Auricular Style: Frames

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Tag: Auricular style

Kwab: The Auricular in Amsterdam

Maarten van ‘t Klooster  reviews an exhibition on one of the strangest and most fascinating of decorative styles – the Auricular.

It is not often that an exhibition is based around an ornamental style – or, more correctly, around a certain type of ornament – but at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam that’s exactly what’s been done… with class. The Auricular in its context.  The exhibition title is KWAB – Dutch Design in the age of Rembrandt. ‘Kwab’, the Dutch for ‘lobe’, is better translated in this case as ‘Auricular’, the idiomatic name for a type of ornament and the associated style which developed during the late 16th-early 17th century, primarily in The Netherlands. Describing this style is no easy feat without becoming very metaphorical. Art journalist Stefan Kuiper of the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant describes it like this:

‘Its characteristics are instantly recognizable, consisting of everything that is squashy and organic: folds of skin, strands of muscle, ear lobes, bones, spiral shells and slugs. What typifies it is its defiance of any logic. The Auricular has no up or down, no inside or out, there are just free flowing forms, intangible, like cigarette smoke.’[1]

His is a more charming summary, compared with the Van Dale dictionary of the Dutch language on ‘kwab’ – ‘a soft lump of fat or meat’.[2] It is a style which came – amongst other sources – out of the grotesque motifs which, shortly before, had been all the rage in Italy [3]. The Dutch version of the Auricular gained much of its impetus through the work of three silversmiths – the brothers Paulus and Adam van Vianen, and Johannes Lutma.

Adam van Vianen, ewer with lid, Utrecht, 1614, silver gilt (gilded later), 25 x 14 x 9 cm., Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The starting point, as well as the highlight, of the exhibition is the ewer which Adam van Vianen produced in 1614. It was commissioned by the Amsterdam guild of silversmiths, in remembrance of Adam’s brother Paulus, who had died shortly before in Prague. This in itself was unusual, since Adam worked in Utrecht, and most guilds were not too keen to promote work by craftsmen from outside their own city. The ewer was owned by the guild until the latter was abolished at some point after 1794, and in 1821 it was sold for a meagre 166 guilders – in today’s money around €1,600, or £1,400 [4]. Despite the relatively small worth put on it, it was not melted down for its value in silver, but passed into a Scottish collection. Over 150 years later, in 1976, the ewer was offered at auction. The Rijksmuseum was able to purchase it for their collection, for 700,000 guilders (nowadays, around €840,000, or £740,000).[5]  It is somewhat surprising that not one of the major British museums managed to or seemed to want to retain it.

The Rijksmuseum acquired the ewer some time ago, but has only now decided to organise an exhibition around the Auricular ornament which defines it – or, it could be said, around the ewer itself, which helped to catalyze in Amsterdam a flowering of the style which had evolved partly around the figure of Paulus van Vianen at the court of Prague.

As seems to be a lasting trend in exhibitions, KWAB opens with a video screening [click image to view]. The film that is shown is not a documentary of the style: it is restricted to showing Adam van Vianen’s ewer in close-up and loving detail.

Adam van Vianen, ewer with lid, 1614, silver gilt,  detail of lizards inside the bowl; detail of handle

It is now possible to look at the inside, which is normally hidden – at the lizards nuzzling each other, and the swirling shapes of water snakes and ripples around them. On the outside, meanwhile, a monkey sits at the bottom, carrying a clam shell on its back from which the cup of the ewer pours upwards; whilst on the brim of the cup a female body leans over, and from her shoulders the handle of the ewer flows down the side of the cup, spiralling into the crinkled edge of the clam shell, towards the base. The whole ewer was made out of a single sheet of silver, apart from the lid and inner cup in the bowl. Looking at all these magnified images on the video underlines the importance of this object. The small room which follows the screening of the film offers a sequel to it: several carefully selected objects, prints and drawings outline the birth of Dutch Auricular ornament.

Hendrick Goltzius, Bacchus with a drinking vessel, Haarlem, c. 1596, engraving, 25 x 18.3 cm., & detail, Rijksmuseum

An engraved print by Hendrick Goltzius – whose work the Van Vianen brothers must have known – shows some of the first steps into the world of the Auricular. It is one of his best-known, perhaps: an engraving of Bacchus holding an Auricular bowl (for more on Goltzius’s part in forming the style, see ‘Auricular ornament in Dutch Architecture (1610-1675)’ by Dr Pieter Vlaardingerbroek).

Paulus van Vianen, basin with scenes from the story of Diana & Actaeon (one of a set with a ewer), Prague, 1613, silver, 40 x 50 cm., Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Such images were almost certainly present in Paulus van Vianen’s mind when he travelled to Prague. There, in the service of the Bohemian Emperor Rudolph II, and amongst other sympathetic artists, he further developed the Auricular style, and, during his visit to his brother Adam in 1610, probably passed on his enthusiasm for this relatively new genre of ornament. Besides items by Paulus such as the Diana & Actaeon basin, above, the museum is also showing some of Adam van Vianen’s early Auricular work.

This powerful opening is immediately followed by the central object of the exhibition. In the first large room, the ewer Adam made in honour of his brother stands sovereign, on a pedestal. The room is otherwise filled with drawings, prints, furniture, embossed leather and paintings, offering a wide array of work in the early Auricular style. In this room it is apparent how the design of the exhibition enhances both the artefacts and their placing in the room. If the reflection of the light on the lid of the ewer does not attract your attention, the halo on the floor probably will.

Barend Graat (1628-1709), Pandora, 1676, o/c, 113 x 102 cm., Rijksmuseum

It is evident that the ewer received wide acclaim immediately after it was made. The Rijksmuseum has assembled three paintings depicting the very same ewer in various sizes. In fact, an entire room could have been filled just with paintings depicting this object (in the Auricular conference, held at the Wallace Collection, London, in 2016, the ewer was the single object to be mentioned in almost every paper).

Adam van Vianen (attrib.), design for a basin, Utrecht, c. 1610-27, black chalk, pen & brown ink on grey paper, 23.4 x 28.9 cm., Nationalmuseum Stockholm

There are some stunning and evocative designs for metalwork by Adam van Vianen on display, which are almost drawings for sculptures; this particular room reveals more of the ripples caused by the Auricular style in the art historical pond. The design, above, like the related border of the Diana & Actaeon basin, also reveals the accuracy of the 19th century name for the style in its use of cartilaginous and sinewy ornament.

 Dutch school, gilt leather wall hanging, c.1650–60, Skokloster Castle, Sweden. Photo: courtesy of the Rijksmuseum

Leather wall hangings covered with Auricular ornaments and a table cloth made with embossed leather from Sweden show that the style was appreciated abroad from an early stage in its development (in this context, see too the abstract, ‘Gilt leather: a creative industry avant la lettre’, by Dr Eloy Koldeweij).

The engraved ornament by Theodorus van Kessel in his Constighe Modellen (or ‘artful examples’),  made after designs by Adam or his son Christiaen van Vianen between c.1646-52, probably never assisted greatly in spreading the fame of this new ornament, but did help to spread Adam’s reputation. The Auricular style was also taken up by furniture makers, and several tables in the exhibition show, in their carved wooden bases, how the intrinsic properties of the medium influenced the visual effect of the ornaments.

Johannes Lutma (1584-1669), drinking cup, Amsterdam, 1641, silver, 7.8 x 15 x 20.3 cm., Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The silversmiths of Amsterdam (members of the same guild which had ordered the Van Vianen ewer in 1614) also influenced the later development of the style. One of the most important artists in this guild was Johannes Lutma, who came from North-West Germany and had worked in Paris before settling in Amsterdam in 1621. He arrived there too late to have been involved in the commissioning of the ewer[6], but he had been a colleague of Paulus van Vianen, and quickly rivalled the quality of the latter’s work and that of his brother. Like them, he began to sign and date his work. Once more, the work of a silversmith was the subject of famous painters like Jacob Backer and Rembrandt, and Lutma himself was also the subject on several occasions.

Publicity photo from the exhibition showing, centre left, one of the gates from the choir screen of the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, by Johannes Lutma, c. 1650, brass

The magnificently elaborate and intertwined brass choir screen which he designed for the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam is one of his best-known works, massive in scale and conception, with a long crest of pierced, spiky waves of Auricular ornament.

The exhibition widens its focus at this point, and looks at the work of the braziers – the brass-workers –  who used Auricular decoration for the furnishing of church interiors. Through this means the Auricular style could spread easily between  large cities; and, from the middle of the seventeenth century, objects in this style progressively entered the houses of the middle class. Picture frames and furniture were the first objects available for purchase by a larger group of collectors.

Rembrandt (1606-69), The Holy Family, 1646, oil/ wood, 46.8 x 68.4 cm., Museumslandschaft Hessen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel 

Rembrandt himself employed Auricular ornament at times, and was also in possession of plaster casts of works by Adam van Vianen, according to the inventory made when he went bankrupt – although Reinier Baarsen states in the exhibition catalogue that the mythological subject matter of these particular objects is more reminiscent of Paulus than of Adam van Vianen. Next to the drinking cup by Lutma hangs a painting of the Holy family by Rembrandt.  Within the image he painted a frame-like border and a curtain on a rail; the curving top of the painted border clearly shows Auricular motifs, combined with classically-inclined sides and Baroque ornaments along the base.

Nicolaes Maes, (attrib.; 1634-93), The Holy Family (after Rembrandt), c.1646-50, red chalk, blue chalk, brown & red wash on vellum, 22.8 x 27.9 cm., Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

A drawing attributed to Nicolaes Maes, also in the exhibition, gives a  better impression of what the original work by Rembrandt might have looked like, with a fully-developed Mannerist arched top decorated with skeletal and cartilaginous forms.

