Documenting developments in the taste for Auricular framing in Britain, 1620-80
by The Frame Blog
Jacob Simon examines the growth of a British Auricular style from its beginnings in the Royal court under the influence of engraved borders, imported Italian (‘Sansovino‘) frames, and the movement of craftsmen, sculptors and other artists from the Continent into Britain. He considers the different patterns which developed; the maturing and waning of the style, and its legacy.
Sir Peter Lely, Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, c. 1655-59, o/c, 30 x 25 in (76.2 x 63.5 cm), National Portrait Gallery, London
The taste for Auricular picture frames, indeed for carved and gilt frames, rather than plain black mouldings, is one of the most extraordinary developments in the history of framing in Britain. How does one explain this sudden flowering from the 1620s onwards and why was the Auricular style one of those chosen? What did the style take from the Continent and what did it give back? How did the taste for the Auricular develop over the following two generations and why did it then decline?
The flowering in carved and gilt frames is largely explained by the huge expansion in collecting old master paintings and commissioning works of art among leading members of the courts of James I and, more especially, his son, Charles I, who became king in 1625. Those old masters that came with frames from abroad set up expectations among collectors. An expensive picture usually required an expensive frame.
Fig 1 Simon de Passe, after Paul van Somer, William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, 1617, engraving, 7 ¼ x 4 5/8 in (18.5 x 11.7 cm), National Portrait Gallery, London
Fig 2 John Payne, after Richard Greenbury, Arthur Lake, c. 1629, engraving, 10 5/8 x 7 1/8 in (26.9 x 18.0 cm) , National Portrait Gallery, London
As to the choice of the Auricular style, this was partly a matter of the visual environment of engraved ornament and imported frames. It was also dependent on the training and experience of the carvers and craftsmen involved. The earliest manifestations of the style in wide circulation in London in the 1610s took the form of engravings, whether portraits or other images. Both Simon de Passe’s Lord Pembroke (1617) and John Payne’s Bishop Lake (c.1629) show how engravers used intricate Auricular surrounds for their portraits (figs 1, 2).
Fig 3 Wendel Dietterlin , Illustration to Dietterlin’s ‘Architectura’, Nuremberg, 1598, etching, 10 x 7 3/8 in (25.2 x 18.7 cm), ©Trustees of the British Museum
Ornament books were published with the intention of being a source for craftsmen. While it is difficult to demonstrate that craftsmen had access to particular engravings, the evidence does survive in the case of two leading individuals involved in producing picture frames in London in the 1620s and 1630s. The carver, Zacharie Taylor, left ‘Dittenlyns Book of Architecture’, presumably Wendel Dietterlin’s Architectura (1598), to one of his servants in his will (fig. 3) . The decorative painter, Matthew Goodricke, owned Barbaro’s Commentary on Vitruvius (his ownership inscription is dated 1618) and Domenico Fontana’s Della trasportatione dell’obelisco vaticano (inscribed and dated 1621) .
In 1621 the Duke of Buckingham’s agent, the Dutchman, Balthazar Gerbier, arranged for two great frames to be made in Venice ‘after the Italian fascion’, for the Duke’s purchases, Titian’s large Ecce Homo and Tintoretto’s The Woman taken in Adultery, at a cost of £22 in all . These frames may have been in the Sansovino style. The great appeal of Venetian pictures to English collectors may explain why Sansovino frames seems to have been particularly influential, giving rise to elaborate frames with scrolls and volutes. No documented English frames from the 1620s or early 1630s survive but some descriptions are known. John de Critz, the king’s serjeant-painter, decorated a set of frames for Titian’s Caesars for the king in 1631. His bill describes the frames as carved with broad sight edges, mask heads, festoons, draperies, greater and lesser flowers, greater and lesser scrolls, and edges between the flutes . The pictures were hung high in the Gallery at St James’s Palace. From the description, these lost frames were probably more Sansovino in style than Auricular but it seems probable that for London collectors at the time, Sansovino and Auricular were both seen as the latest fashion, and in a sense two sides of the same coin.
