A ‘Sunderland’ frame

by The Frame Blog

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.