Unknown framemaker, Auricular frame, Netherlands, c. 1650-60, gilded limewood, 55 x 47 cm., Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Framemakers themselves had a wide array of materials to choose from at this point, since ebony workers like Herman Doomer were changing the variety of woods in vogue for both frames and furniture.  For Auricular designs, however, a much softer type of wood than ebony or oak was necessary: something relatively easy to carve and which could imitate the melting forms of Auricular silverwork. For these the framemakers usually preferred to work in limewood, which is quite soft, with a short grain that is excellent for carving the soft and bulbous shapes required. The exhibition shows one especially fine example of an empty Auricular frame from the Rijksmuseum’s own collection. All the motifs in this frame are evocative of marine shapes and sea creatures, with fish- and frog- like masks at top and bottom – although the top corners are carved into elephants’ heads, the trunks transmuting into scrolling spiral shells.

Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen I, Portrait of Jasper Schade, Utrecht, 1654, o/c, 113.5 x 91 cm., unknown framemaker, Auricular giltwood frame, 1654; Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede

Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen I, Portrait of Cornelia Strick van Linschoten, pendant to Jasper Schade, above; Utrecht, 1654, o/c, 113 x 90 cm., unknown framemaker, Auricular giltwood frame, 1654, & detail; Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede

This pair of Dutch Auricular frames is far more refined than the  empty Rijksmuseum frame; they may have been made in Utrecht, as both sitters and painter lived there, in the city of the Van Vianens [7]. In comparison, the empty frame may possibly have a provincial origin.  The Van Ceulen frames epitomize the Auricular style as it was adapted to picture frames, the carving appearing effortlessly adapted to mimic the dissolving forms of silverware.

Unknown painter, Portrait of Nicolaes van der Merct, 1662, oil on copper, 11.5 x 8.7 cm.; unknown framemaker, oval Auricular frame, 1662, gilded limewood; private collection, Germany

Another possibly provincial example of a made-to-measure Auricular frame is found around the anonymous portrait of Middelburg merchant Nicolaes van der Merct. The framemaker may have been inspired by a source similar to the engraved cartouches published by Lutma and other artists; although again his work is less fluid and well-integrated than theirs.

Jacob Lutma, after Johannes Lutma, ‘Hans von Aachen painting Paulus van Vianen in a decorative cartouche, Amsterdam, 1653, etching/engraving, 22.4 x 18.4 cm., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

In the case of the Van der Merct portrait, the frame surpasses the quality of the painting, making it a very interesting object. As the catalogue points out, the Auricular ornaments are combined with classical laurel festoons; this is characteristic of 17th century Netherlandish giltwood frames, which might mingle classical, Auricular and Baroque elements with inventive ease [8].

Anonymous Amsterdam craftsman, dolls’ house made for Petronella de la Court, 1670-90, the Picture Gallery; Centraalmuseum, Utrecht

Gerard Hoet, Sleeping nymph in a cave, lying on the left, Amsterdam, c.1674, oil/panel, 13.2 x 16.5 cm.; unknown framemaker, Auricular frame, Amsterdam, 1674, gilded limewood; & above, hanging in Petronella de la Court’s dolls’ house; Centraalmuseum, Utrecht

Gerard Hoet, Sleeping nymph in a cave, lying on the right, Amsterdam, 1674, oil/panel, 13.2 x 16.6 cm.; unknown framemaker, Auricular frame, Amsterdam, 1674, gilded limewood; & above, hanging in Petronella de la Court’s dolls’ house; Centraalmuseum, Utrecht

Perhaps even more impressive are the two tiny frames which come from a 17th century doll’s house, owned and furnished by Petronella de la Court between 1670 and 1690.  Most of the frames in this particular doll’s house – still completely intact with all its furnishings – are Auricular; two landscapes by Johan van Huchtenburg have very similar frames to Hoet’s, and are of probably similar date [9].  Only the scale of the ornaments relative to the paintings indicates that these frames are not on the large format works we might think that we are looking at in a photo…

Gabriel Metsu (1629-67), Man and woman at a virginal, Amsterdam, c.1665, oil/panel, 38.4 x 32.2 cm., National Gallery, London

Auricular frames remained fashionable well into the 17th century, regularly showing up on paintings of interiors, as in excellent examples by Gabriel Metsu and Emanuel de Witte. It is ironic that neither painting is today in an Auricular frame, but on the other hand such paintings usually show rectangular ebony frames hanging alongside elaborately carved gilded settings, which might form a centrepiece, or frame a particularly precious painting. Both styles co-exist happily in interiors where stark black-&-white floor tiles and white walls are offset by opulent textiles and silverware.

John Norris (attrib., ?1642-1707), ‘Sunderland’ frame, c.1672-75, giltwood, on Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), Portrait of the Duke of Lauderdale, c.1672-75, o/c, 128.4 x 100.4 cm, Ham House, National Trust

Christiaen van Vianen, Adam’s son, continued his workshop after the death of his father in 1627, moving several years later to London, where he became one of the foremost silversmiths in the fashionable style of the Auricular. This had begun to establish itself in Britain at around the same time, or slightly earlier – at the end of the reign of James I and the beginning of Charles I’s, when the court was open to various influences from the Netherlands and Italy. Inigo Jones and Van Dyck  were of major importance in this respect [10] . Auricular ornaments were actually applied to picture frames in Britain before anywhere else, and became fashionable as early as the 1630s.  By the 1660s a new version of the style had appeared; these are now referred to as ‘Sunderland’ frames, from the collection of the Earl of Sunderland at Althorp [11].  The major differences between the Dutch and British Auricular style are that the latter is carved in a more shallow relief, and the sight edge is not linear but flows irregularly over the outer edge of the canvas[12].

Hans Gudewerth the younger, Epitaph for Heinrich Ripenauw, Eckernförde, c. 1650-1651, oak, painted brown around 1880, with paintings, painted with oil on panel, 340 x 175 cm., Evangelisch-utherische St. Nikolaikirche, Eckernförde

The last two rooms demonstrate how the Auricular style was expressed elsewhere in Europe. In countries surrounding the Netherlands, the idiosyncratically lobe-like quality of the Dutch Auricular style was not replicated [13]. In the North-German town of Eckernförde, the most important woodworker in the Auricular style was Hans Gudewerth the Younger. As in Britain, he had a different approach to the style, but his was to treat it more in terms of free-standing ornamental elements, rather than as an integrated flow of motifs around the frame – this may seem almost like an anticipation of the Rococo.

Unknown cabinetmaker, cabinet, Paris, c.1640, façades: pine, poplar & pearwood, ebony veneer; interior: ebony, pear wood, ivory, bone, purpleheart, iroko, palisander, pewter, mirrored glass, drawers of padauk, 216 x 190 x 64 cm., & detail; Nationalmuseum Stockholm; detail, courtesy of Nationalmuseum, Stockholm; photo Hans Thorwid/ Nationalmuseum

The last room is reserved for one of the very rare pieces of French Auricular furniture. As a style it seems to have been a bit too much for the French taste, and it never achieved quite the popularity it did in The Netherlands, Britain, Germany or Sweden: see Marika Takanishi Knowles, ‘Who’s afraid of the French Auricular?’.  However, this Parisian cabinet, on loan from Stockholm, is decorated in full Auricular style. It is displayed in a room with four columns, each carrying a screen depicting detailed images of the cabinet; the video can also be seen here. The columns are decorated with black and white stripes, reminiscent of the columns of Daniel Buren in the Cour d’Honneur in Paris…

…and from these columns it’s a small step to the exhibition designer, Keso Dekker, who deserves an honourable mention. He is widely acclaimed as a designer for ballet and dance theatre productions, and has come up with a setting for this exhibition which cannot be overlooked; the graphic quality of his work offers a striking contrast to the 17th century Auricular.

The Rijksmuseum has published a well-composed book to accompany the exhibition, written by Reinier Baarsen, the senior curator, with Ine Castelijns van Beek. Since no definitive work on the Auricular has appeared in some time, it was decided not to publish a regular catalogue, but rather a comprehensive book, containing a section of catalogue entries.  There is a Dutch and an English edition.

KWAB is a very successful example of how a subject with a fairly narrow focus can be the basis for an ambitious and thorough presentation. Based on extensive research, a convincing picture is painted of the rise, blossoming and dissemination of the Auricular style. The exhibition is starred  with objects which represent the peaks of their respective genres, and which ride on the expertise of the various disciplines involved. It is definitely worth visiting, and the catalogue is also a valuable addition to any art historical library.  One mild criticism: the subtitle for the exhibition, ‘Dutch design in the age of Rembrandt’, following the strong ‘KWAB’, is unnecessary; this show does not need a link to the popular ‘Dutch design’ of recent decades, nor to ride on the shoulders of the giant Rembrandt – ‘Auricular style’ is enough in itself.

The exhibition runs from 30 June – 16 September 2018 at the Rijksmuseum.


Maarten van ‘t Klooster studied art history at VU University in Amsterdam and graduated the Master of Curatorial Studies at VU University and University of Amsterdam. He has a particular interest in nineteenth century art and picture frames. He is a regular guest speaker on picture frames on the Master’s course Art, Market and Connoisseurship at VU University.

Limewood table base, c.1635-45


A note on some Auricular frames: The Frame Blog

The frames in the Rijksmuseum exhibition form a small but highly important part of the whole display; and those that have been included provide a good summary of the versions of the Auricular fashionable at various periods and in different countries.

 Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen I, Portrait of Cornelia Strick van Linschoten, pendant to Jasper Schade, above; Utrecht, 1654, o/c, 113 x 90 cm., unknown framemaker, Auricular giltwood frame, 1654, &detail of fish/dolphin head at lateral centre of frame; Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede

The Van Ceulen frames are some of the most beautiful of all Auricular designs, imitating in wood the melting and morphing shapes of the Van Vianens’ silverwork; they are also remarkable for the consistency of their ornament, which is almost entirely marine, including spiral and knobbed shells, ripples and curling waves, fish or dolphin heads, fins and gills and folded fishy mouths. These motifs derive originally from the popularity of marine ornament in Italy in the 16th century, and the decoration of grottoes, fountains and Mannerist sea creatures designed by artists like Buontalenti.

