Documenting developments in the taste for Auricular framing in England, 1620-80: an abstract by Jacob Simon

by The Frame Blog

J Simon - image Van Dyck Self Portrait

Van Dyck (1599-1641), Self-portrait, c.1640-41, National Portrait Gallery, London

The taste for Auricular picture frames in England, indeed for carved and gilt frames in all styles, is one of the most extraordinary developments in the history of framing. How does one explain this sudden flowering from the 1620s onwards and why did it come about? How was the Auricular used and how and why did this style as used in England differ from the Continent? What did the style take from the Continent and what did it give back? And what led to its demise later in the 17th century?

While the influx of Italian pictures and to a lesser extent Italian picture frames were important to the style, the dominant influences on taste were Netherlandish and northern European. Access to engraved ornament, such as portrait prints, was one factor. Arguably of greater importance was the role played in London by artists, engravers and craftsmen with international experience. It was they who worked to fulfill the wishes of a group of prominent collectors and patrons at the court of King Charles I.

Influential players in the process included the architect Inigo Jones, the keeper of the royal collection Abraham van der Doort, artists such as De Critz, Gheeraerts, Mytens and Van Dyck, engravers from the De Passe family, sculptors such Maximilian Colt and Nicholas Stone and, of course, framemakers like Zachary Taylor and Henry Norris.

After the Restoration in 1660, the style developed into what we call Sunderland frames, known as ‘leatherwork’ at the time, with even more stylised ornament, which breaks into the surface of the painting. How far can we document the process by which a style of this kind becoming increasingly elaborate and is then replaced altogether as it ceases to be fashionable?


Jacob Simon is Research Fellow, National Portrait Gallery, and Editor of the Walpole Society’s annual journal for British art history, both voluntary positions. He served as Chief Curator at the National Portrait Gallery from 2001 until his retirement in 2011, and has occupied other museum positions. He served in a voluntary capacity on various National Trust committees, 1969-2002. He has organised exhibitions including English Baroque Sketches (1974), Thomas Hudson: portrait painter and collector (1977), Handel: a celebration of his life and times (1985) and The Art of the Picture Frame (1996). His research interests include four online resources on the National Portrait Gallery website, recording the lives and work of British artists’ suppliers, British picture framemakers, British picture restorers, and British bronze sculpture founders and plaster figure makers.