Artefacts such as engravings and imported frames were no doubt influential. However, arguably of greater importance was the rôle played by artists, engravers and craftsmen with international experience. In picture framing, many people played a part in deciding their form. The influential players in the choice of frames or in the formation of a style included the architect Inigo Jones, the keeper of the royal collection Abraham van der Doort, artists such as Daniel Mytens, Cornelius Johnson and Anthony Van Dyck, sculptors such as Maximilian Colt and Nicholas Stone and, of course, framemakers and suppliers like Zacharie Taylor, Henry Norris and George Geldorp. Many craftsmen in London came from the Netherlands or had close connections, meaning that the dominant influences on taste were northern European. It is the cultural backgrounds of the people involved, which explain why frames in the Auricular style were so different, say, in Florence from in London. The differences between the Netherlands and London were less marked because of the movement of artists and craftsmen between the two locations.
Routes into framing
It is worth thinking about routes into framing in London at the time and more particularly as to how frames were commissioned for King Charles I and his palaces.
Fig 4 Robert van Voerst after Anthony Van Dyck, Inigo Jones, 1635, engraving, 9 ½ x 7 in (24.2 x 17.7 cm), National Portrait Gallery, London
One of the dominant figures at court in terms of taste was Inigo Jones (fig. 4), who knew Italy well and occupied the influential position of Surveyor of the King’s Works. While well versed in the classical style, his drawings of interiors sometimes show elaborate frames or cartouches with Auricular elements, as with his designs for Queen Henrietta Maria at Greenwich . On occasion he was called on to approve bills for picture framing, as in 1623 for some ebony frames made by Richard Norris for the future King Charles I . As such, whether or not Jones designed frames, it would seem that he was of importance in the choice of frames and would have been in a position to influence their appearance. With Richard Norris, we meet the first of the Norrises who occupy a central position in picture framing in London in the 17th century.
The King’s Office of Works arranged framing of pictures to ornament the royal palaces, using craftsmen such as the serjeant painter, John De Critz, the carver Zacharie Taylor and the gilder Matthew Goodricke, all of whom we have met already. At Somerset House from 1628, Goodricke worked for Charles I’s wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, decorating interiors and picture frames. Much of the design work was done by Inigo Jones .
Another important figure was the Dutch medallist, Abraham van der Doort, Surveyor of the King’s Pictures. In 1624 he approved a large bill for picture frames in ebony and other woods . Later, work was done on other pictures through the Lord Chamberlain’s department, under Van der Doort’s supervision . This work was carried out by Henry Norris, probably Richard Norris’s son .
Fig 5 Anthony Van Dyck, King Charles I, c.1635-37, o/c, 47 5/8 x 37 1/4 in (121 x 94.6 cm), Ham House, National Trust
Another route for framing was through individual artists or agents, who might supply pictures with frames directly to the King or to a patron. To take the case of Van Dyck: that he actually supplied frames from time-to-time is shown by his bill to Charles I in about 1638 for portraits delivered . The bill is written in French. It was personally approved by the King, who actually reduced some of Van Dyck’s prices in his own hand. It starts with a reference to frames charged by Van Dyck in a former account which, from the size of the charge, £27, suggests that he had previously supplied several frames. Included in the bill is the portrait of
‘Le roi vestu de noir… avec sa mollure’ (The King dressed in black… with its frame)
which is fairly certainly the portrait that the King gave to William Murray of Ham House, where it remains (fig. 5). Not surprisingly given that it was paid for by the King, it is a frame of exceptional quality, mixing the Auricular and the Italianate in a unique design.
Fig 6 Anthony Van Dyck, Self-portrait, c.1640, o/c, 22 x 18 1/8 in (56.0 x 46.0 cm), National Portrait Gallery, London
Another exceptional frame of the period can be found on Van Dyck’s Self-portrait, c. 1640 (fig. 6). How the picture came to be framed is uncertain but see Van Dyck, Dobson and their Mannerist frames on The Frame Blog.