Christiaen van Vianen (fl. 1600-67), The Dolphin Basin, 1635, silver, V&A

They also suggest something of the importance of the sea to the Dutch, who were economically partly dependent on the fishing industry –

‘The herring fishery reached its zenith in the first half of the seventeenth century. Estimates put the size of the herring fleet at roughly 500 busses and the catch at about 20,000 to 25,000 lasts (roughly 33,000 metric tons) on average each year in the first decades of the seventeenth century.’ [14]

– but were even more deeply engaged in sea-borne commerce. By the second half of the 16th century, Baltic trade was controlled by the Dutch, who then expanded into the Mediterranean, and in the early 17th century into the Atlantic, to capture trade with the Americas [15]. Marine decoration was therefore symbolic and patriotic, as well as an expression of the intense contemporary curiosity about the physical world.

The empty frame displayed in the exhibition is also notable, and especially intriguing for the elephants’ heads which are one of its most distinctive features.

 Unknown framemaker, Auricular frame, Netherlands, c. 1650-60, gilded limewood, 55 x 47 cm., Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Cornelis Bisschop, Young woman and a cavalier, early 1660s, o/c, 38 ½ x 34 ¾ ins (97.8 x 88.3 cm.), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [not in exhibition]

In his weighty two-volume catalogue of the Netherlandish paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Walter Liedtke mentions – unusually – the frame on the work above, by Cornelis Bisschop:

‘The painting’s carved and gilded frame is remarkable, and possibly original to the picture.  The canvas is unusually close to square in format, and neither it nor the frame has been cut down, suggesting that Bisschop himself may have put them together… C.J. de Bruyn Kops considers the frames likely to have been made in the Netherlands during the 1660s.  A pair of frames in very similar Auricular style, but without the elephant heads and lion’s muzzle at the top, are original to portraits of Jasper Schade and his wife, dated 1654, by Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen the Elder…’ [16]

These frames are indeed slightly related, in the similar flow of undulating spiral shells around the frieze; however, the Van Ceulen pair is composed almost completely of marine motifs, with dolphins’ heads at the lateral centres, whilst the Bisschop frame flows less smoothly, and has, as well as the elephants’ heads at the top corners  and the lion’s muzzle at the top centre, noted by Liedtke, an ambivalent but earthy animal mask at the bottom.

Left: Auricular frame, c. 1650-60, 55 x 47 cm., Rijksmuseum; & right: Cornelis Bisschop, Young woman and a cavalier, early 1660s, Metropolitan Museum of Art; elephant’s head corner motif on both details

The empty frame displayed in the Kwab exhibition is another step on again from the Bisschop frame; it is proportionately heavier and deeper, the Auricular motifs piling up against each other with less control over the morphing of one form into another, while the froglike mouth at the bottom is almost comic in its effect [17].  However, the elephant heads at the top corners are, paradoxically, beautifully integrated into the flow of ornament at that point – the trunks scrolling into the tops of the spiral shells and the ears echoing the lobes of various kinds which fold around it.

These elephants are striking in their size, and in the way in which they dominate the frame, stretching over almost two-thirds of the top rail and reaching well down the sides. In contrast, the elephant heads on the Bisschop frame are tiny, hardly integrated, and need to be searched for to be seen. They are also more naturalistic, standing out from their Auricular setting, whereas the elephants on the empty frame have been translated entirely into an Auricular idiom.

The significance of elephants is intriguing; why have they been adopted into the generally marine genre of animals associated with the Auricular (saving the odd lion, leopard, and eagle)? Well, although Amsterdam imported large amounts of ivory by the seventeenth century[18], the whole live elephant was a still a rarity in Europe, known through descriptions such as Pliny’s:

‘…the Elephant… commeth neerest in wit and capacitie, to men: for they understand the language of that country wherein they are bred, they do whatsoever they are commanded… and withall take a pleasure and delight both in love and also in glorie… they embrace goodnesse, honestie, prudence, and equitie…’ [19]

Hendrick Gerritsz Pot, The glorification of Prince Willem I, o/c, 1620,  Frans Hals Museum

Karel van Mander, writing two years after that translation of Pliny, in 1603-4, states that: ‘The Elephant means the king, and the Egyptians used it to mean that’[20], and Laura Orsi, in an essay which quotes Mander, produces in evidence of this a Dutch echo of Mantegna’s Triumphs of CaesarThe glorification of William I, by Hendrick Pot, where three hefty elephants carry Faith, Hope and Charity along, in front of William of Orange [21]. (This frame is pre-Auricular, with scrolling Sansovinesque cartouches supporting the base). The elephant was therefore just the right material for use in an impresa as a symbol of kingship, good governance, intelligence, and general goodness.

Rembrandt (1606-69), An elephant, 1637, black chalk on paper, Albertina, Vienna

Rembrandt’s famous elephant, captured in several drawings, is probably a portrait of Hansken, who travelled through Europe from about 1630 to the 1650s and was in Amsterdam in 1637, the date of the drawings. Rembrandt used these observational sketches in two Biblical works – according to Leonard Slatkes, for the animal’s symbolic properties[22]; however, the nature of the drawings is accurate and scientific, in a similar way to Leonardo’s work.

The Golden Age in the Netherlands appreciated accuracy and scientific observation; it did not only inherit a system of symbols based on the natural world – it investigated that world with more rigour and curiosity than ever before. Anatomical dissection was a part of this; according to Rina Knoeff,

‘In the early modern Republic, the rise of commerce brought with it an advancement and social upgrading of artisanal skills and knowledge. With regard to the investigation of nature, this particularly resulted in the collection and skilful preservation of natural objects and in the development and perfection of techniques of dissection, vivisection and injection.’ [23]

Dissection, however, was not purely dispassionate, it was an investigation of ‘God’s divine handiwork’:

‘…an anatomical dissection had the same function as reading the Bible – it was considered an important means to know God, through the works of His creation.’ [24]

The symbolic and the scientific might thus go happily hand-in-hand.

Dr Allison Stielau discounts a direct interaction of this contemporary fascination with dissection with the cartilaginous and lobe-like nature of the Auricular, but admits that there are links:

‘One thread running through discussion of Auricular ornament has been the desire to link it causally to 17th century anatomical research, particularly dissection. While there is little evidence to support this claim, it is undeniable that Auricular frames share with contemporary anatomical illustration an aesthetic of rippling fleshiness.’[25]

Paulus van Vianen, basin with scenes from the story of Diana & Actaeon (one of a set with a ewer), Prague, 1613, silver, 40 x 50 cm., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The work of the Van Vianens can also hardly be described other than by using words such as cartilaginous, sinewy or vertebrate, whilst the very term ‘Auricular’, even though coined in the late 19th century, pertains to the folds and curves of the ear. However, apart from actual dissections, there was an associated medically-related fashion, as it were, and this was a sort of extension of the kunstkammer, where the collection of objects of beauty, natural interest and exoticism was extended (particularly by doctors) to the collection of rather more macabre items – ‘skeletons from executed criminals and the stuffed skin of a woman… the bladder of a man… a human skin in a frame…a shirt made from human intestines’[26]. The curiosity and freedom from moral constraint which led to these collections was mirrored in the thirst to examine, dissect and display specimens from every available source.  The elephants who appeared in Europe seldom did so for long, dying in fires, drowning in ditches, or simply succumbing to the fatigue of being walked across the Continent; and their corpses were always pounced upon by local doctors, and also needed to be preserved from souvenir-hunting collectors.

All these various concerns and interests could be said to be represented in the form of the Auricular frame.  In Britain, the later wave of designs, from the 1650s and 1660s, had a particular name:

‘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…’ [27]

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

This relates, of course, to the broken and irregular contour of such frames, and their shallow profile with rolled and concave edges, all of which mimicked (it is supposed) the outline and behaviour of an animal hide, scraped and stretched out to be used for vellum, as a written or pictorial surface, or left in a coarser form, to function as a shield or cartouche. These hide-like shapes were also open to symbolic interpretation, so that they might become the Nemean lionskin which Hercules wore, with paws and lion’s mask carved at the corners and top centre of the frame (above, on the frame of Lely’s Elizabeth Murray), conveying strength and semi-divinity (so useful as a shorthand for monarchy or nobility). The same is true of the eagles devouring serpents which sometimes crop up in the corners of frames.

Thus it could be said that the Auricular frame was, in some ways, a collection of ornaments, motifs and symbols which encapsulated many aspects of life in the 17th century. There were marine elements, looking back to fashionable Italian sources – aesthetically unusual and striking, scientifically interesting, but also expressive of a patriotic pride in such things as Dutch domination of the sea (or its British competition). There were features recalling animal skins – sometimes lions’ or eagles’ skins, endowed with their properties of kingship, divinity, courage, etc.; there were sudden topical eruptions, such as the elephants’ heads, with their own symbolism and their own connection with collectors’  passions and anatomical curiosity; there were associated animals, mascarons of Green Men to bring luck, stave off evil spirits or just invoke the beauty of the botanical world. There were more stylized tokens of anatomical knowledge: bones, cartilage, loops and folds of flesh, which represented both the mystery of God’s creation and the pragmatic investigation of its mechanics. Sometimes elements from other frames and styles crept in; floral pendants and swags, bay leaves, architectural mouldings or scrolls, lending a classical cast, a feminine floweriness or Apollo’s gifts of music, art and poetry. All life, so to speak, is there in the Auricular frame.

