enameled dragon, on top of which a cupid wields the reins. The dragon sports plumes of rubies set in gold, a particular, seed-like pattern that I will return to later. While Delabarre’s ewer shares reptilian allusions with Rabel’s cartouche, it cannot really be described as an Auricular object. Delabarre creates volume through encrustation, by affixing to one another a multitude of tiny, delicate, and brittle bits of gold, stone, and glass. Thus, as opposed to massive, undulating forms made of a single material, Delabarre creates intricate piles of differentiated materials. The result is an additive constructive, built upon the surface of the stone, rather than built up from within the material itself.


Figure 5. Daniel Rabel, Plate 8 from Cartouches de différentes inventions, 1634., engraving, 13.4 x 18.9 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Another cartouche from Rabel’s suite exploits not the lizard skin, but the skin of a tiger. The tiger’s front and back paws surround the central motif; even its tail is suggested in the cascade of C-curves at the base of the frame, as if the tail has been carefully split open. Two nude figures balance within the structure created by the stretched skin. A possible inspiration for Rabel’s design, in this case, can be found in his career as a costume designer for ballets at the French court. Throughout the early modern period, court ballets created the opportunity for fantastic minglings of bizarre costumes and exotic animals.[11] Such spectacles were a major inspiration for grotesque ornament. In 1625, Rabel designed the costumes for the Ballet des fées des forêts de Saint-Germain, an elaborate spectacle featuring numerous ‘entrées’, when disguised courtiers danced on and off the stage.[12] The ballet chronicled the adventures of the fairies and other fanciful creatures who were supposed to enchant the forest outside of the château of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where the children of royal blood were raised.

Rabel Daniel (1578-1637). Paris, musÈe du Louvre, D.A.G.. INV32686.

Figure 6. Daniel Rabel, Lackeys & Bertrands playing ‘tour-niquet’ (whirligig), 1625, pen & brown ink, watercolour with highlights, on paper, 28. 5 x 44 cm. Paris: Musée du Louvre. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY.

In this watercolour from the album of Rabel’s costume designs, two monkeys stand on the shoulders of a pair of lackeys clothed in canary-yellow suits decorated with thin blue stripes. The lackeys and their monkeys are bent over a marble pedestal on which is placed a board for the playing of ‘tour-niquet’ or ‘whirligig’. Together, the two pairs of monkey and man, curved over the pedestal, mirroring one another across a central axis, suggest the cupped sides of a decorative cartouche. This mingling of man and animal is echoed in Rabel’s cartouche, where the two, diminutive nude figures climb within the cavern created by the lion’s open body. While Rabel’s cartouche is fantastic and imaginative, it nevertheless stops short of the ‘high’ Auricular, in that the substance of the frame can be clearly identified as consisting of a single medium, an animal’s skin, and in that the nude human figures are again kept distinct from the animal material.

Rabel’s cartouches do contain one important element of the European Auricular, which has hitherto largely gone uncommented. This element appears in the lion-skin cartouche in the form of the four chains of ridged spheres, which appear at the base and at each side of the frame, strange little bumps that rise on the motif’s peripheries (see Rabel’s cartouche, Figure 5). It is difficult to guess what part of the animal these rows of spheres might suggest. There seems to be some relationship to the creature’s paws, which, wrapped around the inner-most frame, end in rows of little spherical finger-pads, each pierced by a claw.


Figure 7. Daniel Rabel, Plate 9 from Cartouches de différentes inventions, 1634, engraving, 13.4 x 18.9 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Yet, a survey of Rabel’s suite reveals the row of spheres recurring throughout, in a variety of contexts, atop the whiskered sea-monster mask in plate 9 (Figure 7), and again on the edges of the cartouche, on the upper borders of plate 6 (Figure 8), representing the ram’s horns, but also extending above the ram’s head as a purely decorative border.


Figure 8. Daniel Rabel, Plate 6 from Cartouches de différentes inventions, 1634, engraving, 13.4 x 18.9 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

The papers presented at the Auricular conference in October 2016 confirmed the omnipresence of the row of spheres in Auricular design of all stripes. Lukas Kilian, for example, favored the motif, which often takes on a spinal character, like a row of vertebrae (Figure 9), or which suggests the ridges of a shell, or a cornucopia (as in Figure 10).


Figure 9. Raphael Custos after Lucas Kilian, Plaste from Ein Newes Schildt Buech, 1630, engraving, 18.2 x 13.2 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.


Figure 10. Raphael Custos after Lucas Kilian, Plaste from Ein Newes Schildt Buech, 1630, engraving, 18.2 x 13.2 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

The framemaker Johann Matthias Kager (1575-1634) also extensively used the device of the row of raised spheres as an element in his frames for the Golden Hall in Augsburg, as Daniela Roberts shows here.

