The Auricular frame depicted in paintings: an abstract by Lynn Roberts

by The Frame Blog

Emmanuel de Witte Portrait of a family in an interior 1678 Alte Pinakothek Munich

Emmanuel de Witte (1615/17-91/92), Portrait of a family in an interior, 1678, Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Almost with the emergence of carved and gilded Auricular frames in the Netherlands, artists were including them in fashionable interiors: that is, from at least 1654, and possibly earlier. They form a single focal point in most of these representations, often amongst other frames which are made of ebony or ebonized. They may be set on an overmantel painting on a chimneypiece, on a smaller painting over a door, or in the centre of a wall. They do not all contain paintings, however; many hold looking-glasses of various sizes, from large canted wall-mounted examples to small toilet glasses. They share their single focal position with French giltwood frames in the current Louis XIII taste; and occasionally a view down an enfilade of rooms may reveal gilded frames in both Dutch and French patterns. Even the odd silvered frame may be spotted, or a frame painted to tone in with the prevailing scheme of a room.

These representations of painted Auricular frames become most frequent in the 1660s, tailing off through the 1670s. As an index of a fairly short-lived fashion, they are remarkably faithful, although it should be noted that they are not always or necessarily accurate depictions of actual frames, and that the same frame may turn up in different paintings by the same artist.

Like the contemporary costumes painted with such loving attention to texture, fabric and finish in the work of Metsu, De Hooch and Ter Borch, they are indices of wealth, modernity and fashion in the middle- and upper- class interiors they inhabit, in the same way as the embossed and gilded leather wall-hangings or silk carpets tossed over tables which accompany them.


Lynn Roberts is a picture frame historian who has worked as archivist, researcher and author at Paul Mitchell Ltd., for the frame section of the National Portrait Gallery website, and is now an occasional archivist at the National Gallery, London. She also founded, runs and edits the online magazine The Frame Blog.