Unknown painter, Portrait of Nicolaes van der Merct, 1662, oil on copper, 11.5 x 8.7 cm.; unknown framemaker, oval Auricular frame, 1662, gilded limewood; private collection, Germany


[1]  Stefan Kuiper, ‘Bij kwab zijn er slechts vrijelijk vervloeiende vormen, ongrijpbaar als sigarettenrook’, Volkskrant, 24 June, 2018  – translation by the author.

[2]  Van Dale dictionary of the Dutch language, ‘kwab

[3]  See, too, Adriana Turpin, ‘The development of an Auricular style in Florence, c.1600-40’, an abstract, on Auricular Style: Frames, as an indication of Buontalenti’s part in shaping the Auricular, and that of Italians generally

[4] For calculating the historical to present-day value of the guilder; for details of the purchase, see Vereniging Rembrandt

[5] Ibid.

[6]  For a rapid overview of Lutma’s output, search the Rijksmuseum’s collection under his name.  He designed a great number of Auricular cartouches, works in silver and silver gilt, and medals.

[7]  See P.J.J. van Thiel & C.J. de Bruyn Kops, Framing in the Golden Age, transl. Andrew McCormick, 1995, of Prijst de Lijst, 1984; p. 212

[8] Miniature frames, of similar size to that on the portrait of Van der Merct and as creatively eclectic in style, can be found on Caspar Netscher’s portraits of Johann Christian von Kretschmar and Susanna Vernatti, Stichting Teding van Berkhout, Haarlem (ibid., no 81, pp. 324-25), and Gerard Hoet’s Willem Hadriaan van Nassau with his wife and children, Rijksmuseum

[9]  Ibid., no. 74, p.310

[10]  See Jacob Simon, ‘Documenting developments in the taste for Auricular framing in Britain, 1620-80’ on Auricular Style: Frames

[11]  Ibid.

[12] For the framemaker John Norris, see the National Portrait Gallery website, ‘Directory of British framemakers

[13] The German versions of the Auricular were not necessarily all learnt from the Netherlands, however; Johan Matthias Kager (1575-1634), who decorated the Golden Hall of the Augsburg Town Hall from 1620-24, produced a series of Auricular cartouches ornamented with grotesques; these are linked to the work of other Augsburg artists, such as Lucas Kilian, and to British and Flemish printmakers in the 1620s. See Daniela Roberts, ‘German “Knorpelwerk”: Auricular dissemination in prints, woodcarving, and painted wall decorations, 1620-70’, Auricular Style: Frames

[14] Donald J. Harreld, ‘The Dutch economy in the Golden Age (16th-17th centuries)’, (Economic History Association)

[15]  Ibid.

[16]  Walter Liedtke, Dutch paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, vol. 1, p. 38. C.J. de Bruyn Kops is one of the two authors of the seminal Prijst de lijst, 1984, translated as Framing in the Golden Age: Picture & frame in 17th century Holland, 1995.

[17] The empty Rijksmuseum frame is just over half the size of the Bisschop frame, on both axes

[18]  See Marloes Rijkelijkhuizen, ‘Whales, Walruses, and Elephants: Artisans in Ivory, Baleen, and Other Skeletal Materials in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Amsterdam, International Journal of Historical Archaeology, December 2009

[19] Pliny, The Historie of the World, transl. Philemon Holland, 1601, Book VIII, p.192

[20]  Karel van Mander, ‘Of the elephant and its meaning’, Van de Wtbeeldinghe der Figueren, 1618, folio 114, quoted by Laura Orsi, ‘The emblematic elephant: a preliminary approach to the elephant in Renaissance thought and art’, p. 70

[21] Ibid., p.72

[22]  Leonard Slatkes’s ‘Rembrandt’s elephant’, Simiolus: Netherlands Qurtarely for the History of Art, 1980, vol.11, no 1, pp. 7-13

[23]  Rina Knoeff, ‘Dutch anatomy and clinical medicine in 17th century Europe’, EGO: European history online, 2012

[24] Ibid.

[25]  Dr Allison Stielau, ‘On the Inception of Auricular Ornament: Metamorphic Bodies and the Fleshy Frame’, an abstract, Auricular Style: Frames

[26]  Sebastian Pranghofer, Visual representation and the body in early modern anatomy’, Ph D thesis, Durham University, 2011, p. 51-51

[27]  Jacob Simon, ‘Documenting developments in the taste for Auricular framing in Britain, 1620-80’, Auricular Style: Frames


Documenting developments in the taste for Auricular framing in Britain, 1620-80

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) [1]. 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) [2].

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 [3]. 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 [4]. 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 [5].  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 [6].  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 [7].

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 [8]. Later, work was done on other pictures through the Lord Chamberlain’s department, under Van der Doort’s supervision [9]. This work was carried out by Henry Norris, probably Richard Norris’s son [10].


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 [11]. 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.

Workshop practice

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).[12] 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) [13]. 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 [14].  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 [15].


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) [16].

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 [17].  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’  [18].

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) [19]. 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’ [20].

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 [21]. 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 [22]. 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 [23]. 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 [24]. As late as 1754 the Foundling Hospital paid for an ornament of ‘Shield & Leatherwork’ for a frame for a painting [25]. By then the ornament begins to have a Rococo character.

The aftermath

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’ [26]. 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 [27]. Secondly, the circulation of engravings. Johnson’s pattern books reached a wide market and were highly influential [28]. Thirdly, the movement of finished carved work. We know that one of his Rococo mirrors was sent from London to Liverpool [29]. 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 [30]. 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 [31]. 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 [32].


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.


[1] National Archives, PROB 11/220/303. For Zacharie Taylor, see the online resource, British picture framemakers, 1600-1950, on the National Portrait Gallery website.

[2] For Matthew Goodricke, see British picture framemakers, 1600-1950.

[3] 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.

[4] Simon 1996, p. 16.

[5] See John Harris, ‘Inigo Jones and his French sources’, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 19, 1961, pp. 253-64.

[6] 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).

[7] 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.

[8] 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).

[9] National Archives, LC 5/132, p.329.

[10] For the Norris family, see British picture framemakers, 1600-1950 on the National Portrait Gallery website.

[11] Christopher Brown, Van Dyck, 1982, pp. 164-5.

[12] 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.

[13] 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.

[14] Simon 1996, p. 55.

[15] Simon 1996, p. 55.

[16] Simon 1996, pp. 138-9.

[17] The Duke of Somerset went to the joiner, Thomas Larkin, see Simon 1996, pp. 138, 205 note 85.

[18] Simon 1996, p. 138.

[19] 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.

[20] See Simon 1996, p. 91.

[21] 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.

[22] 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.

[23] Simon 1996, p. 55.

[24] David Green, Grinling Gibbons, 1964, pp. 77, 92.

[25] Charles Brooking, Flagship before the Wind, frame made by James Dryhurst, 1754. See Jacob Simon, Picture frames at the Foundling Museum, London, 2006, on the National Portrait Gallery website.

[26] Jacob Simon, Thomas Johnson’s The Life of the Author, Furniture History Society, 2003, p. 13.

[27] Ibid., p. 51.

[28] Ibid., pp. 11-13.

[29] Ibid., p. 3.

[30] Ibid., p. 2.

[31] The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘auricular’ as meaning ‘of the ear’.

[32] 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.

German ‘Knorpelwerk’: Auricular dissemination in prints, woodcarving, and painted wall decorations, 1620–70

Daniela Roberts discusses how, and in what form, the ornamental style called ‘Knorpel-&-Teigwerk’ or ‘Ohrmuschel-style’ developed in the different regions of Germany; and how it was employed in architecture and the decorative arts, as well as in elements of picture frames.

In the second and third quarters of the 17th century the Auricular style in Germany is usually associated with silverwork and furniture, and especially with architecture – in North Germany in particular. The proximity to the neighbouring Low Countries and also the strong middle class culture of the old Hanseatic towns seems to have promoted the style and made it popular in this region. Nevertheless most of the German pattern books for Ohrmuschelstil or Knorpelwerk were printed in the south of Germany, mainly in Nuremberg. Little research, however, appears to have been undertaken into the German Auricular style and its application to frames in the south.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), interior of the Golden Hall, Town Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24; reconstruction 1980–85

Thus the fact that one of the earliest examples of the Auricular in this period is to be found in the famous Golden Hall of the Town Hall, built by Elias Holl in the wealthy Fugger city of Augsburg, has not previously been acknowledged. The artist who was responsible for the interior decoration (1620–24, reconstructed between 1980–85 [1]) was Johan Matthias Kager, a Munich artist who had worked in the Duke’s Palace in his hometown, and had later – in 1603 – moved to Augsburg.[2]


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche inscribed ‘Veni vidi vici’ above the portrait of Caesar, Golden Hall, Augsburg

Amongst its grotesque paintings and strapwork ornament the complex decorative scheme of the Golden Hall includes a series of exceptional cartouches, framing scenes of heroines from the Old Testament, underneath the large windows of the long sides of the hall.


