Notes on the revival of the Auricular style for picture frames: an abstract by Christopher Rowell

by The Frame Blog

C Rowell Lely Penitent Magdalen Kingston Lacy

Peter Lely (1618-80), The pentitent Magdalen, c.1650-55, Kingston Lacy, The Bankes Collection (National Trust)
The carved giltwood frame is in Auricular style but appears not to be the original, given the Revivalist feel of the ornament, exemplified in the mask in the centre at bottom and in other elements of the design, notably the cresting and the rather flat and partly incised carving.

The aim of this paper will be to discover more about the 19th century revival of the Auricular style in picture frames, concentrating on evidence for the Auricular revival in National Trust collections. The idea for this study derived from Kingston Lacy, Dorset, one of the country’s oldest picture collections, founded by Sir Ralph Bankes (1631?-77) in the 17th century. There are numerous 17th century paintings with frames in contemporary style influenced by Auricular ornament, including portraits by Van Dyck and Lely.

Other Auricular frames appear to be, at least partly, later in date, either aggrandized or made anew to the order of William Bankes (1786-1855), who commissioned the extensive remodelling of the house and the re-arrangement of the collection. This he did largely in absentia, having been outlawed for a homosexual act in a public place in 1841. Afterwards he based himself in Venice, but travelled elsewhere in Italy, and in France, commissioning fine and decorative art from contemporary artists and craftsmen. The family tradition that he visited Kingston Lacy secretly by night, disembarking from his yacht, has recently been proved to be true. He had travelled in Spain during the Peninsular War, building up an impressive collection of Old Masters to add to the family collection. His framing of pictures was related to his exotic tastes in interior decoration.

Subject to documentary research, it is hoped that discoveries will be made in the voluminous Bankes archive to substantiate what appears to be a characteristically precocious Auricular revival, in tandem with Bankes’s interests predominantly in French, Italian and Spanish revivalism. Bankes, an amateur artist, took a close interest in his commissions, working with the protagonists and providing designs. He is known to have commissioned the magnificent carved walnut frame of the Kingston Lacy ‘Raphael’ Holy Family, looted by the French from the Escorial and acquired by Bankes in colourful circumstances during the Siege of Pamplona, during the Peninsular War in 1813 (see Christopher Rowell, ‘The Kingston Lacy ‘Raphael’ and its Frame (1853-56) by Pietro Giusti of Siena’, The National Trust Houses & Collections Annual 2014, pp. 40-47, published in association with Apollo).


Christopher Rowell is the National Trust’s Curator of Furniture (2002-); Chairman of the Furniture History Society (2013-); and a member of the UK Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (2015-). He has published widely on country house collections, furniture and the display of art. He was editor and principal contributor to Ham House: 400 Years of Collecting and Patronage (Yale University Press, 2013), which was shortlisted for the 2014 Berger Prize for British Art History. He is currently contributing to a similar book on Hardwick Hall (YUP; forthcoming) and to the National Trust’s Mellon/Royal Oak Furniture Research and Publication Project, which aims to improve the 70,000 relevant entries in National Trust Collections online and to encourage the publication of research, including a book Furniture in National Trust Houses (YUP forthcoming). These categories will all include studies of picture frames.