Lutma also employs the motif in his cartouche, although he leans towards the ridged tube, rather than the row of spheres, but the motifs are interrelated: the ridges only have to be more fully articulated for the tube to become a chain of spheres, which is what has happened in Kager’s frames, for example. For Lutma, the ridges provide a way to variegate surfaces that might otherwise be left smooth.

In other words, the row of spheres was a formal, decorative element, which could evoke a number of different elements found in the natural world, including spines, shells, beads, and legumes. Without a fixed reference, the motif belonged to the interminate medium of the Auricular. In the French context, however, the row of spheres acquired a very specific, and rather surprising reference: the pea plant – specificially, the peapod.

The ornamental motif known as the cosse de pois (peapod) appeared around 1615 in the work of French designers in Paris and in Chateaudun.[13] Its popularity endured, in various forms, until around 1635, so it overlapped with the years during which the Auricular style enjoyed its first wave of popularity in Italy and the North. The cosse de pois was the work of French goldsmiths, who turned to printmaking as a way to augment their income and to build their personal reputations.[14] A huge body of peapod ornament – at least 463 original designs – was published in France during the motif’s heyday.

There were several different styles of peapod ornament; indeed, differences tended to proliferate because the goldsmiths used the suites of prints as calling cards to advertise their personal style. Pierre Marchand’s peas, for example, tended towards the healthfully buxom, while Jacques Caillart produced a floppier pod, but used a finer etched line to create a delicate density in his designs.

Paris, bibliothËque de l'INHA, collections Jacques Doucet. FolRes120-1-12-folio58.

Figure 11. Pierre Marchand, Frontispiece from Bouquets de joaillerie, feuilles stylisées et cosses de pois, 1623, etching, Paris: Bibliothèque de l’INHA, Collections Jacques Doucet. Photo © INHA, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY.


Figure 12. J. Briot after Jacques Caillart, Plate 4 from Bouquets d’orfèvrerie, 1629, second edition (1627, first edition), etching & burin. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

The ostensible goal was the design of jewellery, like the beautiful brooch in the collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, in which a trellis of red, white, and green peas surrounds an opal cameo showing an aristocratic infant.


Figure 13. Camée d’opale à monture de cosses de pois, c. 1615-25, ‘Hungarian’ opal, gold, white & black opaque enamel, translucent green enamel, 6.2 x 4.3 cm. Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Photo © BnF.

This particular piece is enamelled, but the designs could also be realized as a combination of gold setting or ‘pod’ and diamond ‘pea,’ as in the case of the breast ornament in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.


Figure 14. Breast ornament, c. 1620-1630, enamelled gold set with diamonds, 12.4 x 7.4 x 3.0 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

The cosse de pois can also be seen in the ornamentation of Delabarre’s ewer, which I discussed above. Those fan-like scrolls of gold flaring out behind the dragon and set with individual gems are derived from the motif of the arched, stuffed peapod, like those in Caillart’s design.

Delabarre Pierre (reÁu maÓtre en 1625-vers 1654). Paris, musÈe du Louvre. OA10409;MR130.

Figure 15. Pierre Delabarre, Ewer (detail), ca. 1630-1635, enamel in the round, gold, diamond, emerald, ruby, opal, carnelian, sard, 26.1 x 13.4 x 6.9 cm. Paris: Musée du Louvre. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY.

There is no denying the embodied character of the peapod motif, particularly in Caillart’s design. A skin swollen into a sphere suggests any number of body parts, from the testicles, breasts, and belly, to the buttocks, an analogy which I think is particularly appropriate for this design. For the most part, however, the peapod ornament alludes to the body while remaining in the realm of the vegetal. Again, this is the mode of analogy: the peapod resembles a body, it does not metamorphose into one.


Figure 16. Alexandre Vivot, Grand bouquet d’orfèvrerie de forme ovale, 1624, etching, 43.1 x 31.3 cm. Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Photo © BnF.

In one case, however, the peapod does metamorphose into bodies and animals, in the work of Alexandre Vivot, a French goldsmith. Vivot came from a family of Parisian goldsmiths and sellers of curiosities (these were overlapping milieus in early 17th century Paris).[15] By the 1620s, Vivot was living and working in Madrid, although this extraordinary large sheet of peapod ornament was published in Paris.[16] Vivot’s design shows the peapod transforming into a pair of excreting buttocks wearing a jester’s cap, a mouth vomiting a vine, a head wearing an enormous, unicorn-like headress of a pod splitting open to sprout a chain of peas. The fantastic grotesquerie of this design necessitates that in some cases, including that of the excreting buttocks-face clad in the jester’s hat, the medium does indeed assume the indeterminate character that marks the essence of the high Auricular.

However, Vivot’s style remains distinct, and distinctly ‘French,’ in its aerated, linear character. The individual elements float with surprising lightness. They are bound together by an extremely delicate lattice of spiraling pea tendrils as well as the rapier-sharp points created by the tips of the pods.