The workshop practice of the time can help us understand the spread of the Auricular style. By the 1630s, as picture framing began to become a specialised business in London, various features of the trade begin to take shape. These hold good in the following centuries. We are looking at five factors: the use of standard frame patterns, the practice of scaling patterns up and down, the development of standard sizes in portrait painting, the move towards frames made to a price and the birth of specialised framing workshops.
There were several standard frame patterns which were used in the 1630s and subsequently. For the most part these were frames in the Auricular style. They can be categorised by the differing mask types which crown the frame, or by other distinctive features:
Fig 7 Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), Elizabeth Murray, Lady Tollemach, later Countess of Dysart & Duchess of Lauderdale with a black servant, c.1651, Ham House, Richmond, National Trust
— the lion mask at top centre and paws, highly stylized. The sides of the frame are like a flat skin, the edges of which are irregular and curling. Examples include Lely’s Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart with black servant, c.1650 (fig. 7).
Fig 8 Cornelius Johnson (1593-1661), Margaret Nevinson, wife of Sir James Oxenden, 1636, Christie’s, 23 November 2004
— the scroll-topped grimacing mask at top centre, with a monster mask at the bottom and stylised foliage. Examples include Cornelius Johnson’s Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester, 1632 (Penshurst Place, Kent), his Anne Oxenden, 1636 (with Lane Fine Art, 1994), and Lady Oxenden (fig. 8).
Fig 9 Van Dyck workshop, Mary, Lady Verney, late 1630s, o/c, 50 x 40 in (127 x 101.5 cm), Claydon House, Buckinghamshire
Fig 10 British School, Portrait of a youth, said to be Sir John Suckling, c.1625-40, o/c, 33 x 27 ¼ in (84 x 69 cm), F676, ©Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
— the eagle heads and wings at the top of the sides, with mask at top centre and often a shell at bottom centre. Examples include the Van Dyck workshop Mary, Lady Verney, late 1630s? (fig. 9; Claydon House, Buckinghamshire) and the anonymous Portrait called Sir John Suckling, c.1630-45 (fig. 10; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford).
Fig 11 Anon., Penelope, Lady Herbert, late 1630s, o/panel, 15 ½ x 12 3/8 in (39.5 x 31.5 cm), Christie’s South Kensington, 30 April 2015, lot 174
Fig 12 Anon., Penelope, Lady Herbert, detail
— paired dolphins and fantastic masks at top and bottom. An example is the anonymous Penelope, Lady Herbert, late 1630s (figs 11 & 12; Christie’s South Kensington, 30 April 2015, lot 174).
Fig 13 Sir Peter Lely, Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, c. 1655-59, o/c, 30 x 25 in (76.2 x 63.5 cm), National Portrait Gallery, London
Fig 14 Sir Peter Lely, Diana Russell, Lady Newport (detail), o/c, 50 × 40 in (127 × 101.5 cm), Christie’s, 9 December 2015, lot 141
Fig 15 Sir Peter Lely, Arthur Capel, 1st Earl of Essex (detail), c. 1655-60, o/c, 50 1/8 x 67 3/8 in (127.4 x 171.2 cm), National Portrait Gallery, London
It is particularly interesting to see how standard patterns could be scaled up and down according to the size of the picture. Element by element the particular pattern is more or less retained, by elongating or attenuating the forms, according to the size of the picture, as is illustrated above (figs 13, 14, 15).
The 1630s is the point at which portraits, the dominant market in Britain, begin to be painted to standard sizes, most obviously a bust-length portrait to above the waist at 30 x 25 in (76 x 63.5 cm), and a three-quarter-length, to the knees at 50 x 40 in (127 x 101.5 cm). This made it possible for framemakers to keep certain frames in stock, rather than making them to order. One should add the caveat for the frame historian that as soon as picture sizes became standardized, it became readily possible for an owner or dealer to swap frames from one standard-sized picture to another.
This standardization in both portrait sizes and frame patterns are a feature of a market economy where even a luxury product such as a carved-and-gilt frame could be made to a price. That price was all more competitive given the standardization of patterns and sizes. For patrons commissioning a portrait, the dominant market in London, the artist could quote a firm price for the picture with its frame.
