An Auricular Frame amongst the Founder’s Collection of the Ashmolean Museum: an abstract by Tim Newbery & Jevon Thistlewood

by The Frame Blog

T Newbery & J Thistlewood image sm

Picture frame from the Founder’s Collection of the Ashmolean Museum © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

In 1683, the Ashmolean Museum opened to the public on the top floor of a new building in Broad Street in Oxford. It was a repository for a collection provided by Elias Ashmole, and the other floors were occupied by rooms for the teaching and practice of science. This collection included a number of paintings, principally portraits, which where they survive are thought to be still housed in the same frames they arrived in.

One of these frames is a great example of an Auricular frame. It accompanies a portrait of an unknown young man in armour, probably a knight. Given the generally accepted information on Auricular frames in England, this one probably originated around the mid-17th century and was – also probably – owned by Ashmole (or possibly the Tradescant Family) prior to 1683. Ashmole was a staunch Royalist throughout the English Civil War, and established international connections through Royal appointments, and by his writing the History of the Order and Institution of the Garter. Whilst the attributions of artist and sitter for this portrait have been debated, and have become more uncertain in recent times, the presence of an apparently original picture frame has never featured in the debate. Likewise, the few historic descriptions of the portrait in exhibitions and catalogues have also refrained from mentioning the frame.

This paper aims to a provide a detailed account of the frame for future record, provide a context for its presence within the Founders Collection, and make comparisons with other Auricular frames since accessioned into the Ashmolean Museum Collection. Where the information exists, direct comparisons of carved features on frames within other collections will also be explored. As a final exercise the frame will be examined in unison with the portrait it contains, in order to ascertain whether together they can tell us more about each, individually.


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 & sculpture bases for Old Masters. He has catalogued frames in the National Trust, and in museums in European & North America. He has written several publications on this subject, including Italian Renaissance Frames (with  George Bisacca & Laurence B. Kanter, 1990), Frames and Framings, 2003, and The Robert Lehman Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Volume XIII: Frames, 2007.

Jevon Thistlewood received an MA in the Conservation of Fine Art from Northumbria University in 2000, specializing in easel paintings. 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 & materials used in painted surfaces.