A simple reason then, why the Auricular was not as popular in France as it was in the rest of Europe was that French goldsmiths were entirely absorbed by the peapod. What is more difficult to ascertain is the reason for this preference. This is the subject of my article, ‘Ornament in the Kitchen Garden: The Pea As Motif for Goldsmithing in the France of Louis XIII’, which will be published in Art History in 2017. Therefore, I will refrain from commenting extensively on the motif here, except in its relationship to the failure of French ornament to move towards the Auricular. At this moment in the early 17th century, the French were keen to come out from under the shadow of Italian artists, who had dominated the Fontainebleau style. This desire was perhaps exacerbated by the realization that artistic activity in France had fallen behind the rest of Europe, thanks to the turmoil of Wars of Religion. French designers needed to make a significant and an original statement. To reject a decorative style based on strapwork was to reject Italian influence and to embrace instead a vegetal form of ornament, which could be described as ‘gothic,’ an artistic style that France regarded as its own property.[17] Finally, the peapod granted ornament a fixed medium, anchoring the body of ornament in a single, organic substance. Of course, few designers were able to entirely stick within this single body. Vivot and Caillart both pushed the body of the pea towards the human body, mingling the two bodies in promiscuous fashion.

The second artist to engage in a sustained manner with the Auricular style was Denis Boutemie, a Parisian goldsmith.[18] In an extraordinary series of ornament prints, Boutemie came at the Auricular from an interesting angle – the hat. His designs demonstrate the manifold ways that a single hat can be folded, cut, and re-made into a fantastical series of headdresses for male and female models.


Figure 17. Denis Boutemie, page from Ouvrage rare et nouveau contenant plusieurs desseins de merveilleuse recreation sous diverses caprices et gentillesses representees en l’industrieuse decoupure d’un chapteau, 1636, engraving, 12 x 20.6 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

In this plate, one of the two frontispieces to the series, the hat has been opened and splayed. It also appears to have merged with the body of a dog, whose legs, tails, and paws are visible. Some of the spiny character of the peapod ornament remains in the border elements, and the two bulbous fangs, extending from the lower border of the motif, also suggest the peapod. The following prints show pairs, and occasionally trios of male and female busts, their faces masked by the extraordinary head-pieces, many of which feature a dangling tendril of large spheres, reminiscent, at an enlarged scale, of the chains of sprouting peas seen in the cosse de pois prints.


Figure 18. Denis Boutemie, page from Ouvrage rare et nouveau contenant plusieurs desseins de merveilleuse recreation … , 1636, engraving, 12 x 20.6 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.


Figure 19. Denis Boutemie, page from Ouvrage rare et nouveau contenant plusieurs desseins de merveilleuse recreation … , 1636, engraving, 12 x 20.6 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

These headdresses may have been intended to inspire the designers of costumes for court ballets, including an artist like Rabel. Yet the designs were also prized solely for their visual interest and novel ‘inventions’. Boutemie’s title was ‘inventeur ordinaire du roi’, ‘ordinary inventor of the king’, which suggested that his job was not necessarily to make objects but to invent novel fantasies, such as transforming a plain hat into a bird of paradise. In terms of the relationship of these masks to the Auricular, I would insist upon the way that Boutemie restrains his fantasy to the medium of the hat. These are headdresses, costumes to be worn, they do not ask the wearer to transform his or her own flesh. Thus the distinction between the human figure and its grotesque costume is carefully preserved

In conclusion, the most marked characteristic of French stabs at the Auricular style is a refusal to embrace the indeterminate medium and a preference, instead, for analogy, comparison, and other modes of suggestion that maintain the cordon sanitaire between human bodies and other media. Part of the reason for this particular tendency can be attributed to the rising influence of ‘classicism’. The official period of French classicism is generally dated to the second half of the 17th century, between 1660 and 1685.[19] But the tensions between a simple, plain style and an ornate, extravagant style were already present in the early 17th century, particularly in the realm of literary theory: for example, Jean Chapelain’s famous preface to the French translation of Giambattista Marino’s Adone (1621, published 1623).[20] Marino’s peacetime epic was written in a wonderfully ornamented style, rich with elaborate metaphors; it is a text that seems to glitter, thanks to the plentiful references to the gleaming surfaces of precious gems.[21] Chapelain, while in principal entirely opposed to Marino’s style, was friends with the poet and therefore his preface is consummately politic. Nevertheless, without directly criticizing Marino, Chapelain uses this text to outline some of the major tenets of classicism: namely, truth to an idealized conception of nature, an overarching aesthetic of easeful simplicity, and the necessity of finding the proper mode of expression for a given subject (convenance). So, for example, elevated poetic verse was appropriate for political tragedy, while burlesque, low prose could be used for comedies about the lives of ordinary people. Chapelain believed that art should replicate the proper order of the natural world; he counted as disorderly the joining of different kinds of bodies to one another. Early on in his preface, he discusses forms of ‘novelty’, one that is against nature and another that is natural, and therefore worthy of praise:

