Auricular Style: Frames

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

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.

German ‘Knorpelwerk’: Auricular dissemination in prints, woodcarving, and painted wall decorations, 1620–70

Daniela Roberts discusses how, and in what form, the ornamental style called ‘Knorpel-&-Teigwerk’ or ‘Ohrmuschel-style’ developed in the different regions of Germany; and how it was employed in architecture and the decorative arts, as well as in elements of picture frames.

In the second and third quarters of the 17th century the Auricular style in Germany is usually associated with silverwork and furniture, and especially with architecture – in North Germany in particular. The proximity to the neighbouring Low Countries and also the strong middle class culture of the old Hanseatic towns seems to have promoted the style and made it popular in this region. Nevertheless most of the German pattern books for Ohrmuschelstil or Knorpelwerk were printed in the south of Germany, mainly in Nuremberg. Little research, however, appears to have been undertaken into the German Auricular style and its application to frames in the south.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), interior of the Golden Hall, Town Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24; reconstruction 1980–85

Thus the fact that one of the earliest examples of the Auricular in this period is to be found in the famous Golden Hall of the Town Hall, built by Elias Holl in the wealthy Fugger city of Augsburg, has not previously been acknowledged. The artist who was responsible for the interior decoration (1620–24, reconstructed between 1980–85 [1]) was Johan Matthias Kager, a Munich artist who had worked in the Duke’s Palace in his hometown, and had later – in 1603 – moved to Augsburg.[2]


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche inscribed ‘Veni vidi vici’ above the portrait of Caesar, Golden Hall, Augsburg

Amongst its grotesque paintings and strapwork ornament the complex decorative scheme of the Golden Hall includes a series of exceptional cartouches, framing scenes of heroines from the Old Testament, underneath the large windows of the long sides of the hall.


 Cartouche with the Death of the Maccabees, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24; reconstruction 1980–85

 The design of each of the cartouches corresponds in ornament and form with the painted upright oval cartouches situated over the portraits of the emperors, and the carved cartouches above the main doorways. The designs seem to be generally based on ancient and Renaissance models, [3] following a long tradition in Augsburg, which was one of the first German towns where the style of the Italian Renaissance gained a foothold.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with Tarquin and Lucretia, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24,; reconstruction 1980–85

The fundamentally symmetrical design of the cartouches is composed of two grotesque masks placed at the top and the bottom of a curved oblong framework. The masks – showing lions, bulls, sea monsters or Green Men – comply with the usual repertoire of Auricular frames, particularly of British ‘Sunderland’ frames.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with Jael, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24; reconstruction 1980–85

The cartouche designs show an affinity with Mannerist grotesques, and the fluid shapes reflect the influence of early Dutch Auricular from the beginning of the 17th century; this diverges from the prevailing assumption, that the German Auricular derives mainly from scrollwork and strapwork combined with curved, acanthus scrolls and Moresque ornaments.[4]


Lucas Kilian (1579–1637), frontispiece of Newes Gradesca Büchlein, 1607, engraving

A source which might have influenced the cartouche designs can be found amongst the artistic circle of Augsburg, surrounding the well-known engraver, Lucas Kilian, who worked regularly for Kager and was trained at the workshop of his stepfather, Dominicus Custos, who was of Dutch descent.[5] In his pattern book of 1607, the Newes Gradesca Büchlein, Kilian published thirteen plates with grotesque panels; this was followed by plates of cartouches in 1610, which helped to prepare the ground for the development of the German Auricular.[6]


Lucas Kilian (1579–1637), Portrait of Franciscus Pisanus (detail), engraving

In his portrait prints he ornaments inscription-bearing cartouches with fluid organic forms and masks, which with their soft shapes merge into volutes. With these he pre-figures Kager‘s designs in the Augsburg town hall, even though the repertoire of ornaments in his earlier works is still indebted to scrollwork.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with Judith and Holofernes, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), coat of arms belonging to Duke Philipp II of Pommern, in Hainhofer’s Großes Stammbuch (or family register), 1612

In an earlier work – a coat of arms from 1612 – Kager also seems to construct his frames on a base of scrollwork, while his preference for masks shown in profile, contorted and stretched as part of the cartouche border, is apparent.


Lucas Kilian (1579–1637), Portrait of Elias Holl, 1619, engraving

Lucas Kilian likewise used masks in profile for the frames of his engraved portraits. For the portrait of Elias Holl, the architect of the Augsburg town hall, Kilian softened the scrollwork of the cartouche with the outline of more organic forms, like shells.


Lucas Kilian (1579–1637), Portrait of Hans Kellenthaler, 1616, engraving

Kilian’s Portrait of Hans Kellenthaler stands out for the presence of its gnarled mascarons, in which the lower animal mask strongly resembles the type appearing in Kager’s Susannah cartouche.