 Cartouche with the Death of the Maccabees, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24; reconstruction 1980–85

 The design of each of the cartouches corresponds in ornament and form with the painted upright oval cartouches situated over the portraits of the emperors, and the carved cartouches above the main doorways. The designs seem to be generally based on ancient and Renaissance models, [3] following a long tradition in Augsburg, which was one of the first German towns where the style of the Italian Renaissance gained a foothold.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with Tarquin and Lucretia, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24,; reconstruction 1980–85

The fundamentally symmetrical design of the cartouches is composed of two grotesque masks placed at the top and the bottom of a curved oblong framework. The masks – showing lions, bulls, sea monsters or Green Men – comply with the usual repertoire of Auricular frames, particularly of British ‘Sunderland’ frames.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with Jael, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24; reconstruction 1980–85

The cartouche designs show an affinity with Mannerist grotesques, and the fluid shapes reflect the influence of early Dutch Auricular from the beginning of the 17th century; this diverges from the prevailing assumption, that the German Auricular derives mainly from scrollwork and strapwork combined with curved, acanthus scrolls and Moresque ornaments.[4]


Lucas Kilian (1579–1637), frontispiece of Newes Gradesca Büchlein, 1607, engraving

A source which might have influenced the cartouche designs can be found amongst the artistic circle of Augsburg, surrounding the well-known engraver, Lucas Kilian, who worked regularly for Kager and was trained at the workshop of his stepfather, Dominicus Custos, who was of Dutch descent.[5] In his pattern book of 1607, the Newes Gradesca Büchlein, Kilian published thirteen plates with grotesque panels; this was followed by plates of cartouches in 1610, which helped to prepare the ground for the development of the German Auricular.[6]


Lucas Kilian (1579–1637), Portrait of Franciscus Pisanus (detail), engraving

In his portrait prints he ornaments inscription-bearing cartouches with fluid organic forms and masks, which with their soft shapes merge into volutes. With these he pre-figures Kager‘s designs in the Augsburg town hall, even though the repertoire of ornaments in his earlier works is still indebted to scrollwork.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with Judith and Holofernes, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), coat of arms belonging to Duke Philipp II of Pommern, in Hainhofer’s Großes Stammbuch (or family register), 1612

In an earlier work – a coat of arms from 1612 – Kager also seems to construct his frames on a base of scrollwork, while his preference for masks shown in profile, contorted and stretched as part of the cartouche border, is apparent.


Lucas Kilian (1579–1637), Portrait of Elias Holl, 1619, engraving

Lucas Kilian likewise used masks in profile for the frames of his engraved portraits. For the portrait of Elias Holl, the architect of the Augsburg town hall, Kilian softened the scrollwork of the cartouche with the outline of more organic forms, like shells.


Lucas Kilian (1579–1637), Portrait of Hans Kellenthaler, 1616, engraving

Kilian’s Portrait of Hans Kellenthaler stands out for the presence of its gnarled mascarons, in which the lower animal mask strongly resembles the type appearing in Kager’s Susannah cartouche.


Peter Isselburg (c. 1580–1630/31), Portrait of Johan Casimir, Duke of Sachsen-Coburg, 1625, engraving

There is a noticeable resemblance to Kager’s cartouche structure (here the Esther cartouche) evident in the framing of the portrait print of Johan Casimir, the Duke of Sachsen-Coburg, by Peter Isselburg.  Isselburg, who worked for a long time in Nuremberg, and after 1630 in Bamberg and Coburg, was trained by Crispijn van de Passe, another Dutch artist. In accordance with this artistic background many of his designs clearly show the influence of Dutch ornaments. For the Duke’s portrait he skilfully varies the shape of a conch shell, or twisted horn, combining these with curved scrolls thickened at the end – a characteristic of the German Auricular style,[7]  freely applied around the inner oval frieze.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with Esther, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24

Kager, in contrast, transforms the central volutes and scrolls into a cartilage structure, or into twisted shells.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with Artemisia, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24

Furthermore, Kager’s designs integrate the idea of an animal skin, showing paws grasping around the stretched, skin-like outlines of the cartouche.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with Susannah & the Elders, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24

In his most zoömorphic cartouches Kager combines the central mask with two dragons’ heads, which bite into the cartilage structure springing from the animal at the crest of the frame. Instead of ribbons flowing around the frame he solidifies the undulating ornamentation into the bony and fleshy structure of these fantastical creatures.


Lucas van Leyden (1494–1533), Ornamental panel with dolphins, first half 16th century, engraving

Kager has adopted for his designs a long tradition of grotesque work, often adapted for cartouches in portrait prints, and linked with Dutch artists.


Crispijn van de Passe the Elder (1564–1637), Portrait of Theodoor van Zuylen, 1624, engraving

The printmaker Crispijn van de Passe the elder, who was forced to leave Antwerp and worked for two decades in Cologne (1589–1611), was very influential in this respect, regarding the dissemination of the new Auricular style. In his portrait for Theodor de Zulen his grotesque masks are shown biting an oval cartouche, here still decorated with strapwork.


Renold Estracke (c. 1571–c. 1625), Portrait of Thomas Howard, 1620–25, engraving

Renold Estracke, an English printmaker – probably a pupil of Crispijn van der Passe, composed a cartouche for a portrait of Thomas Howard (dated from 1620–25) by using two snake heads, with softer outlines similar to Kager’s design.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with Tobias & the angel, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24

At this point it can be established that prints were a medium in which artists were pioneers in Auricular frame design, primarily in portrait prints and those other genres which employedr framing elements. Certainly Kager, who worked closely with various Augsburg printers like Kilian, must have known these Auricular examples and used them as an inspiration. He also contributed many original designs of his own.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with Semiramis, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24

As in the Dutch Auricular style Kager used conch shells for some of his cartouches, often in order to replace the central volutes. Even though exotic shells were precious collectables for the German Kunstkammer, they play hardly any part in the German Auricular style of around 1650–70; thus Kager’s adoption of shells, which was closely associated with the prosperous overseas trade of the Dutch, represents an outstanding example of a transregional artistic exchange.


Dominicus Custos (1560–1612), Portrait of Veronica Fugger, after 1593, in Fuggerorum et Fuggerarum imagines, fol. 112r

Presumably Kager was also acquainted with the famous print series of the Fugger family by the Augsburg publisher and Dutch-born Dominicus Custos. The frame of the portrait of Veronica Fugger has gigantic exotic shells placed round the upper corners.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), frontispiece of Karl Steger, Monasteriologia, 1619

Kager, for his part, had contributed to the development of the Auricular a couple of years before his Town hall decoration, in a frontispiece for the Monasteriologia, comprising a frame with four conch shells.


 Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), Cartouche with The daughter of Pericles, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24

Apart from these marine ornaments, the idea of developing a frame from an abstract organic mass indicates a further Dutch influence. Starting with the form of a flayed animal skin, discernible by its mask and intertwined paws or hanging hoofs, Kager generates abstract proliferating forms on the short sides of his cartouches. However, this Knorpelwerk design remains an exception in the German Auricular style.


Raphael Custodis (c. 1590–1664), frontispiece of Patriciarum Stirpium Augustanar. Vind. Et Earundem Sodalitatis Insignia, 1613, engraving

The first beginnings of a transformation from scrolled architectural volutes to an organic structure becomes visible in a cartouche frame for the frontispiece of the Patriciarum stirpium Augustanar (1613) by Raphael Custodis, the son of Dominicus.

Crispijn van de Passe (1564–1637), frontispiece of Herwologia Anglica, 1620, engraving

However, a striking resemblance to Kager’s design can be seen in a cartouche frame for the frontispiece of the Herwologia Anglica (1620), engraved by Crispijn van de Passe. As can be seen in the example above, although De Passe worked with strapwork decoration during the second half of the 16th century, he developed cartilaginous ‘frames’, with a tendency to abstract shapes, around 1620 in Utrecht.

In studying Kager’s designs, it becomes clear that these types of ‘frames’ would not have been achievable without the work of Dutch printmakers, who sometimes lived and worked temporarily in Germany after they were forced, through their religious beliefs, to leave Flanders or Antwerp. There is also the chance that Kager may have known designs by Paulus van Vianen, who, like Kager himself, had worked for Duke Maximilian in Munich during the 1590s.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), South portal, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24

 Kager‘s adoption of the Auricular style also encompasses the architectural parts of the Golden Hall. Within the painted wall decoration, the two main portals stand out, crowned by cartouches bordered with carved and gilded frames. Over the pediment of the south portal the cartouche, listing the names of the commissioners, is framed with motifs of conch shells replacing the volutes, and also includes two masks and two grotesques in profile.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), South portal, Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24, detail

Instead of an inner moulding separating the inscription panel from the frame, the various motifs and ornaments project into the inner cartouche area, which was inconceivable at that point for the frame of a painting.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), North portal of the Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24

Consequently, the painting above the pediment of the north portal has been furnished with a conventional profile frame with outset corners. Both the horizontal oval cartouches above this painting and the commissioners’ cartouche are framed with paired conch shells, morphing into two masks and two stylized dolphins with scrolling tails. The arrangement of the conch shells around the crowning mask of these two unusual cartouche frames precedes Dutch frame designs, in particular ‘Lutma’ frames.


Johann Matthias Kager (1575–1634), South portal of the Golden Hall, Augsburg, 1620–24, (outline drawing)

Here, of course, the single ornaments dissolve even further into a fluid undulating organic mass. It seems that, in contrast to Dutch Auricular, in Germany the use of Knorpel/Ohrmuschelstil for carved frames immediately neighbouring the image was usually restricted to cartouches. The criterion of appropriateness (or decorum) could explain the apparent absence of recorded examples of picture frames in the Auricular style. The anatomical abnormalities, exotic animals and exuberant shapes involved might not have been thought suitable to frame state portraits and historical paintings.


Sebastian Furck (c. 1598–1666), Portrait of Gernand Philipp von Schwalbach, 1645, engraving

This restraint in regard to over-ornate designs is also noticeable in portrait prints, even though the medium itself allowed much more freedom. Both the Frankfurt printmaker Christian Furck and the Nuremberg printmaker Johann Pfann use an Auricular vocabulary of shells and unrolled volutes to frame their printed portraits, and both attached cartouches in the image.


Johann Pfann (active 1625–1670), Portrait of Johann Tobias Schmidtman von Schwartzenbruck, 2nd half 17th century, engraving

Nevertheless, the immediate border of the portrait is composed of a standard profile frame. The Auricular elements are restricted to the outer areas as accessory parts of the framework, which is appropriate for the graphic arts.