‘[That novelty] which is against nature is double; the first [kind of novelty] would be called perfect in its imperfection, which is when a body of one nature and a body of another nature are joined together, like the satyrs of Antiquity, and in our time half-men half-dogs, and when novelty is in excess of monstrosity. The second [kind of novelty] would be called imperfect, and it is when a body of one nature and a body of another nature are assembled, without unifying and merging, such that two movements appear and produce two distinct operations, independent of one another; like a monster with two heads, hermaphrodites, infants attached by the forehead, and in which novelty is purely monstrous without excess’.[22]

While this fascinating passage cannot be applied word for word to an analysis of the Auricular style, it is nevertheless enormously suggestive. Perhaps most instructive is Chapelain’s discomfort with the presence of ‘two movements’ within a single medium, as opposed to the ‘perfect imperfection’ of a body that is hybrid, yet in which the elements of the hybrid are distinct. As an example of ‘perfect imperfection’ in novelty, take Primaticcio’s frame at Fontainebleau, in which the little satyrs, affixed to the pilasters between the nude women, are composed of human torsos and heads, from which extend two horns. Their bottom half, however, consists of two curving volutes, which belong to the plastic medium of strap-work. The Fontainebleau satyr combines two bodies (human and plastic-architectural), yet each body possesses its independent ‘movement’, its distinct ontology. Thus unity is possible even in the case of the composite. On the side of Chapelain’s ‘imperfect novelty’, Lutma’s cartouche and the high Auricular exemplify the body in which two or more ‘movements’ compete. These ‘movements’ are the affinities of the cartouche’s medium with the multiple substances it evokes: bat, leaf, cartilage, winkled and ridged skins. These mixed, contradictory affinities tease the substance of the cartouche in different directions, producing a medium, apparently singular, that is in fact highly unstable.

This was not merely a question of medium. Underlying Chapelain’s text is a suspicion of improper movements between genres. Ornament possessed the capacity to facilitate such disorderly movements, by elevating what it ornamented above its intrinsic value. The Auricular frame posed exactly this danger, that it would distract and overwhelm what was framed, diverting the viewer’s attention to marginalia. This was a problem of boundaries between things not being observed: of an ornamental frame becoming a subject rather than remaining in its position of service, as a frame. Proprietary concerns, as it were, animate Chapelain’s discussion of the human body and the places where it was proper for this body to be found. Classicism, inspired by Antiquity, prized the human body as the ideal of beauty and as the medium of the representation of history and the passions. In this system, ornament, characterized as marginal and superfluous, was not a proper place for the human body. Thus the greater interest, in the French context, in vegetal, botanical, and mineral elements for ornament, and thus the care taken, when the body did manage to work its way into ornament, to preserve the body’s boundaries and its integrity as human substance. With the cosse de pois, these boundaries were somewhat easier to negotiate. On the one hand, the cosse de pois was a form of ornament that threatened to make a lowly vegetable into the decor of princely ceremony. On the other hand, the cosse de pois performed the lowness of its (ornamental) genre by ostensibly limiting itself to the vegetal body, a low subject (the pea) for a low genre (ornament).

During the early 17th century, French artists, particularly goldsmiths, invented ornamental styles that intersected with the European Auricular in productive ways. Yet, to speak of a French Auricular, is to speak of a very small body of work indeed. However, the examination of the French aversion to certain features of the Auricular facilitates an understanding of what makes the ‘high’ Auricular distinctive – and this, I would argue, is the Auricular’s pursuit of the ‘indeterminate medium’, which is neither animal, human, vegetable, or mineral, but everything all at once.


Marika T. Knowles is a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows where she studies French art, culture, and literature of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Upon receiving her Ph.D. from Yale University in 2013, she was awarded the Department of Art History’s Frances Blanshard Fellowship Fund prize for her dissertation, ‘Pierrot’s Costume: Theater, Curiosity, and the Subject of Art in France, 1665-1860.’ Between 2013 and 2015, she was Assistant Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at Grinnell College. Her article on popular theater and photography in 19th century France, ‘Lost Ground: Nadar and Adrien Tournachon’s Photographs of Charles Deburau as Pierrot’, appeared in Oxford Art Journal in December 2015. She is currently at work on a book about French painting, decorative art, and prints during the reign of Louis XIII.


[1] Walter Karl Zülch, Enstehung des Ohrmuschelstils, Heidelberg, 1932.

[2] Paul Contant, Le jardin et cabinet poétique (1609), ed. Myriam Marrache-Gouraud and Pierre Martin, Rennes, 2004: ‘ce que je ne veux nommer d’où sort le monde’. Contant’s phrase occurs in a panegyric of ‘roundness’ (le rond).

[3] Henri Zerner, Renaissance Art in France: The Invention of Classicism, trans. Deke Dusinberre, Scott Wilson, Rachel Zerner, Paris, 2003.

[4] Henri Zerner, École de Fontainebleau: Gravures, Paris, 1969.