Peter Isselburg (c. 1580–1630/31), Portrait of Johan Casimir, Duke of Sachsen-Coburg, 1625, engraving

There is a noticeable resemblance to Kager’s cartouche structure (here the Esther cartouche) evident in the framing of the portrait print of Johan Casimir, the Duke of Sachsen-Coburg, by Peter Isselburg.  Isselburg, who worked for a long time in Nuremberg, and after 1630 in Bamberg and Coburg, was trained by Crispijn van de Passe, another Dutch artist. In accordance with this artistic background many of his designs clearly show the influence of Dutch ornaments. For the Duke’s portrait he skilfully varies the shape of a conch shell, or twisted horn, combining these with curved scrolls thickened at the end – a characteristic of the German Auricular style,[7]  freely applied around the inner oval frieze.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with Esther, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24

Kager, in contrast, transforms the central volutes and scrolls into a cartilage structure, or into twisted shells.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with Artemisia, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24

Furthermore, Kager’s designs integrate the idea of an animal skin, showing paws grasping around the stretched, skin-like outlines of the cartouche.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with Susannah & the Elders, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24

In his most zoömorphic cartouches Kager combines the central mask with two dragons’ heads, which bite into the cartilage structure springing from the animal at the crest of the frame. Instead of ribbons flowing around the frame he solidifies the undulating ornamentation into the bony and fleshy structure of these fantastical creatures.


Lucas van Leyden (1494–1533), Ornamental panel with dolphins, first half 16th century, engraving

Kager has adopted for his designs a long tradition of grotesque work, often adapted for cartouches in portrait prints, and linked with Dutch artists.


Crispijn van de Passe the Elder (1564–1637), Portrait of Theodoor van Zuylen, 1624, engraving

The printmaker Crispijn van de Passe the elder, who was forced to leave Antwerp and worked for two decades in Cologne (1589–1611), was very influential in this respect, regarding the dissemination of the new Auricular style. In his portrait for Theodor de Zulen his grotesque masks are shown biting an oval cartouche, here still decorated with strapwork.


Renold Estracke (c. 1571–c. 1625), Portrait of Thomas Howard, 1620–25, engraving

Renold Estracke, an English printmaker – probably a pupil of Crispijn van der Passe, composed a cartouche for a portrait of Thomas Howard (dated from 1620–25) by using two snake heads, with softer outlines similar to Kager’s design.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with Tobias & the angel, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24

At this point it can be established that prints were a medium in which artists were pioneers in Auricular frame design, primarily in portrait prints and those other genres which employedr framing elements. Certainly Kager, who worked closely with various Augsburg printers like Kilian, must have known these Auricular examples and used them as an inspiration. He also contributed many original designs of his own.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with Semiramis, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24

As in the Dutch Auricular style Kager used conch shells for some of his cartouches, often in order to replace the central volutes. Even though exotic shells were precious collectables for the German Kunstkammer, they play hardly any part in the German Auricular style of around 1650–70; thus Kager’s adoption of shells, which was closely associated with the prosperous overseas trade of the Dutch, represents an outstanding example of a transregional artistic exchange.


Dominicus Custos (1560–1612), Portrait of Veronica Fugger, after 1593, in Fuggerorum et Fuggerarum imagines, fol. 112r

Presumably Kager was also acquainted with the famous print series of the Fugger family by the Augsburg publisher and Dutch-born Dominicus Custos. The frame of the portrait of Veronica Fugger has gigantic exotic shells placed round the upper corners.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), frontispiece of Karl Steger, Monasteriologia, 1619

Kager, for his part, had contributed to the development of the Auricular a couple of years before his Town hall decoration, in a frontispiece for the Monasteriologia, comprising a frame with four conch shells.


 Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with The daughter of Pericles, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24

Apart from these marine ornaments, the idea of developing a frame from an abstract organic mass indicates a further Dutch influence. Starting with the form of a flayed animal skin, discernible by its mask and intertwined paws or hanging hoofs, Kager generates abstract proliferating forms on the short sides of his cartouches. However, this Knorpelwerk design remains an exception in the German Auricular style.


Raphael Custodis (c. 1590–1664), frontispiece of Patriciarum Stirpium Augustanar. Vind. Et Earundem Sodalitatis Insignia, 1613, engraving

The first beginnings of a transformation from scrolled architectural volutes to an organic structure becomes visible in a cartouche frame for the frontispiece of the Patriciarum stirpium Augustanar (1613) by Raphael Custodis, the son of Dominicus.