[Bildindex der Kunst und Architektur]

 Bartolomé Iselburg, Portrait of Albrecht von Eitzen (Mayor of Hamburg), 1646, engraving

Bartolomé Iselburg’s portrait of Albrecht van Eitzen, the mayor of Hamburg (1646), is also set in a simple oval frieze, which is used for the inscription. Around the outer border the engraver has attached a framework of exotic shells, in parts arranged radially, like little flames. This exceptional and ornate design would have been difficult to execute as a carved wooden frame.


Matthäus Küsel (1629–1681), Portrait of Hans Koch (Mayor in Memmingen), 1654, engraving

Instead of shells, the Augsburg printmaker, Matthaeus Küsell, uses an abstract frame structure of a voluptuous cartilaginous matrix for his portrait print of Hans Koch (Mayor of Memmingen).


Engraving after Michiel van Mierevelt (1567–1641), Portrait of Johan van Oldenbarneveld, 1617

He adapted a frame design in the early Dutch Auricular style, produced by the artist Michiel van Mierevelt and published on a printed portrait of Johan van Oldenbarneveld from 1617 – almost 50 years previously. This example demonstrates not only the vivid artistic exchange which existed through the medium of the graphic arts, but also the constant interest in Dutch Auricular designs, even in the second half of the 17th century in the south of Germany.


Johann Caspar Höckner (1629–1670), Portrait of Immanuel Placotomus (Nicolaus Brettschneider), 1664, engraving

Around the same time another variation of the German Auricular appears in Johann Caspar Höckner’s engraved portrait of Immanuel Placotomus (a lawyer in Leipzig; 1664). Both the cartouches in this design are composed with two central masks and stylized scrolls forming characteristically compact ear shapes, a characteristic feature of the German Auricular. Whilst the soft texture and the fan-like elements around the crowning mask of the upper cartouche are reminiscent of Kager‘s cartouche frames, the staggered scrolls have also been used as a common ornament for South German altarpiece frames.


Limewood frame for a devotional picture, Franconia, 17th century, Bavarian National Museum, Munich

For example, the frame of a Franconian devotional image in the Bavarian National Museum has an underlying aedicular structure over which a tide of acanthus foliage swells and climbs the columns, lapping around the remnants of the entablature, where it swirls like cresting waves. Besides idiosyncratically-curved scrolls, pendant tongues of leaves and curved and swelling outlines are distinctive features of this version of the Auricular style. In spite of the dominance of the Italian Baroque for church interiors, particularly in South Germany, many altarpieces in the Auricular style have survived. Where it used the structure of an aedicular frame, such rich Auricular ornamentation appeared appropriate for altarpieces, as well as for other church furnishings such as epitaphs, organ cases and pulpits. However, apart from in the graphic arts, evidence of Auricular frames for domestic and public interiors is hard to prove.


The Gallery of Ancestors, c. 1726, Duke’s Residence, Munich

 The extensive modernizing campaigns of the 18th century favoured the Rococo style for interiors, which has destroyed a vast amount of evidence of the German early Baroque. Updating a frame in order to preserve an older valued painting in a more contemporary setting was a regular procedure, seen – for example – in the modernizing of the Gallery of Ancestors in the Duke’s Residence in Munich. The Thirty Years War must also be considered as an important factor in the loss of Auricular frames and frameworks. But is there any effective evidence of a particular German Auricular frame style?


Tondi & oval frames from ‘Le cabinet d’amour‘ of the Electress Henrietta Adelaide, c. 1669, Duke’s Residence, Munich, Bavarian National Museum, Munich, Photo: Dr. Sybe Wartena

 A hint can be found in several round and oval frames in the Bavarian National Museum, from paintings which were displayed in ‘Le cabinet d’amour’ of Henrietta Adelaide at the Duke’s palace from about 1669, representing the theme of love between parents and children.[8]  Apart from smaller tondi and oblong paintings, there are nine larger tondi which formed part of the hanging; they have a classically decorated sight edge around which trails of acanthus spring, with Auricular forms and tongues of leaves, as in the altarpiece mentioned above.


Il merito armato dalla fortezza and frame, part of original hanging in ‘Le cabinet d’amour‘ of the Electress Henrietta Adelaide, c. 1669, Duke’s Residence, Bavarian National Museum, Munich

A characteristic feature of these frames is the small jutting scrolls lined with buds or large oval beads, arranged symmetrically and looking like unrolled volutes. At the top and bottom of the frame the foliage becomes more compact, culminating at the crest in a pair of stylized scrolls. These richly-carved designs indicate that Auricular frames with this scrolling acanthus foliage were more prevalent in Germany, particularly in the South, than current research has suggested. These examples were also combined with Auricular frames in a more Italianate style, as part of the overall decorative scheme in the ‘cabinet d’amour‘.


State Room, 17th – 19th century, Castle Burgk, Thuringia

Whilst the original setting has been destroyed, the aesthetic function of frames in an early Baroque setting can be understood at the Castle Burgk in Thuringia. Here the frames were made for three paintings with mythological scenes as part of the interior decoration of the state room. The undulating outlines of the sight edge, resembling Höckner’s design, project over the painted panel. Unfortunately these designs do not originate from the 17th century but are apparently imitations from the late 19th century.


Doorcase of the hall, 1648, in Castle Tiengen, Waldshut

In Castle Tiengen in Waldshut, parts of the interior decorative scheme, dating from about 1648, have been preserved. The doorcase in the hall shows a rich vocabulary of Auricular forms: acanthus leaves, finned and superimposed with lines of buds, trail along the aedicular structure and cover the doors and the entablature frieze.


Friedrich Unteutsch (c. 1600-66), Design for an altarpiece, in Zieratenbuch, 1650/53

These somewhat resemble the designs in Friedrich Unteutsch’s pattern book, Zieratenbuch, from 1650/53, which comprises models for cartouches, furniture and church furnishings (such as altarpieces). In comparison, however, Unteutsch’s designs are characterized by more bulging and fleshily organic shapes and by vegetal scrolls, along with grotesque masks.


Doorcase of the Golden Hall, Old Residence, Urach, 1609–65


Wendel Dietterlin, design from Architectura, 1598, p. 76

Another and earlier example of an Auricular doorcase can be found at the old residence of the Duke of Wurtemberg in Urach. This is probably indebted to Wendel Dietterlin’s architectural designs: the unknown artist decorated the outer perimeter with entwined tendrils, scrolling into distinctly carved spiral ends, highlighted with gold and red paint. These flat, graphic shapes with small elevated details can be traced back to strapwork decorations from the late 16th century.


Epitaph for Georg Conrad Maikler, parcel gilt stone, c. 1647, Lutherkirche, Fellbach, near Stuttgart

The style of this type of ornament can be compared with those found in a South German epitaph. Both ornamental structures use a compact and crosswise-placed volute, highlighted with gold. The epitaph in Fellbach has a simplified, repetitive structure of homogenous scrolls, picked out with gilded spirals and pointed leaf tips.

Regarding decorative interiors in north Germany, an abundance of Auricular decoration on painted walls and ceilings is documented on town houses in Lübeck (St. Annen-Museum). Generally there are more examples of Auricular ornamentation in the north of Germany than the south, probably due to its proximity to the Low Countries. Particular Hanseatic towns such as Bremen, Lübeck or Brunswick stand out, with important works in architecture, interior and church furnishings. [9]


Burckhardt Röhl (?), vault decoration, 1616, plasterwork, Castle Sondershausen, Wendelstein


Vault decoration, 17th century, plasterwork, the Blue Room, Castle Gottorf, Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein

In addition to Auricular architecture, two examples of Auricular plasterwork can be given. Both decorate vaulted ceilings, one in Castle Sonderhausen in Wendelstein, and the other the ‘Blue Room’ in Castle Gottorf, Schleswig-Holstein. The playful designs along the groins of the vaults and around medallions and cartouches combine flowers with scrolls & undulating lines, forming ear-like cartilaginous curves: the literal meaning of ‘Auricular’.


Hans Gudewerdt the Younger, trophy frame, c. 1663–66, Castle Gottorf, Schleswig,  State Museum of Schleswig-Holstein

On the wall of the ‘Blue Room’ a female portrait can be seen, in a trophy frame attributed to Hans Gudewerdt the Younger, an outstanding woodcarver from Eckernförde.


Hans Gudewerdt the Younger, trophy frame (c.1669) on the Blue Madonna, Cathedral of St Peter, Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein

This trophy frame can be compared to a similar frame by Gudewerdt for the altarpiece of the Blue Madonna at the cathedral in Schleswig. In both cases Auricular ornaments provide an underlying structure for the composition of three-dimensional carved fruits, festoons, figures, heraldic shields and religious objects.[10]


Hans Gudewerdt the Younger, Thomas Börnsen-Epitaph, carved wood, 1661, church of St Nikolai, Eckernförde

Gudewerdt executed his altarpieces and epitaphs in a sumptuous and extravagant Auricular style. At the same time the influence of pattern books is tangible in his work: pattern books for the Auricular style often addressed a broad clientele of woodcarvers and other craftsmen, but it seems that they were not commonly used by by framemakers.[11]


Hans Gudewerdt the Younger, Altarpiece, 1641, church of St Nikolai, Kappeln

For the outer framework of his altarpiece in St. Nikolai in Kappeln,[12] Gudewerdt used a stylized leatherwork structure overlaid by fleshy and bulging forms which end in slender scrolling stems, finished by two characteristically intersecting spirals, or by pendant flower buds. In some places creatures seem to emerge from the organic mass, while other parts have a Rococo-like exuberance. Gudewerdt also mixes figures, angels and cherubs’ heads into his matrix of abstract material.


Nikolaus Rosman, ornament around a rectangular panel, left, in Neuw Zirat Büchlein, 1626, Coburg

The agitated structure and the thick bulges with wartlike swellings show an affinity to Nikolaus Rosman’s pattern book designs.