[5] Mack P. Holt, The French Wars of Religion, 1562-1629, Cambridge, 2005 (1995). See also Barbara B. Diefendorf, Beneath the Cross: Catholics and Huguenots in Sixteenth-Century Paris, Oxford, 1991.

[6] Jean-Pierre Babelon, ‘Quels étaient les goûts d’Henri IV en matière d’art?’ in Les arts au temps d’Henri IV, Pau, 1-25. On Henri’s encouragement of tapestry manufacture, see Jean-Marie Apostolidès, ‘Les Différents Types de Mécénat et la Tapisserie’ in Roland Mousnier et Jean Mesnard, eds., L’Âge d’Or du Mécénat (1598-1661), Paris, 1985. On the architectural and urban revivals initiated by Henri, see Hillary Ballon, The Paris of Henri IV: Architecture and Urbanism, Cambridge, 1991.

[7] On the Second School of Fontainebleau, see Louis Dimier, Histoire de la Peinture Française: Des Origines au Retour de Vouet, 1300-1627, Paris, 1925, 77-86. Alain Mérot, La peinture française au XVIIe siècle, Paris, 1994, 47-51.

[8] For an essential introduction to the history of prints in 17th century Paris see Marianne Grivel, Le commerce de l’estampe à Paris au XVIIe siècle, Geneva, 1986. Analysis of early modern European ornament prints has recently become a more interesting field, thanks to the efforts of a few scholars, principal among them Madeleine C. Viljoen. See her ‘The Airs of Early Modern Ornament Prints’, Oxford Art Journal, 37: 2, 2014, 117-133, and ‘Christoph Jamnitzer’s Neuw Grottessken Buch, Costmography, and Early Modern Ornament’, Art Bulletin, 98:2, 213-36.

[9] On Rabel see Véronique Meyer, ‘L’oeuvre gravé de Daniel Rabel’, Nouvelles de l’estampe 67, 6-15.

[10] On the decorative arts of this period, see Daniel Alcouffe, Emmanuel Coquery et. al., Un temps d’exuberance: Les arts décoratifs sous Louis XIII et Anne d’Autriche, Paris, 2002. For the specific hôtel particuliers, the decoration of which reinvigorated the arts during the reigns of Henri IV and Louis XIII, see Jean-Pierre Babelon, Demeures parisiennes sous Henri IV et Louis XIII, Paris, 1977. See also Nicolas Courtin, L’art d’habiter à Paris au XVIIe siècle: L’ameublement des hôtels particuliers, Dijon, 2011.

[11] On the ballet de cour see the fascinating work by Mark Franko, Dance as text: ideologies of the baroque body, Cambridge, 1993.

[12] On Les Fées des Forêts de Saint-Germain see Thomas Leconte, ed. Les Fées des Forêts de Saint-Germain, 1625: un ballet royal de ‘bouffonesque humeur’, Turnhout, Belgium, 2012.

[13] For an exhaustive survey and catalogue of the motif, see Peter Fuhring and Michèle Bimbenet-Privat, ‘Le style cosse de pois: l’orfèvrerie et la gravure à Paris sous Louis XIII’, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 139: 1595, January 2002, 1-224.

[14] On the history of goldsmithing in 17th century France, see Michèle Bimbenet-Privat, Les orfèvres et l’orfèvrerie de Paris au XVIIe siècle, 2 vols. Paris, 2002. See also Henry Nocq, Le Poinçon de Paris: Répertoire des Maîtres-Orfèvres de la Juridiction de Paris depuis le Moyen-âge jusqu’à la fin du XVIIIe siècle, 4 volumes, Paris, 1926-31.

[15] On the Parisian milieus of curiosity see Antoine Schnapper, Le géant, la licorne et la tulipe: les cabinets de curiosités en France au XVIIe siècle, Paris, 2012 (1988).

[16] Fuhring, ‘Le style “cosse de pois”’, 183-7.

[17] On the French interest in the ‘Gothic’ vegetal style as a distinctly French invention, see Zerner, Renaissance Art in France, 11-59.

[18] On Boutemie see Peter Fuhring, ‘Denis Boutemie: A Seventeenth-Century Virtuoso’, Print Quarterly 9:1, 46-55.

[19] Chantal Grell, Histoire intellectuelle et culturelle de la France du Grand Siècle, 1654-1715 (Paris: Nathan, 2000), 147-72. Grell dates the ‘official’ classicist period to the reign of Louis XIV, when authors and the cultural administration sponsored by the crown collaborated to produce a “system of representation” that emphasized “order, harmony, equilibrium, and reason.” Grell’s chapter is a helpful introduction to an enormously complicated aesthetic concept, which had many variations over the course of the 17th century. See also the dated, but still ‘classic’ René Bray, La Formation de la Doctrine Classique en France, Lausanne, 1931.

[20] Giambattista Marino, L’Adone, Paris, 1623. For a ‘modern’ edition, see Ernest Bovet, La préface de Chapelain à l’Adonis, Halle, 1905, 30-52 for the original text of the préface.