Crispijn van de Passe (1564–1637), frontispiece of Herwologia Anglica, 1620, engraving

However, a striking resemblance to Kager’s design can be seen in a cartouche frame for the frontispiece of the Herwologia Anglica (1620), engraved by Crispijn van de Passe. As can be seen in the example above, although De Passe worked with strapwork decoration during the second half of the 16th century, he developed cartilaginous ‘frames’, with a tendency to abstract shapes, around 1620 in Utrecht.

In studying Kager’s designs, it becomes clear that these types of ‘frames’ would not have been achievable without the work of Dutch printmakers, who sometimes lived and worked temporarily in Germany after they were forced, through their religious beliefs, to leave Flanders or Antwerp. There is also the chance that Kager may have known designs by Paulus van Vianen, who, like Kager himself, had worked for Duke Maximilian in Munich during the 1590s.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), South portal, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24

 Kager‘s adoption of the Auricular style also encompasses the architectural parts of the Golden Hall. Within the painted wall decoration, the two main portals stand out, crowned by cartouches bordered with carved and gilded frames. Over the pediment of the south portal the cartouche, listing the names of the commissioners, is framed with motifs of conch shells replacing the volutes, and also includes two masks and two grotesques in profile.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), South portal, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24, detail

Instead of an inner moulding separating the inscription panel from the frame, the various motifs and ornaments project into the inner cartouche area, which was inconceivable at that point for the frame of a painting.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), North portal of the Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24

Consequently, the painting above the pediment of the north portal has been furnished with a conventional profile frame with outset corners. Both the horizontal oval cartouches above this painting and the commissioners’ cartouche are framed with paired conch shells, morphing into two masks and two stylized dolphins with scrolling tails. The arrangement of the conch shells around the crowning mask of these two unusual cartouche frames precedes Dutch frame designs, in particular ‘Lutma’ frames.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), South portal of the Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24, (outline drawing)

Here, of course, the single ornaments dissolve even further into a fluid undulating organic mass. It seems that, in contrast to Dutch Auricular, in Germany the use of Knorpel/Ohrmuschelstil for carved frames immediately neighbouring the image was usually restricted to cartouches. The criterion of appropriateness (or decorum) could explain the apparent absence of recorded examples of picture frames in the Auricular style. The anatomical abnormalities, exotic animals and exuberant shapes involved might not have been thought suitable to frame state portraits and historical paintings.


Sebastian Furck (c. 1598–1666), Portrait of Gernand Philipp von Schwalbach, 1645, engraving

This restraint in regard to over-ornate designs is also noticeable in portrait prints, even though the medium itself allowed much more freedom. Both the Frankfurt printmaker Christian Furck and the Nuremberg printmaker Johann Pfann use an Auricular vocabulary of shells and unrolled volutes to frame their printed portraits, and both attached cartouches in the image.


Johann Pfann (active 1625–1670), Portrait of Johann Tobias Schmidtman von Schwartzenbruck, 2nd half 17th century, engraving

Nevertheless, the immediate border of the portrait is composed of a standard profile frame. The Auricular elements are restricted to the outer areas as accessory parts of the framework, which is appropriate for the graphic arts.

[Bildindex der Kunst und Architektur]

 Bartolomé Iselburg, Portrait of Albrecht von Eitzen (Mayor of Hamburg), 1646, engraving

Bartolomé Iselburg’s portrait of Albrecht van Eitzen, the mayor of Hamburg (1646), is also set in a simple oval frieze, which is used for the inscription. Around the outer border the engraver has attached a framework of exotic shells, in parts arranged radially, like little flames. This exceptional and ornate design would have been difficult to execute as a carved wooden frame.


Matthäus Küsel (1629–1681), Portrait of Hans Koch (Mayor in Memmingen), 1654, engraving

Instead of shells, the Augsburg printmaker, Matthaeus Küsell, uses an abstract frame structure of a voluptuous cartilaginous matrix for his portrait print of Hans Koch (Mayor of Memmingen).


Engraving after Michiel van Mierevelt (1567–1641), Portrait of Johan van Oldenbarneveld, 1617

He adapted a frame design in the early Dutch Auricular style, produced by the artist Michiel van Mierevelt and published on a printed portrait of Johan van Oldenbarneveld from 1617 – almost 50 years previously. This example demonstrates not only the vivid artistic exchange which existed through the medium of the graphic arts, but also the constant interest in Dutch Auricular designs, even in the second half of the 17th century in the south of Germany.


Johann Caspar Höckner (1629–1670), Portrait of Immanuel Placotomus (Nicolaus Brettschneider), 1664, engraving

Around the same time another variation of the German Auricular appears in Johann Caspar Höckner’s engraved portrait of Immanuel Placotomus (a lawyer in Leipzig; 1664). Both the cartouches in this design are composed with two central masks and stylized scrolls forming characteristically compact ear shapes, a characteristic feature of the German Auricular. Whilst the soft texture and the fan-like elements around the crowning mask of the upper cartouche are reminiscent of Kager‘s cartouche frames, the staggered scrolls have also been used as a common ornament for South German altarpiece frames.