It is the case later in the 17th century that a successful pattern, originating in one workshop, would be taken up in others with little variation. It is for this reason that it is very difficult to attribute the more ordinary Auricular frames to particular makers. In any case, the scarcity of documentation means that it is rarely possible to identify the makers of surviving frames before the 1660s.
The Civil War and the Restoration
The market for carved and gilt picture frames met with a severe setback in the 1640s. With the outbreak of civil war, the court was dispersed and the demand for portraits and other pictures largely dried up, and with it the demand for frames. Great collections, such as those of King Charles I and of the Marquis of Hamilton, were scattered and often sold abroad.
Fig 16 David Teniers, The Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s Gallery in Brussels, c.1651, detail, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
They were sometimes exported with their frames, as is evident from the depiction of an English frame on a picture, Cain and Abel, in Teniers’s painting, The Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s Gallery (fig. 16) . Artists such as Cornelius Johnson left for the continent. He took with him his longstanding experience of framing in the Auricular style.
But although the demand for pictures, and with them frames, diminished, the taste for portraiture continued. Peter Lely, born of Dutch parents, arrived in London in about 1641, and established a reputation as a portraitist. He was appointed as Charles II’s Principal Painter in Ordinary in 1661 following the Restoration.
Fig 17 Anon., Penelope, Lady Herbert, late 1630s, o/panel, 15 ½ x 12 3/8 in (39.5 x 31.5 cm), Christie’s South Kensington, 30 April 2015, lot 174
Fig 18 Sir Peter Lely, Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, c. 1655-59, o/c, 30 x 25 in (76.2 x 63.5 cm), National Portrait Gallery, London
Fig 19 Sir Peter Lely, Diana Russell, Lady Newport (detail), o/c, 50 × 40 in (127 × 101.5 cm), Christie’s, 9 December 2015, lot 141
The Auricular, like many styles, endured for two generations, that is, for 50 or 60 years, becoming richer over time as craftsmen explored the possibilities of the style. New Auricular frame types emerged, including the sea-monster-and-shells pattern favoured by Lely and others in the 1650s and early 1660s (figs 17, 18, 19). This design is found at the National Portrait Gallery on pictures of three different sizes, another example of a pattern being scaled up and down . There are stylised nautilus shells at the frame corners, scallop shells near the side centre, fantastic masks of a sea monster at the top, and a winged monster at the bottom. Somewhat similar monsters can be found on portrait engravings published in England in the 1630s, such as those by John Payne, and on engraved cartouches published in Amsterdam by Johannes Lutma in 1653 .
Fig 20 Jean Lepautre, Tabernacles pour orner et embellir les autels, c.1660-80, etching, 9 x 6 in (22.6 x 15.2 cm), ©Trustees of the British Museum
When Christopher Wren visited Paris in 1665 he made a point of bringing back with him a collection of engraved designs, as he explained:
‘I have purchased a great deale of Taille-douce [engravings] that I might give our Countrymen Examples of Ornaments and Grotesks, in which the Italians themselves confess the French excell’ (fig. 20) .
Wren’s influence was considerable. To give the example of the Duke of Somerset, the so-called ‘Proud Duke’: he ordered panelling, mouldings and picture frames in 1686, which were to be made ‘according to those in his Majesties new lodgings in Whitehall’, work which had recently been carried out under Wren’s supervision . There was a tide of taste in which French styles were increasingly à la mode. In framing these take the form of running mouldings, ornamented with foliage and sometimes berries, flowers and leaves. In this context, the importance of engravings should not be underestimated.
As a more modest level, we can see how frames might be chosen from Samuel Pepys‘s description of visiting the workshop of Henry or John Norris in Long Acre in 1669 to select frames for his prints. He noted in his diary that there were ‘several forms of frames to choose by; which was pretty, in little bits of mouldings to choose by’ .
The Sunderland frame and ‘leatherwork’
Fig 21 The Long Gallery, Althorp
A new fashion in Auricular frames in the 1660s and 1670s was the Sunderland frame. The term itself, ‘Sunderland frame’, was a 19th-century invention specific to picture framing, taking its name from a prominent Restoration figure, Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland, many of whose pictures at Althorp are framed in the style (fig. 21) . It was the presence of such a fine array of frames on pictures from the Sunderland collection that gave rise to the term.