[21] For an English translation of selections from this very long poem, as well as a helpful introduction to Marino’s style, see Harold Martin Priest, ed. and trans., Adonis: selections from L’Adone, Ithaca, 1967.

[22] Bovet, La préface, 31: ‘Celle qui est contre nature est double; la première s’appellerait parfaite en son imperfection, qui est lorsqu’à un corps d’une nature un autre corps d’une autre nature est conjoint, comme on a vu des Satyres dans l’ancienneté, et de nos temps des demi-hommes demi-chiens; et lors la nouveauté est en l’excès de monstruosité. La seconde se pourrait dire imparfaite, et c’est quand à un corps d’une nature un autre corps de même nature est assemblé, sans pourtant qu’ils s’unissent et confondent, de sorte que les deux mouvements n’apparaissent et ne produisent deux opérations distinctes, indépendantes l’une de l’autre; comme on a vu des monstres d’hommes avec deux têtes, d’hermaphrodites, et d’enfants attachés par le front, et lors la nouveauté est purement monstrueuse sans excès’.

An Auricular frame amongst the Founder’s Collection of the Ashmolean Museum

Timothy Newbery and Jevon Thistlewood discuss seven Auricular frames in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum. One is an early 17th century English pattern on a portrait, two are late 17th century Dutch frames on still life paintings, and the remaining four are on oil sketches by Peter Paul Rubens. The histories of the frames are noted, and evidence of gilding and regilding.

The Ashmolean Museum opened in 1683 with a bequest of items from Elias Ashmole [1]. A list of these items was completed in 1685 [2] and it included a number of paintings which still appear in to be in their original frames. One of these, a portrait which was believed to be of Sir John Suckling [3], a Cavalier poet in the reign of Charles I, is housed in an English Auricular frame made c. 1635-40.


British School, Portrait of a youth, said to be Sir John Suckling, c.1625 -40, o/c, 84 x 69 cm, F676; ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

This frame is carved from oak which is two and a half centimetres (or one inch) thick, with mitred and lapped Northern European cassetta construction at the front, and an applied tenoned back frame. There is a vertical line of symmetry through the frame which is almost exact, except for elements in the lower left and right sides. The rebate has been crudely opened, probably when the canvas was relined onto a larger size of stretcher.


Reverse of the frame on F676; ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford


Details of the frame ornament on F676; ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

The motifs around the frame comprise a lion’s head in the centre of the top rail, supported by its reversed front paws; claws in the upper corners; eagles biting serpents, with wings and tentacles on the lateral rails; and bird in the centre of the lower rail, supported by the lion’s back paws. The wings of the bird form a shape similar to that of a pilgrim’s scallop shell. The strongly zoömorphic nature of this decoration indicates an influence from ornament at the Medici Court.


A sample from the frame on F676 (a) showing the layers of decoration in cross-section, (b) the same illuminated with UV light at 480nm, (c) the same viewed through a 720nm infrared filter, (d) the same stained with Acid Fuchsin, (e) the same stained also with Sudan Black B ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

At the bottom of the cross-section we can see the earliest scheme of gilding, which consists of gesso, a yellow bole and gold leaf. It is most likely that this is the original decoration. The adhesion of the gesso to the carved oak is very poor, and has a crystalline appearance – possibly suggesting that the picture suffered from a damp environment in the past [4]. It is followed by at least three subsequent schemes of gilding, each of which replicates the process, beginning with a thick preparatory layer. Staining with Acid Fuschin suggests that, of the first and second regilding processes, the preparatory layers do not contain any substantial amounts of protein. These layers also contain spherical translucent voids which can be an indication of lead soaps. This resonates with the apparent use of a lead-based white oil paint being used for this purpose in the late nineteenth century [5] and its similar occurrence on other frames in the Founder’s Collection [6]. The overall result has considerably thickened and filled in the carved detail on the frame.


Attributed to William Mouse II [7], The Ashmole Cup, ©Robert Yardley, with permission of Lichfield City Council

Ashmole’s wider appreciation of the Auricular style can be seen in his record of the (since destroyed) work of Christian van Vianen for the Chapel at Windsor [8], and in his gift of an English silver drinking vessel to the Bailiffs of Lichfield in 1666 [9].


Elias van den Broeck, A Vase of Flowers, o/c, 90 x 71 cm, A540, ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Further Auricular frames were added to the collection of the Ashmolean Museum in conjunction with two major bequests, two Dutch frames carved in limewood arriving in 1939 as part of the Daisy Linda Ward bequest of nearly one hundred still life paintings [10]. In contrast to the English frame, the carving on these frames is much deeper and more three-dimensional, and includes naturalistic motifs of fruit, flowers and leaves. The frame on a still life painting by Elias van der Broeck, made in Amsterdam c. 1660, has been made from much longer lengths of architectural moulding, which has no specific sight edges. It was probably originally applied over paintings set into panelling. Rejoined in a smaller format, it has left the lower corners in particular poorly resolved.