Limewood frame for a devotional picture, Franconia, 17th century, Bavarian National Museum, Munich

For example, the frame of a Franconian devotional image in the Bavarian National Museum has an underlying aedicular structure over which a tide of acanthus foliage swells and climbs the columns, lapping around the remnants of the entablature, where it swirls like cresting waves. Besides idiosyncratically-curved scrolls, pendant tongues of leaves and curved and swelling outlines are distinctive features of this version of the Auricular style. In spite of the dominance of the Italian Baroque for church interiors, particularly in South Germany, many altarpieces in the Auricular style have survived. Where it used the structure of an aedicular frame, such rich Auricular ornamentation appeared appropriate for altarpieces, as well as for other church furnishings such as epitaphs, organ cases and pulpits. However, apart from in the graphic arts, evidence of Auricular frames for domestic and public interiors is hard to prove.


The Gallery of Ancestors, c. 1726, Duke’s Residence, Munich

 The extensive modernizing campaigns of the 18th century favoured the Rococo style for interiors, which has destroyed a vast amount of evidence of the German early Baroque. Updating a frame in order to preserve an older valued painting in a more contemporary setting was a regular procedure, seen – for example – in the modernizing of the Gallery of Ancestors in the Duke’s Residence in Munich. The Thirty Years War must also be considered as an important factor in the loss of Auricular frames and frameworks. But is there any effective evidence of a particular German Auricular frame style?


Tondi & oval frames from ‘Le cabinet d’amour‘ of the Electress Henrietta Adelaide, c. 1669, Duke’s Residence, Munich, Bavarian National Museum, Munich, Photo: Dr. Sybe Wartena

 A hint can be found in several round and oval frames in the Bavarian National Museum, from paintings which were displayed in ‘Le cabinet d’amour’ of Henrietta Adelaide at the Duke’s palace from about 1669, representing the theme of love between parents and children.[8]  Apart from smaller tondi and oblong paintings, there are nine larger tondi which formed part of the hanging; they have a classically decorated sight edge around which trails of acanthus spring, with Auricular forms and tongues of leaves, as in the altarpiece mentioned above.


Il merito armato dalla fortezza and frame, part of original hanging in ‘Le cabinet d’amour‘ of the Electress Henrietta Adelaide, c. 1669, Duke’s Residence, Bavarian National Museum, Munich

A characteristic feature of these frames is the small jutting scrolls lined with buds or large oval beads, arranged symmetrically and looking like unrolled volutes. At the top and bottom of the frame the foliage becomes more compact, culminating at the crest in a pair of stylized scrolls. These richly-carved designs indicate that Auricular frames with this scrolling acanthus foliage were more prevalent in Germany, particularly in the South, than current research has suggested. These examples were also combined with Auricular frames in a more Italianate style, as part of the overall decorative scheme in the ‘cabinet d’amour‘.


State Room, 17th – 19th century, Castle Burgk, Thuringia

Whilst the original setting has been destroyed, the aesthetic function of frames in an early Baroque setting can be understood at the Castle Burgk in Thuringia. Here the frames were made for three paintings with mythological scenes as part of the interior decoration of the state room. The undulating outlines of the sight edge, resembling Höckner’s design, project over the painted panel. Unfortunately these designs do not originate from the 17th century but are apparently imitations from the late 19th century.


Doorcase of the hall, 1648, in Castle Tiengen, Waldshut

In Castle Tiengen in Waldshut, parts of the interior decorative scheme, dating from about 1648, have been preserved. The doorcase in the hall shows a rich vocabulary of Auricular forms: acanthus leaves, finned and superimposed with lines of buds, trail along the aedicular structure and cover the doors and the entablature frieze.


Friedrich Unteutsch (c. 1600-66), Design for an altarpiece, in Zieratenbuch, 1650/53

These somewhat resemble the designs in Friedrich Unteutsch’s pattern book, Zieratenbuch, from 1650/53, which comprises models for cartouches, furniture and church furnishings (such as altarpieces). In comparison, however, Unteutsch’s designs are characterized by more bulging and fleshily organic shapes and by vegetal scrolls, along with grotesque masks.


Doorcase of the Golden Hall, Old Residence, Urach, 1609–65


Wendel Dietterlin, design from Architectura, 1598, p. 76

Another and earlier example of an Auricular doorcase can be found at the old residence of the Duke of Wurtemberg in Urach. This is probably indebted to Wendel Dietterlin’s architectural designs: the unknown artist decorated the outer perimeter with entwined tendrils, scrolling into distinctly carved spiral ends, highlighted with gold and red paint. These flat, graphic shapes with small elevated details can be traced back to strapwork decorations from the late 16th century.