This frame type achieved a bewilderingly complex appearance, with highly stylised patterns of flowing stalks, leaves, fronds and scrolls, centred at the top on a cartouche, and at the bottom on an animal mask or other grotesque mask. In no other type does the inner sight edge cut into the space of the picture in such an irregular way. Take the case of the portrait painter, John Michael Wright. Writing to his patron, Sir Walter Bagot, in 1676, Wright told him that,
‘Yor frames . . . are richer than the first patterne I shewed you . . . but my Lady Wilbraham comming hither caused her’s to bee made broader and richer . . . wch occasioned that I did the like to all yors that they might not bee inferiour to any in that Country’ .
Wright’s letter is revealing in the way that it shows that the framing of pictures was arranged by the artist but subject to the dictates of fashion and of cost. From what we know of Wright’s other frames, he was probably supplying a Sunderland frame.
Fig 22 Mary Beale (1633-99), Portrait of a young boy in a white chemise, 49.2 x 40 in 125 x 101.7 cm, art market
In 1681 Mary Beale, a middle-rank portrait painter with a diverse clientele, was offering five different frame styles for her paintings, as we know from the records her husband kept of her output . For bust-length portraits, size 30 x 25 in, she charged her clients £2 for a leatherwork frame, probably a Sunderland frame, but only £1 for a bunched frame or for a raffle leaf frame, making a Sunderland frame with its elaborate carving twice as expensive as the new style French bunched leaf frames or the more Italianate raffle leaf frames. Cost, then, was a factor in the eventual demise of the Auricular style.
This brings us to the terminology of the time. ‘Leather work’ is how such frames were known in the trade to artists and craftsmen, at least from the 1670s . The name occurs as a ‘leatherwork gilt frame’ in Mary Beale’s accounts in 1677 and 1681, and as a ‘guilt leatherworke frame’ in the records for Peter Lely’s estate in about 1680 . The term appears as ‘leatherwork’ in the accounts of Grinling Gibbons for architectural woodwork at St Paul’s Cathedral in 1697 and at Hampton Court Palace in 1701 . As late as 1754 the Foundling Hospital paid for an ornament of ‘Shield & Leatherwork’ for a frame for a painting . By then the ornament begins to have a Rococo character.
In the absence of an equivalent source from the 17th century, the remarkable autobiography of the Rococo carver, Thomas Johnson, is illuminating. He will have been familiar with the Auricular style from his journeyman years in the 1740s. In 1758 he published his New Book of Ornaments, including numerous frames in the Rococo style, as ‘assistance to young artists’, adding that ‘when honoured by the hand of the skilful workmen, that they shall think proper to put them in Execution’ . Should we view the Rococo, with its flowing organic freedom, as the successor to the Auricular?
Johnson’s autobiography highlights four ways in which styles spread. Firstly, the copying of ornament within a workshop. His carving was thought so remarkable, or so he claimed, that his fellow journeymen made mouldings from his work . Secondly, the circulation of engravings. Johnson’s pattern books reached a wide market and were highly influential . Thirdly, the movement of finished carved work. We know that one of his Rococo mirrors was sent from London to Liverpool . Fourthly, the movement of craftsmen. Johnson himself travelled to Liverpool and Dublin and one of his apprentices emigrated to Philadelphia, thus between master and pupil taking the style to Ireland and America . These four factors explain the spread of the rococo but are equally applicable to the Auricular.
Lastly, let us look at the origins of the term, ‘Auricular’, in framing. It was the development of art history as a discipline in the 19th century which drove the search for terminology to categorize works of art. The term, ‘Auricular’, apparently deriving from German usage, was adopted to describe a particular kind of ornament found in engravings, carved work and silver. But its original use in the English language was in medicine and anatomy to refer to matters pertaining to the human ear . Lewis F. Day’s article, ‘Some Masters of Ornament’ in 1893 contains one of the earliest examples in the English language of the word ‘Auricular’ as a description for ornament .