Details of the frame on Elias van den Broeck, A540, ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

The whole frame appears to have been oil gilded, and regilded once or twice in some places, on a base of thick white gesso.


A sample from the frame (A540) (a) showing the layers of decoration in cross-section, (b) the same stained with Acid Fuchsin and Sudan Black B, (c) the same illuminated with UV light at 480nm; ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford


Jan Davidsz. de Heem, Still Life with Fruit and Oysters, 1643 o/panel, 65 x 87 cm, A559, ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

The second Dutch frame contains a still life by Jan Davidsz. de Heem. It was probably made in Utrecht c. 1670. The ornament includes fish, birds, reptiles, sea creatures, flowers and leaves. At the top of the frame there is an asymmetric bird facing to the right, indicating that this was one of a pair of portrait frames: thus the present horizontal format appears to have been created from a portrait frame which has been significantly reduced in height.


Details of the frame on Jan Davidsz. de Heem, A559, ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

This too seems to have been oil gilded, and regilded; however, certain elements appear only to be thinly covered in places. (A modern gilt slip or inlay has been added at some point, possibly as a former glazing spacer.) The surface has extensive fine contraction cracking throughout.


A sample from the frame (A559) (a) showing the layers of decoration in cross-section, (b) the same stained with Acid Fuchsin and Sudan Black B, (c) the same illuminated with UV light at 480nm, ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

 In both of these Dutch frames, the three-dimensional naturalistic foliage and ornament increase the illusion of realism in the still life paintings. Whilst they are not original to the paintings they now contain, they are contemporary with them, having been applied some years later. The marine ornament is derived from Florentine and Roman fountains, probably brought north by craftsmen trained in Italy.

Four oil sketches by Peter Paul Rubens came to the Ashmolean Museum as part of the Chambers Hall bequest of 1855. In contrast to the previous frames discussed, the frames on these 17th century paintings appear to have been made in the 19th century.


Sir Peter Paul Rubens, St Barbara pursued by her father, c.1620, o/panel, 15.5 x 20.7 cm, A157, ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford


Sir Peter Paul Rubens, St Clare of Assisi, c.1620, o/panel, 14.6 x 22 cm, A156, ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

These paintings may not have been framed originally, as they served as preparatory sketches for a scheme of c.1620, for ceiling paintings in the Jesuits’ Church in Antwerp. (The ceiling paintings were destroyed by fire in 1718). The first two frames (A157 & A156) are of a similar size and design, and were made in England c. 1855. They are based on the ‘Sunderland’ pattern of the 1660s, moderated by the influence of the mid-19th century Rococo revival, as can be seen from the rocaille ornament in the cartouches, and in the centred ornaments on the lateral rails.


Details of the frames (A157, above; A156, below), ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford


A sample from A157 (a) showing the layers of decoration in cross-section, (b) the same stained with Acid Fuchsin and Sudan Black B, (c) the same illuminated with UV light at 480nm, (d) sample from A156 showing the layers of decoration in cross-section, (e) the same stained with Acid Fuchsin and Sudan Black B, (f) the same illuminated with UV light at 480nm; ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

One of these frames (that on St Barbara…, A157) has had the sight edge crudely extended inwards, leaving a broad bumpy step. It has also been gilded with a thicker imitation gold foil after this adjustment, which rounds and fills the ornament. Below this foil there is off-white preparation with very finely ground pigment particles. In contrast, the other frame (on St Clare…, A156) appears to have been oil gilded, although there also seems to be a layer of glue flowing between the oil size and the white gesso. Given the fact that samples are taken in areas of existing damage this could be a consolidant.


Sir Peter Paul Rubens, The sacrifice of Noah, c.1620, o/panel, 18.7 x 28.8 cm, A158, ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford


Sir Peter Paul Rubens, The Annunciation, c.1620, o/panel, 14.2 x 26.4 cm, A159, ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

The remaining frames in this set of four (The sacrifice of Noah, A158, & The Annunciation, A159) are of different dimensions from each other. They are British, and appear to have been copied from A156 and A157 at a later date, c.1890, as can be seen by the Art Nouveau influence, with its more metallic and serpentine lines. A succession of bumps at the corners has been translated into unconnected pear shapes.


Details of the frames (The sacrifice of Noah, A158, above; and The Annunciation, A159, below), ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

 Samples from these frames show very similar layers in the gilding to those on the frame of St Clare of Assisi (A156). They even have the same apparent glue layer beneath the oil size in places.