Epitaph for Georg Conrad Maikler, parcel gilt stone, c. 1647, Lutherkirche, Fellbach, near Stuttgart

The style of this type of ornament can be compared with those found in a South German epitaph. Both ornamental structures use a compact and crosswise-placed volute, highlighted with gold. The epitaph in Fellbach has a simplified, repetitive structure of homogenous scrolls, picked out with gilded spirals and pointed leaf tips.

Regarding decorative interiors in north Germany, an abundance of Auricular decoration on painted walls and ceilings is documented on town houses in Lübeck (St. Annen-Museum). Generally there are more examples of Auricular ornamentation in the north of Germany than the south, probably due to its proximity to the Low Countries. Particular Hanseatic towns such as Bremen, Lübeck or Brunswick stand out, with important works in architecture, interior and church furnishings. [9]


Burckhardt Röhl (?), vault decoration, 1616, plasterwork, Castle Sondershausen, Wendelstein


Vault decoration, 17th century, plasterwork, the Blue Room, Castle Gottorf, Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein

In addition to Auricular architecture, two examples of Auricular plasterwork can be given. Both decorate vaulted ceilings, one in Castle Sonderhausen in Wendelstein, and the other the ‘Blue Room’ in Castle Gottorf, Schleswig-Holstein. The playful designs along the groins of the vaults and around medallions and cartouches combine flowers with scrolls & undulating lines, forming ear-like cartilaginous curves: the literal meaning of ‘Auricular’.


Hans Gudewerdt the Younger, trophy frame, c. 1663–66, Castle Gottorf, Schleswig,  State Museum of Schleswig-Holstein

On the wall of the ‘Blue Room’ a female portrait can be seen, in a trophy frame attributed to Hans Gudewerdt the Younger, an outstanding woodcarver from Eckernförde.


Hans Gudewerdt the Younger, trophy frame (c.1669) on the Blue Madonna, Cathedral of St Peter, Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein

This trophy frame can be compared to a similar frame by Gudewerdt for the altarpiece of the Blue Madonna at the cathedral in Schleswig. In both cases Auricular ornaments provide an underlying structure for the composition of three-dimensional carved fruits, festoons, figures, heraldic shields and religious objects.[10]


Hans Gudewerdt the Younger, Thomas Börnsen-Epitaph, carved wood, 1661, church of St Nikolai, Eckernförde

Gudewerdt executed his altarpieces and epitaphs in a sumptuous and extravagant Auricular style. At the same time the influence of pattern books is tangible in his work: pattern books for the Auricular style often addressed a broad clientele of woodcarvers and other craftsmen, but it seems that they were not commonly used by by framemakers.[11]


Hans Gudewerdt the Younger, Altarpiece, 1641, church of St Nikolai, Kappeln

For the outer framework of his altarpiece in St. Nikolai in Kappeln,[12] Gudewerdt used a stylized leatherwork structure overlaid by fleshy and bulging forms which end in slender scrolling stems, finished by two characteristically intersecting spirals, or by pendant flower buds. In some places creatures seem to emerge from the organic mass, while other parts have a Rococo-like exuberance. Gudewerdt also mixes figures, angels and cherubs’ heads into his matrix of abstract material.


Nikolaus Rosman, ornament around a rectangular panel, left, in Neuw Zirat Büchlein, 1626, Coburg

The agitated structure and the thick bulges with wartlike swellings show an affinity to Nikolaus Rosman’s pattern book designs.

[Bildindex der Kunst und Architektur]

Christian Rothgiesser (fl. 1629–59), Portrait of Johann Adolph Kielmann, 1656, engraving

It is assumed that Rosman’s designs would not have been considered as reproducible in woodwork, because of their exuberant and exceptional use of ornament[13] – an opinion which might be true also for the printed frame around the portrait of Johann Adolph Kielmann, designed by Christian Rothgiesser.


T. Schröder, designs for jewellery, 1650, engraving

A use of Auricular ornament similar to Gudewerdt’s can also be found in Schröder’s pattern book, which employs spirals partly intersecting each other.


Friedrich Unteutsch (c. 1600-66), Design for an altarpiece, in Zieratenbuch, 1650/53

The preference in Gudewerdt’s altarpieces for C-scrolls formed by acanthus leaves can also be found in Unteutsch’s designs, particularly in his designs for altarpieces.[14]


Altarpiece, 17th century, church of St Georg, Spieka

 The altarpiece at the church in Spieka shows a similar structure to Unteutsch’s pattern book.