[Bildindex der Kunst und Architektur]

Christian Rothgiesser (fl. 1629–59), Portrait of Johann Adolph Kielmann, 1656, engraving

It is assumed that Rosman’s designs would not have been considered as reproducible in woodwork, because of their exuberant and exceptional use of ornament[13] – an opinion which might be true also for the printed frame around the portrait of Johann Adolph Kielmann, designed by Christian Rothgiesser.


T. Schröder, designs for jewellery, 1650, engraving

A use of Auricular ornament similar to Gudewerdt’s can also be found in Schröder’s pattern book, which employs spirals partly intersecting each other.


Friedrich Unteutsch (c. 1600-66), Design for an altarpiece, in Zieratenbuch, 1650/53

The preference in Gudewerdt’s altarpieces for C-scrolls formed by acanthus leaves can also be found in Unteutsch’s designs, particularly in his designs for altarpieces.[14]


Altarpiece, 17th century, church of St Georg, Spieka

 The altarpiece at the church in Spieka shows a similar structure to Unteutsch’s pattern book.


Crest of an altarpiece, 17th century, Municipal Museum, Flensburg

Hoppius-Epitaph, church of St Stephanus, Fedderwarden, Wilhelmshaven

A different style of north German Auricular can be seen in the altarpiece (above), characterized by more linear shapes, derived from strapwork (including Renaissance motifs like the paired dolphins), or in a more symmetrical, colour-contrasting ornamentation; the latter seems to be indebted to works by Ludwig Münstermanns, a successful Mannerist carver in the region of Oldenburg.


Lorentz Jørgensen (c. 1644–after 1681), altarpiece, 1652, church of St Nicolai, Køge, Denmark

Gudewerdt’s designs had great influence even across national borders: for instance in the designs of Lorentz Jørgensen, who was probably trained in his workshop. Gudewerdt’s extravagant style stands out against the predominant vocabulary of German Auricular, which was mainly based on the ear-shaped scrolls used in altarpieces and picture frames. As an early version of the Auricular style with a strong relation to Dutch designs, the interior decoration of the Golden Hall in Augsburg forms an exception, with its painted and carved cartouches with their organic matrix and use of shells.


Daniela Roberts holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Leipzig and a postgraduate degree in Museum Curator Studies from the University of Munich. Since April 2015 she has been installed as assistant professor at the Institute of Art History, University of Würzburg.  After many years studying 18th & 19th century English architecture she has currently started work on her second theses, Gothic Revival Framing. She recently contributed to an exhibition catalogue on Angelo Uggeri (Altenburg); articles to be published include those on John Nash’s All Souls church in From distaste to mockery, and on Renaissance reframing of trecento painting.


[1] Hermann Kießling, Der Goldene Saal und die Fürstenzimmer im Augsburger Rathaus, München 1997.

[2] Susanne Netzer, Johann Matthias Kager. Stadtmaler in Augsburg (15751634), PhD thesis, München (Uni-Druck) 1980.

[3] Kießling, p. 352.

[4] Günther Irmscher, Kleine Kunstgeschichte des europäischen Ornaments seit der Frühen Neuzeit, Darmstadt 1984, p. 143. Antje-Maria von Graevenitz. Das niederländische Ohrmuschel-Ornament. Munich PhD thesis, Bamberg 1973, pp. 75–80.

[5] Tilman Falk, Vom Weberhaus zum Rathaus. Zeichnungen und Biographisches aus Johann Matthias Kagers Augsburger Zeit, Münchner Jahrbuch 59, 2008, p. 86; Anette Michels, Gezeichnete und gestochene Bilder des Augsburger Kupferstechers Lucas Kilian, in: John Roger Paas (Ed.), Augsburg, die Bilderfabrik Europas, Augsburg 2001, p. 44.

[6] Rudolf Zöllner, Deutsche Säulen-, Zierarten- und Schildbücher 16101680. Ein Beitrag zur Entwicklungsgeschichte des Knorpelwerkstils, PhD Thesis Kiel, 1959, p 15–21.

[7] Graevenitz, p. 75.

[8] For informations about German auricular frames I am much obliged to Roswitha Schwarz, Furniture conservator at the Bavarian National Museum in Munich, who also shared her image material. Corpus der barocken Deckenmalerei in Deutschland, ed. by Hermann Bauer, Bernhard Rupprecht and Frank Büttner, Vol. 3, 2: München, Profanbauten, München 1989, pp. 250–260.

[9] W. R. Zülch, Entstehung des Ohrmuschelstiles, Heidelberg 1932, pp. 107-112; Irmscher, p. 146.

[10] Holger Behling, Hans Gudewerdt der Jüngere (um 16001671), Neumünster 1990, Pl. 135, 136, p. 207–210.

[11] Zülch, p. 115.

[12] Behling, pp. 174–181.

[13] Behling, p. 246.

[14] Behling, p. 246–247.


Auricular plasterwork?

by Dr Claire Gapper

Lime plaster is an eminently suitable material for the creation of decoration in the auricular style. It is malleable and slow-setting, allowing the plasterer to continue perfecting his work over several weeks, whether cast from moulds or hand-modelled. Decorative plasterwork in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries was heading towards an increasingly ‘fleshy’ style but the influence of Inigo Jones meant that, unlike picture frames, it never became fully Auricular.


Fig. 1. Strapwork from Bury Hall, Middlesex (c1620). © Victoria & Albert Museum.

The description of Auricular frames as ‘leatherwork’ in seventeenth-century bills immediately brings to mind the French use of ‘cuirs’ at that time, when referring to ‘strapwork’. Originating in the stuccowork at Fontainebleau, strapwork, became an essential element in English plasterwork. Although hand-run, the strapwork that flowed across plaster ceilings was initially rather flat but by 1620 it had become more three-dimensional, with concave profiles terminating in high-relief scrolls.


Fig. 2. Grotesque mask in the Drawing Room frieze at Lyme Park, Cheshire (c1600). © Richard Gapper. By courtesy of the National Trust.

A similar trend can be observed in the cartouches that accompanied strapwork, both of which were combined with ‘grotteschi’ – masks, lion heads, small whimsical figures – to produce the ceilings and friezes typical of Elizabethan and Jacobean England.


Fig. 3. Detail of the great chamber ceiling at Hall Place, Bexley, Kent (c.1650). © Richard Gapper. By courtesy of the Bexley Heritage Trust.

Plasterers were clearly well-placed to adopt the Auricular style when it became fashionable but this development failed to materialise. Inigo Jones wrought a dramatic change in the design of ceilings. Beams decorated with guilloche and scrolling acanthus, laid out geometrically, replaced enriched ribs and strapwork; and architectural mouldings became the primary source of decoration. This severity was lightened by garlands of bay leaves or of fruit and foliage, the latter occasionally incorporating lion heads and grotesque masks, as at Ham House. Clearly some patrons found this chaste style too plain and soon the fields between the beams blossomed with a greater variety of motifs and vigorously scrolling acanthus. Forde Place, Dorset and Hall Place, Kent (both 1650s) provide vivid examples of this mixed style. Even here, symmetry was maintained and decoration failed to break the bounds of its geometrical framework. Nor did outlines dissolve into the rippling distortion typical of Auricular frames to provide running ornament.


Fig. 4. Cartouche from a ceiling at a house in Surrey (1680s). © Claire Gapper. By kind permission of the owners.

Although increasingly exuberant in its decoration, the Jonesian model prevailed for the rest of the century. Cartouches, as fields for heraldic display, remained popular but despite their ebullient modelling, do not really qualify as ‘ear-like’. English plasterers and patrons alike ceased to venture any further along the Auricular path.

Dr Claire Gapper is an independent scholar.

The Auricular Today – putting an ear to the ground: an abstract by Steve Shriver


Mars-1 (aka Mario Martinez), Nuclear Mystics, 2009

When I first discovered the pleasures of Auricular ornament in Alain Gruber’s 1994 book on the history of decorative arts a few years ago, I was immediately struck by the similarities of the work of Lutma et al to that of Salvador Dalí and the biomorphic Surrealists. This relationship lay not only in the swooping curves and drooping forms of the figures and landscapes described, but also in the malleability of their meaning, where forms never quite coalesce into that which they seem to imply, instead forming a hallucinatory and often times erotic series of folds, bumps and extrusions.

For the purposes of this paper  I would like to focus on a number of works by modern and contemporary artists who speak in the language of the Auricular, whether they are aware of it or not. Many artists in the 20-21st centuries have used elements of this vocabulary which derives from the original manifestation of the 17th century style; however, with the lessening importance of art history in a fine art degree these days, it is easily possible that some of them have never been conscious of their predecessors in the Auricular.

I shall attempt to trace aspects of the grotesque, the use of masks, and the meltingly fleshy forms of zoömorphic motifs in the work of artists from Picasso to Roberto Matta, and later in paintings by Pop artists such as Basil Wolverton, ‘biomechanical’ artists like H.R. Giger, and street artists like Mars-1.


Steve Shriver is a visual artist and art historian who has spoken and exhibited worldwide. He has taught at the Palos Verdes Art Center, The Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, American Society of Interior Designers, The Representational Arts Conference, and the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston, South Carolina. He has public murals in Hermosa Beach and San Pedro, California, and numerous private murals around the world. You can see more of his work online.