Jacob Simon is Research Fellow at the National Portrait Gallery and Editor for the Walpole Society, both voluntary positions. He is responsible for the online resource, British picture framemakers, 1600-1950.
 National Archives, PROB 11/220/303. For Zacharie Taylor, see the online resource, British picture framemakers, 1600-1950, on the National Portrait Gallery website.
 Jacob Simon, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1996, p. 52, cited here as Simon 1996.
 Simon 1996, p. 16.
 National Archives, SC 6/Jas.I/1686. For Richard Norris, see British picture framemakers, 1600-1950 on the National Portrait Gallery website. Norris received £31.10s for work done for Prince Charles in October 1622 and January and February 1623 including three ebony frames, one for a Dutch picture, another for the Duke of Bullen’s picture and the third for a great glass(?). Together with William Booreman, locksmith, he received the large sum of £179.13s by warrant dated January 1623 for materials and workmanship for the cabinet at St James’s, as approved by Inigo Jones and Thomas Baldwin (National Archives, SC 6/Jas.I/1686). The cabinet formed a room rather than being a piece of furniture, as is apparent from a payment to Abraham van der Doort as keeper of the cabinet room at St James’s (National Archives, SC 6/Chas.I/1630).
 See Mary Edmond, ‘Limners and Picture Makers: New light on the lives of miniaturist and large-scale portrait painters working in London in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’, Walpole Society, vol. 47, 1980, pp. 158-75.
 Norris was paid ‘for other things done in wainscott at his highness’s command’, as approved by Abraham van der Doort (SC 6/Jas.I/1687). He received £49.7s.8d for very similar work carried out in 1625 (SC 6/Jas.I/1687).
 National Archives, LC 5/132, p.329.
 Christopher Brown, Van Dyck, 1982, pp. 164-5.
 See Jacob Simon, ‘Three-quarters, kit-cats and half-lengths’: British portrait painters and their canvas sizes, 1625-1850 – National Portrait Gallery, 2013, on the National Portrait Gallery website.
 Given that Teniers sometimes depicted the same picture in different frames in his various views of the Archduke’s gallery, we cannot be certain that the picture, Cain and Abel, was actually housed in the frame shown. What we can say with considerable confidence is that there was an example of this English frame type in the gallery.
 Simon 1996, p. 55.
 Simon 1996, p. 55.
 Simon 1996, pp. 138-9.
 The Duke of Somerset went to the joiner, Thomas Larkin, see Simon 1996, pp. 138, 205 note 85.
 Simon 1996, p. 138.
 The National Portrait Gallery’s first director, George Scharf, recorded a restorer as bringing back a portrait, ‘well cleaned and in a gilt Sunderland frame’ in 1869, so far the earliest documented use of the term (National Portrait Gallery archive, Secretary’s Journal, 12 January 1869). For payments for frames for the Sunderland collection in 1660s, see Jacob Simon, Framing in the reign of Charles II and the introduction of the Sunderland frame, 2002, on the National Portrait Gallery website.
 See Simon 1996, p. 91.
 The five different styles used by Mary Beale are referred to in the 1677 and 1681 notebooks of Charles Beale, her husband, the only two of the series to survive. See Simon 1996, p. 91.
 The term seems to have been used in the trade and has not been found in bills to patrons, where frames are simply referred to as carved and gilded or richly carved and gilded.
 Simon 1996, p. 55.
 David Green, Grinling Gibbons, 1964, pp. 77, 92.
 Jacob Simon, Thomas Johnson’s The Life of the Author, Furniture History Society, 2003, p. 13.
 Ibid., p. 51.
 Ibid., pp. 11-13.
 Ibid., p. 3.
 Ibid., p. 2.
 The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘auricular’ as meaning ‘of the ear’.
 The word, ‘auricular’, was used to describe ornament of German origin by Lewis F. Day, ‘Some Masters of Ornament’, Journal of the Society of Arts, vol. 41, no. 2123, 28 July 1893, p. 824.