Crest of an altarpiece, 17th century, Municipal Museum, Flensburg

Hoppius-Epitaph, church of St Stephanus, Fedderwarden, Wilhelmshaven

A different style of north German Auricular can be seen in the altarpiece (above), characterized by more linear shapes, derived from strapwork (including Renaissance motifs like the paired dolphins), or in a more symmetrical, colour-contrasting ornamentation; the latter seems to be indebted to works by Ludwig Münstermanns, a successful Mannerist carver in the region of Oldenburg.


Lorentz Jørgensen (c. 1644–after 1681), altarpiece, 1652, church of St Nicolai, Køge, Denmark

Gudewerdt’s designs had great influence even across national borders: for instance in the designs of Lorentz Jørgensen, who was probably trained in his workshop. Gudewerdt’s extravagant style stands out against the predominant vocabulary of German Auricular, which was mainly based on the ear-shaped scrolls used in altarpieces and picture frames. As an early version of the Auricular style with a strong relation to Dutch designs, the interior decoration of the Golden Hall in Augsburg forms an exception, with its painted and carved cartouches with their organic matrix and use of shells.


Daniela Roberts holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Leipzig and a postgraduate degree in Museum Curator Studies from the University of Munich. Since April 2015 she has been installed as assistant professor at the Institute of Art History, University of Würzburg.  After many years studying 18th & 19th century English architecture she has currently started work on her second theses, Gothic Revival Framing. She recently contributed to an exhibition catalogue on Angelo Uggeri (Altenburg); articles to be published include those on John Nash’s All Souls church in From distaste to mockery, and on Renaissance reframing of trecento painting.


[1] Hermann Kießling, Der Goldene Saal und die Fürstenzimmer im Augsburger Rathaus, München 1997.

[2] Susanne Netzer, Johann Matthias Kager. Stadtmaler in Augsburg (15751634), PhD thesis, München (Uni-Druck) 1980.

[3] Kießling, p. 352.

[4] Günther Irmscher, Kleine Kunstgeschichte des europäischen Ornaments seit der Frühen Neuzeit, Darmstadt 1984, p. 143. Antje-Maria von Graevenitz. Das niederländische Ohrmuschel-Ornament. Munich PhD thesis, Bamberg 1973, pp. 75–80.

[5] Tilman Falk, Vom Weberhaus zum Rathaus. Zeichnungen und Biographisches aus Johann Matthias Kagers Augsburger Zeit, Münchner Jahrbuch 59, 2008, p. 86; Anette Michels, Gezeichnete und gestochene Bilder des Augsburger Kupferstechers Lucas Kilian, in: John Roger Paas (Ed.), Augsburg, die Bilderfabrik Europas, Augsburg 2001, p. 44.

[6] Rudolf Zöllner, Deutsche Säulen-, Zierarten- und Schildbücher 16101680. Ein Beitrag zur Entwicklungsgeschichte des Knorpelwerkstils, PhD Thesis Kiel, 1959, p 15–21.

[7] Graevenitz, p. 75.

[8] For informations about German auricular frames I am much obliged to Roswitha Schwarz, Furniture conservator at the Bavarian National Museum in Munich, who also shared her image material. Corpus der barocken Deckenmalerei in Deutschland, ed. by Hermann Bauer, Bernhard Rupprecht and Frank Büttner, Vol. 3, 2: München, Profanbauten, München 1989, pp. 250–260.

[9] W. R. Zülch, Entstehung des Ohrmuschelstiles, Heidelberg 1932, pp. 107-112; Irmscher, p. 146.

[10] Holger Behling, Hans Gudewerdt der Jüngere (um 16001671), Neumünster 1990, Pl. 135, 136, p. 207–210.

[11] Zülch, p. 115.

[12] Behling, pp. 174–181.

[13] Behling, p. 246.

[14] Behling, p. 246–247.


Frank Salisbury and the Auricular Frame

by Caroline Oliver

Frank Owen Salisbury (1874-1962) was an English artist, known for his portraits and large-scale paintings of ceremonial events. Initially trained as a stained-glass artist, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy Schools and travelled to Italy. The Guildhall Art Gallery owns a number of his paintings and drawings, including Sir Horace Brooks Marshall (1919), which is framed in a contemporary Auricular-style pattern (Fig. 1).


Fig. 1 Frank Salisbury, Sir Horace Brooks Marshall, 1919, Guildhall Art Gallery.  Photo: GAG Conservation

This is an unusual choice for a 20th century portrait. There was an interest in historical frame styles, both original and contemporary copies, in the early years of the 20th century, by artists such as de Laszlo and Lavery, but there is little evidence of Auricular styles being used.