The development of an Auricular Style in Florence, c.1600-40: an abstract by Adriana Turpin

Adriana Turpin Image 2

Ottavio Miseroni, double mascaron tazza in green and red agate, c.1605, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Bernardo Buontalenti (1531-1608) produced designs for architecture and works of art at the Medici court in the late 16th century, developing fluid and naturalistic motifs which have elements in common with those of the Van Vianens. Among the most famous examples is his design for a vase, executed in lapis lazuli in the Grand Ducal workshops and mounted in gold & enamel by Jacopo Bylivelt (1581-4), now in the Museo degli Argenti. Buontalenti’s work continues the zoömorphic tradition of the Miseroni family in Milan, who had supplied a number of commissions for Cosimo I de’ Medici in the 16th century. Although these works in hard stone have been much studied by such authorities as Rudolf Distelberger, Willemijn Fock and Anna Maria Giusti, the latter have concentrated on their stylistic development, rather than their rôle in the early development of the Auricular style in Florence. Of particular interest here is the relationship between the Florentine court and that of the Emperor Rudolph I in Prague. Not only were there familial ties, but Rudolph acquired works of pietre dure from Florence, and persuaded Castrucci to work at his court. Such exchanges need to be examined in order to explore the relationships between the artists of the two courts and the possible exchange of motifs and designs – for example, on a lapis lazuli vase designed by Buontalenti (Kunsthistorisches Museum), and a frame on a sculpture by Donatello presented by Claudia de’ Medici to Archduke Leopold in 1624.

In his capacity as court architect, Buontalenti extended zoomorphic elements from vases and tazze to architectural forms: his fluid, fleshy curves used for the cartouches in the door frames of the Supplicants in the Uffizi (1576-7) and his designs for windows & other architectural features reflect this. His followers continued to include such motifs, e.g. in a casket for Cosimo II de’ Medici by Matteo Nigetti (c.1560/70-1648), who succeeded Buontalenti and worked extensively on the Capella dei Principe. The use of such organic motifs was one of the elements leading to the development of the Auricular and its interpretation in Florence, particularly, for instance, in the development of the cartouche by Agostino Mitelli (1509-1660), who came to Florence in 1637 to work on the ceiling paintings of the summer apartments at the Pitti Palace. His bold and innovative illusionistic paintings (1604-1607), created in partnership with Angelo Michele Colonna, have long been admired; the designs for cartouches are particularly interesting as they reflect the same interest in fleshy, scrolling strapwork as of Florentine craftsmen. The final part of this paper will explore the origins of Mitelli’s interest in this type of cartouche and its possible relationship with the frame surrounding a Madonna & Child by Andrea del Sarto, thought to have been bequeathed to Grand Duke Cosimo I in 1615 by the Marquese Botti, and in the collection of Charles I by 1642, when it was inventoried at Somerset House.


Adriana Turpin studied History at Oxford and Art History at the Courtauld Institute. She is the Academic Director of two MA programmes on the History and Business of Art & Collecting, run by the Institut d’Études Supèrieures des Arts in Paris, validated by the University of Warwick. She is a founder member of the Seminar on Display and Collecting at the Institute of Historical Research, and is the co-editor of their publications.

Adriana has written on a variety of topics related to collecting and to the history of furniture, including most recently ‘The Value of a Collection: Collecting Practices in Early Modern Europe, Locating and Dislocating Value: A Pragmatic Approach to Early Modern and Nineteenth-Century Economic Practices, eds. Bert De Munck & Dries Lyna, 2014; ‘Objectifying the Domestic Interior: Domestic Furnishings and the Historical Interpretation of the Italian Renaissance Interior, The Early Modern Italian Domestic Interior, 1400-1700, eds. Erin Campbell et al, 2013; and ‘The Display of Exotica in the Tribuna’, Collecting East and West, eds. Susan Bracken, Andrea Galdy & Adriana Turpin, 2012.

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

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.

Auricular ornament in Dutch architecture (1610-75): an abstract by Dr Pieter Vlaardingerbroek

P Vlaardingerbroek - image - Auricular Style Frames

Philips Vingboons (1607-78), drawing for a porch in the home of Joan Huydecoper, 1639

When speaking about Auricular ornament in Holland, most art historians refer either to works of art in silver in the first decades of the 17th century or to the revival of the style as can be seen in picture frames and furniture of the third quarter of that century. This revival is generally ascribed to the edition of prints from around 1650, made by the silversmiths Lutma and by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, son of an Amsterdam goldsmith. Their cartouches were a source of inspiration for many Auricular oeils-de-boeuf on façades alongside the canals, and we have the impression that this kind of ornament was taught to students during their formation in becoming craftsmen. A set of newly-discovered architectural study drawings seems to point in that direction. It is as if there is a absence of Auricular ornament between 1620-50.

Despite the existence of Auricular ornament in architecture, it hardly plays a rôle in scholarly publications about Auricular ornament. This is rather a pity, as datable examples of the style can be found in churches and public buildings. One of the most wonderful examples of Auricular ornament in Holland dates back to c. 1650. The magnificent choir screen of the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam is a combination of architecture and metalwork by Johannes Lutma. This screen can however not be disconnected from earlier examples in the 1640s and 1630s. We know of several works of around 1640 by the architect Philips Vingboons, in which Auricular ornament is used, both on façades and in interiors. There are several gravestones from the 1630s which also show a fully developed Auricular ornament.

Even in the work of the sculptor & architect Hendrick de Keyser Auricular ornament already existed from 1610 onwards. As a sculptor he also worked with bronze, which might explain the early use of such ornament, and its transfer to work in stone. Interestingly enough, he was born and educated in Utrecht, the centre of the Auricular style in the Netherlands; and even more interestingly, he was a close friend to Hendrick Goltzius, the renowned Haarlem painter, who had already designed prints with Auricular ornament in the 1590s. It is therefore not at all surprising that Haarlem probably has the earliest such ornament to be seen in Dutch architecture: Lieven de Key used it around the Haarlem coat of arms on the side façade of his Meat Hall (1601-03). And as a result of the friendship between Goltzius and De Keyser it is hardly surprising either that Auricular ornament found its way into architecture and the decorative arts in Amsterdam. Hendrick de Keyser often used it in his architecture, and his many sons – who were active in both architecture and sculpture – took it further into the third and fourth decades of the 17th century. Pieter de Keyser is responsible for some very early and datable examples of Auricular style in Amsterdam around 1620.

In short, in my paper I want to show many examples of early Auricular style, existing within the field of architecture. By doing so, I will try to prove that this style was used continuously during the period 1600-75.


Dr Pieter Vlaardingerbroek is an architectural historian, working at the Heritage Office of the City of Amsterdam and as an assistant professor at Utrecht University. In 2011, he published his PhD research on the Amsterdam Town Hall. In 2013, he wrote and edited books about the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, the architect Adriaan Dortsman (1635-82) and the Amsterdam Canals.

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

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.

Gilt leather: a creative industry ‘avant la lettre’: an abstract by Dr Eloy Koldeweij

E Koldeweij - image - Auricular Style Frames

Hans le Maire, Amsterdam gilt leather-maker (1576-1640), gilt leather panel, c.1635-40, detail with Auricular mascaron.

On 4 August 1628 Jacob Dircxz de Swart (before 1594-1641), gilt leather-maker in The Hague, was granted a patent by the States General of the Dutch Republic for fourteen years on a new production method by which it was possible to mass-produce gilt leather with relief patterns. These so-called embossed gilt leathers enjoyed an immediate public vogue. Due to the enormous demand De Swart asked his former companion Hans le Maire (1586-1641), who had moved in 1617 to Amsterdam, to share in his patent. This embossed gilt leather became highly fashionable, both in- and outside the northern Netherlands, not least because specially designed new patterns were introduced which fully exploited the high relief effects. Due to its success, others tried to join in this prosperous venture – one of them successfully: the Amsterdam merchant Maarten van den Heuvel (1585? -1661), who gained protection from the city government of Amsterdam.

The appearance of this embossed Dutch gilt leather was very different from the traditional flat version, the production of which was dominated by leather-makers from Spain and Italy, both of which countries had a long tradition of gilt leatherwork created under strong regulation by the guilds. The patterns of the flat gilt leathers from these countries closely followed traditional textile patterns.

As newcomers to the market, the Dutch gilt leather-makers managed to develop a completely new appearance for their embossed gilt leather. De Swart, Le Maire and Van den Heuvel approached some of the best contemporary artists to produce designs for their newly-developed technique. Amongst these were the painters Andries de Haen and Pieter Potter, the engravers Romeyn de Hooghe, Pieter Serwouters, Christoffel van Sichem sr and jr., and several silversmiths, including some of the best Dutch craftsmen of the period: Hans Coenraadt Brechtel, Michiel Esselbeeck, the brothers Joost and Johannes Lutma, Servaes Kock, François Leermans, Thomas Jacobsz en Elbert Jansz.

Luckily, some of the products from the workshops of Jacob Dircxz de Swart, Hans le Maire and Maarten den Heuvel still survive today. Quite remarkably, the Auricular style is well presented in the patterns of these gilt leathers. One extraordinary example is, for example, the gilt leather wall hanging with its Auricular ornaments from the commissioners’ house on the Leiden-Delft canal; this was delivered in 1649 by the workshop of the late Jacob Dircxz de Swart. Hans le Maire marked some of his gilt leathers with his initials ‘HLM’; one of these, a long panel, has an Auricular style pattern with fruits, flowers, festoons and putti. And from the workshop of Maarten van den Heuvel a gilt leather plaque survives with the portrait of the Swedish king Gustav II Adolf (1594–1632) in a an Auricular style cartouche, dated 1632.


Dr Eloy Koldeweij (1959) studied History of Art at Leiden University, the Netherlands, where he specialized in historic interiors. After his PhD research on gilt leather hangings, he worked in several museums, amongst others the Victoria & Albert Museum. Since 1997, he has been the senior specialist on historic interiors at the Cultural Heritage Agency of The Netherlands. He has published and lectured extensively on gilt leather, and on other topics specific to the historic Dutch interior, including wall-hangings, floors, and stucco & plasterwork. He is currently involved in several projects on interiors, amongst others on interior ensembles, and is also lecturing part-time at the University of Utrecht.