A sample from A158 (a) showing the layers of decoration in cross-section, (b) the same stained with Acid Fuchsin and Sudan Black B, (c) the same illuminated with UV light at 480nm, (d) sample from A159 showing the layers of decoration in cross-section, (e) the same stained with Acid Fuchsin and Sudan Black B, (f) the same illuminated with UV light at 480nm; ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

In an article to mark the acquisition of the Chambers Hall letters by the Ashmolean Museum[11], it was noted that,

‘…in February 1828 (Chambers Hall) told (David Charles) Read that he had bought a set of small tools, and for several years kept him informed about the frames he was making. It is not certain whether he made the frames for his small sketches by Rubens or the frame for Zoffany’s Garrick but if not they must have been carved for him…Since 1855 many of his frames have been taken off and lost. The frame for Miss Keppel, which took many months of laborious carving, was removed in 1867. Others were cut up and reused. The best documented of his surviving frames is on Reynold’s Charity. This rather fanciful and irregular frame, as he described it to Read, was constructed by him out of existing lengths of moulding with added ornaments which he carved in limewood.’

The choice of this frame pattern may have been inspired by the fluid brushwork of the sketches themselves, or by 17th century kwabwerk. It may also reference the appearance of Roman grotesque elements in some of Ruben’s works: for example, the lions’ skins seen worn by Roman soldiers in the Decius Mus series, which is thought to be one of the origins of Auricular ornament.


Timothy Newbery studied picture framemaking and the history of frames with Paul Levi between 1978-87. In 1987 he established a workshop in London making and restoring picture frames and sculpture bases for Old Masters. He has catalogued frames in the National Trust and in museums in Europe and North America. His publications include Italian Renaissance Frames (with  George Bisacca & Laurence B. Kanter, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1990), Frames and Framings (The Ashmolean Museum, 2003) and The Robert Lehman Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Volume XIII: Frames (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007).

Jevon Thistlewood received an MA in the Conservation of Fine Art from Northumbria University in 2000, specialising in easel paintings. His previous qualifications include a BSc in Chemistry and a MA in Sculpture Studies from the University of Leeds. In 2007 he was accredited with the Institute of Conservation and came to the Ashmolean Museum as a Paintings Conservator. His research interests centre on the examination of techniques and materials used in painted surfaces.


[1] [Feb 1683]15. I began to put my Rarities into cases to send to Oxford … ‘  [Mar 1683] ‘14. The last load of my Rarities sent to the barge,’ in R.T. Gunther, The Diary and Will of Elias Ashmole, Oxford, 1927, p. 124

[2] AMS 8 [1685a] Liber Domini Decani Aedis Christi (Book of the Dean of Christ Church), pp. 33-66, published in Arthur MacGregor, ed., with Melanie Mendonç and Julia White, Manuscript Catalogues of the Early Museum Collections, 1683-1886, BAR International Series 907, Oxford, Archeopress, 2000.

[3] ‘676 Pictura Dñi Johannis Suckleing Militis 103′

[4] It is not clear where this frame would have been located in the Old Ashmolean Museum. If framed pictures were displayed, they were hung on the staircase, or above fireplaces and cases. The building in Broad Street relied on several large coal fires for warmth until the end of 1885.

[5] For example, ‘Oil Gilding. Prime the work first with boiled linseed oil and white-lead; when dry, do it over with a thin coat of gold size, consisting of stone-ochre ground in fat oil,’ in A. Jamieson, A Dictionary of Mechanical Science, Arts, Manufactures, and Miscellaneous Knowledge, H. Fisher, Son & Company, 1829, vol. 1, p.389.

[6]  See ‘Restoring a Grinling Gibbons frame‘.

[7] The attribution of William Mouse II (b. 1643) is mentioned in a catalogue entry for a silver tankard.  More on William Mouse II can be found in E. J. G. Smith, ‘Jacob Bodendick’, The Silver Society Journal, 13, 2001, pp. 66-80.

[8]  ‘And now at length (a considerable sum having been collected) the work began to beset on foot, and the Workman made choice of, was one Christian Van Vianan of Utrect, a man excellently skilled in chasing of Plate : and to give him due praise in this undertaking, he discovered a rare ingenuity and happy fancy ,as the skilful did judge while the Plate was in being, and the designs of each piece yet to be seen (among the present Sovereign’s rare collection of Draughts and Sketches) can sufficiently manifest’, in E. Ashmole, The Institution, Laws & Ceremonies of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, first published 1672 by Nathaneal Brooke, p.492

[9]  [1666]  ‘Jan. 17. I bestowed on the bailiffs of Lichfield a large chased silver bowl and cover, cost me £23 8s. 6d’ , in R. T. Gunther, The Diary and Will of Elias Ashmole, Oxford, 1927, p. 124. The cup is a form commonly found among the plate of the City livery companies, decorated with monster faces in the Van Vianen style. M. Hunter, Elias Ashmole, 1617-1692: The Founder of the Ashmolean Museum and His World : a Tercentenary Exhibition, Ashmolean Museum, 1983, p. 33-34.

[10] F.G. Meijer, The Collection of Dutch and Flemish Still-life Paintings Bequeathed by Daisy Linda Ward, Ashmolean Museum, 2003.

[11]  J. Whiteley, ‘The Chambers Hall Letters’, in The Ashmolean Magazine, no. 64, Summer 2012, p. 26.