Salisbury was not just an artist but also a craftsman; throughout his life he continued to design stained-glass and took every opportunity to use his diverse skills. For his own enjoyment he sculpted, gilded, upholstered, and designed his own house. His evident sympathy with the ideals of the Arts & Crafts Movement can also be shown by his educated interest in frame design. There is evidence of two different styles of Auricular frame favoured by Salisbury.


Fig. 2 Frank Salisbury, Nancy, 1927, Woolley & Wallace Salisbury Salerooms

The one used on Sir Horace Brooks Marshall has an unusual and distinctive lion motif which spans the top corners, with a shield at the top and a mask at the bottom. This design is also used, with adjustments for size purposes, on Nancy (Fig. 2) and Girl with Yellow Flowers.


Fig. 3 Frank Salisbury, Maude, 1902-4, courtesy of Caroline Spiers, Framemaking & Restoration

A different pattern is used on Fieldmice (1909) and Maude, White and Gold (Fig. 3); this is characterized by the use of more ‘ribbing’ and flattened ‘scrolling’. Whilst it is so far difficult to tell if Salisbury’s use of the different patterns overlap, this earlier style can be linked more directly to the original form: it is strikingly similar to the frame of George Jeffreys, 1st Baron Jeffreys by John Michael Wright (1673; National Portrait Gallery). Salisbury had a longstanding association with the framemaking firm of Bourlet, a company which has been running for over 160 years; the consistency of his designs over a considerably period indicates that Bourlet may have made these Auricular frames. Salisbury also used a local maker in Harpenden, a Mr Fowler, but the evidence points to the latter being a furniture-maker who helped him with frames on a more irregular basis.

Caroline Oliver is Lead Conservator at Guildhall Art Gallery

A ‘Sunderland’ frame

by Suzanne Sacorafou

This standard Restoration frame is now known as a ‘Sunderland’ pattern, and the particular example in question currently houses Van Dyck’s A lady from the Spencer family (c.1633-38).


Fig. 1 Van Dyck, A lady from the Spencer family, c.1633-38, Tate. The frame before conservation treatment

This was the style of frame used by Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland (1649-1702) at Althorp. Many of the pictures at Althorp are still framed in this style (Fig. 2).


Fig. 2 The Long Gallery, Althorp, Northamptonshire

This particular painting and its frame, both from Althorp, were acquired by the Tate in 1977. The frame is a fully-evolved ‘Sunderland’ pattern, with a cartouche at the top and a mask at the bottom. However, it is the serrated sight edge that particularly distinguishes the ‘Sunderland’ type: British Auricular frames retained straight sight edges until the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II. The precise history of this frame is unclear, with no records known at Althorp to suggest when it was made.

The fact that the frame is of later date than the painting, and also the need for its non-original slip, to prevent the canvas falling out of the front, together suggest that the frame has been re-used for this painting. It is not known when the slip or inlay was inserted, or when this exchange of frames and paintings happened.


Fig. 3 Staircase at Althorp showing painting in frame (1960)

A photograph shows the frame and its slip fitted on the painting at Althorp in 1960 (Fig. 3). Many of the pictures at Althorp do not fit their frames exactly, with clear gaps visible around the canvases. The Tate decided to keep this current arrangement, as a significant part of the painting’s history.


Fig. 4 Frame after conservation treatment

The delaminating gilding on the surface of the frame was consolidated with rabbit skin size, and small losses in-painted with shell gold. The whole frame was cleaned with a weak solution of tri-ammonium citrate. Bronze-paint was removed and new gold leaf applied. Limewood was used to carve missing sections of ornament, which were then oil gilded and toned to match the surviving original scheme. The slip was painted with gouache to render it less of a distraction when viewed (Fig. 4).

suzanne-header2 is an independent conservator.

Auricular plasterwork?

by Dr Claire Gapper

Lime plaster is an eminently suitable material for the creation of decoration in the auricular style. It is malleable and slow-setting, allowing the plasterer to continue perfecting his work over several weeks, whether cast from moulds or hand-modelled. Decorative plasterwork in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries was heading towards an increasingly ‘fleshy’ style but the influence of Inigo Jones meant that, unlike picture frames, it never became fully Auricular.


Fig. 1. Strapwork from Bury Hall, Middlesex (c1620). © Victoria & Albert Museum.

The description of Auricular frames as ‘leatherwork’ in seventeenth-century bills immediately brings to mind the French use of ‘cuirs’ at that time, when referring to ‘strapwork’. Originating in the stuccowork at Fontainebleau, strapwork, became an essential element in English plasterwork. Although hand-run, the strapwork that flowed across plaster ceilings was initially rather flat but by 1620 it had become more three-dimensional, with concave profiles terminating in high-relief scrolls.


Fig. 2. Grotesque mask in the Drawing Room frieze at Lyme Park, Cheshire (c1600). © Richard Gapper. By courtesy of the National Trust.

A similar trend can be observed in the cartouches that accompanied strapwork, both of which were combined with ‘grotteschi’ – masks, lion heads, small whimsical figures – to produce the ceilings and friezes typical of Elizabethan and Jacobean England.


Fig. 3. Detail of the great chamber ceiling at Hall Place, Bexley, Kent (c.1650). © Richard Gapper. By courtesy of the Bexley Heritage Trust.

Plasterers were clearly well-placed to adopt the Auricular style when it became fashionable but this development failed to materialise. Inigo Jones wrought a dramatic change in the design of ceilings. Beams decorated with guilloche and scrolling acanthus, laid out geometrically, replaced enriched ribs and strapwork; and architectural mouldings became the primary source of decoration. This severity was lightened by garlands of bay leaves or of fruit and foliage, the latter occasionally incorporating lion heads and grotesque masks, as at Ham House. Clearly some patrons found this chaste style too plain and soon the fields between the beams blossomed with a greater variety of motifs and vigorously scrolling acanthus. Forde Place, Dorset and Hall Place, Kent (both 1650s) provide vivid examples of this mixed style. Even here, symmetry was maintained and decoration failed to break the bounds of its geometrical framework. Nor did outlines dissolve into the rippling distortion typical of Auricular frames to provide running ornament.


Fig. 4. Cartouche from a ceiling at a house in Surrey (1680s). © Claire Gapper. By kind permission of the owners.

Although increasingly exuberant in its decoration, the Jonesian model prevailed for the rest of the century. Cartouches, as fields for heraldic display, remained popular but despite their ebullient modelling, do not really qualify as ‘ear-like’. English plasterers and patrons alike ceased to venture any further along the Auricular path.

Dr Claire Gapper is an independent scholar.

Framemaking for the Fire Judges: an abstract by Gerry Alabone


Crest of frame made by Mary Ashfield, 1671, for John Michael Wright, portrait of Fire Judge Sir Thomas Twisden, with others of the same series at the store of Arnold Wiggins & Sons, 2016

Following the Great Fire of London, judges were appointed to adjudicate on the property and compensation disputes which followed. The City Corporation decided to mark the work of these ‘Fire Judges’ by commissioning John Michael Wright to paint a total of twenty-two full-length portraits, completed between 1670 and 1675.

The City’s accounts name five framemakers who carved and gilded the fashionable Auricular-style frames of these portraits. Interestingly, three of these framemakers were women. This large and important series, framed in an apparently unique pattern, hung in the newly reconstructed Great Hall of Guildhall for more than a hundred years.

The records state the specific maker for only two of the frames. For this paper, images of the frames for the whole series were collected and the frames themselves examined where possible. This matching series of frames clearly all derive from one common pattern; however, there are significantly different design and construction characteristics among them. In this way, it has been possible to group the frames. Using this and the (incomplete) record of the number of frames supplied by each framemaker, this paper seeks to ascribe each frame to one of the makers listed. The characteristics common to the whole series are considered, as well as those relating to the groupings. Very close similarities in size and shape of particular ornament make it likely that stencils were used for transferring the design across a frame when setting out, as well as within, and possibly between, groups of frames in the series.

From the beginning of the 19th century, the paintings were moved around Guildhall, and the frames redecorated several times, until all but two were deaccessioned and dispersed in 1952. Paintings were presented variously to Inns of Court or individuals; several of the most degraded canvases were destroyed, and some cut-down.

In contrast, their interesting and robustly-made frames, mostly of oak, fared significantly better, and all twenty-two survive in some form. Seven of the frames remain with the framemaking firm of Arnold Wiggins & Sons, which bought them in 1952; two have been resold; and thirteen do still contain Fire Judges – and are now hung across the City. The survival of this high-status series of English picture frames, and important records as to their makers, is remarkable. Whilst no frames similar to those of the Fire Judges have been found, this paper will make some comparisons to frames on paintings by Lely and Kneller.


Gerry Alabone is Senior Conservator (furniture & frames) with the National Trust, based at their new national Knole Conservation Studio. After studying painting at Bath Academy of Art, he was employed in the framemaking trade and public galleries before studying conservation at London Guildhall University. Gerry was Lead Frames Conservator at the City of London’s Guildhall Art Gallery, Head of Frames Conservation at Tate, and Joint Chair of the Institute of Conservation Gilding & Decorative Surfaces Group. He is also Lead Lecturer of wood conservation at the City & Guilds of London Art School. His research concentrates on how we understand, manage and communicate the assistance that frames give to paintings within their settings.