Reframing at the National Gallery, London: Part 4

This is the fourth of a series of short articles on the reframing projects undertaken by the National Gallery, London, under the Head of Framing, Peter Schade. The articles were originally published in the National Gallery’s Review of the Year, from 2008-09 onwards, and are republished here by kind permission of the Gallery, and with added illustrations.

4: Review of the year April 2011 – March 2012: Framing, by Peter Schade

Only two of the National Gallery’s group of five paintings by the Venetian eighteenth-century artist Pietro Longhi have retained their original frames. Among the others is the very popular painting of Clara the rhinoceros (a great eighteenth-century celebrity in Europe), which was previously displayed in an unsuitable 19th century frame.

NG 1101 Pietro Longhi, Exhibition of a rhinoceros at Venice, probably 1751, corner detail of previous late 19th century reproduction ‘Longhi-style’ frame with a shallow ogee moulding, ornamented cheaply in compo (composition) laid flat on the wood

Longhi’s five paintings of Venetian genre scenes are not part of a series but they usually hang together. The frames therefore ought to be harmonious and similar, but ideally not exactly the same.

NG 1334 Pietro Longhi (1701-85), A fortune teller in Venice, c.1756, o/c, 59.1 x 48.6 cm., original antique carved giltwood ‘Longhi’ frame and detail

Two of the pictures have original ‘Longhi’ frames: A fortune teller in Venice (NG 1334) and A nobleman kissing a lady’s hand (NG 5852; below). There are various frame styles named after a particular artist, but most serve only as descriptive shortcuts and are rarely founded on a known connection to the artist (Sansovino, Herrera, Salvator Rosa, Carlo Maratta, Lely and Canaletto for example).

NG 5852 Pietro Longhi (1701-85), A nobleman kissing a lady’s hand, c.1746, o/c, 61.3 x 49.5 cm., original antique carved giltwood ‘Longhi’ frame, detail of painted frame in background, and detail of carved frame

However, we are justified in linking this type of frame with Longhi, since two of his paintings are in their original frames, and, furthermore, we can identify an identical frame in the background of A nobleman kissing a lady’s hand (NG 5852). Longhi painted many Venetian scenes of this size and when we acquired two ‘Longhi’ frames we found that they were an exact fit for two of the Gallery’s paintings.

NG 1100 Pietro Longhi (1701-85), An interior with three women and a seated man, c.1750-55, o/c, 61.3 x 49.7 cm., now rehoused in antique carved giltwood ‘Longhi’ frame, and detail

NG 5841 Pietro Longhi (1701-85), A lady receiving a cavalier, 1745-55, in previous frame: a mid-18th century ‘Longhi’ frame which had lost its carved acanthus leaf moulding from the inside of the scotia or hollow, and had been fitted to the painting with an inlay; now restored and used for NG 1101

NG 5841 Pietro Longhi (1701-85), A lady receiving a cavalier, 1745-55, o/c, 61.5 x 50.7 cm., now rehoused in antique carved giltwood ‘Longhi’ frame

The newly acquired frames now contain An interior with three women and a seated man (NG 1100) and A lady receiving a cavalier (NG 5841). They are unrestored and almost perfectly preserved with beautifully accentuated matt and burnished gilding.

NG 1101 Pietro Longhi (1701-85), Exhibition of a rhinoceros in Venice, c.1751, o/c, 60.4 x 47 cm., in the newly restored ‘Longhi’ frame, and details

The lost inner edge of the damaged frame, previously on NG 5841, A lady receiving a cavalier,  was re-carved and adapted for the slightly smaller format of Exhibition of a rhinoceros in Venice (NG 1101). This seemed the best solution, because this frame is slightly wider: thus both emphasising the most famous painting in the group and achieving a unity of the outside dimensions of all five Longhis. The resulting display is not only historically appropriate but also fulfils our aim to achieve harmony without uniformity.

The acquisition and restoration of the three frames was fully funded by the generous support of James and Clare Kirkman. We were very fortunate to attract support from individual donors for several projects this year, some still in progress. More than half of the National Gallery’s frame acquisitions would have been impossible without their help.

Longhis on display

Pietro Longhi’s five paintings of Venetian genre scenes hanging together in the Gallery; from left to right: An interior with three women and a seated man (NG 1100), A nobleman kissing a lady’s hand (NG 5852), Exhibition of a rhinoceros in Venice (NG 1101), A fortune teller in Venice (NG 1334), and A lady receiving a cavalier (NG 5841).


Paintings reframed in 2011–2012

Framed with newly acquired antique frames


NG 1282 Giovanni Bilivert (1585-1644), St Zenobius revives a dead boy, c. 1610-20, o/c, 205 x 164.4 cm., in previous 1970s reproduction Mannerist-style frame, adapted with large projecting lobed corners; beading at back edge; exaggerated fluting on a hollow ogee moulding, forming a knull on the top edge; dark bronze-toned finish

NG 1282 Giovanni Bilivert, St Zenobius revives a dead boy, and detail of corner, plus frame during restoration; reframed in 17th century Italian Baroque carved giltwood frame, possibly Venetian, with shallow concave profile; with egg-&-dart at back edge; up-curved cross-cut alternating band of scallop shells & roses with shaped outer contour; rose bud-&-leaf corners; oval beads; flowered sight edge; water-gilded and patinated

The main ornament of the new frame is fortuitously appropriate, in that St Zenobius is associated with flowers (he is buried in Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence; his house is decorated annually with flowers; his attribute is a flowering elm tree). The scallop shells are also appropriate as a symbol of baptism: St Zenobius had been converted and baptized by Bishop Theodore, and he himself evangelized and converted many Florentines.

Cima da Conegliano

NG 300 Cima (c.1459/60-c.1517/18), The Virgin and Child, c.1496-99, o/panel, 69.2 x 57.2 cm., and detail; in previous 20th century British reproduction of a Renaissance-style cassetta with architrave profile, nocked moulding at back edge; frieze with coarse undulating vine and floret with flower corners; astragal-&-double bead; probably given to painting in 1962-64

NG 300 Cima, The Virgin and Child, c.1496-99, and detail; reframed in 16th century Italian Renaissance cassetta with shallow entablature profile; stylized leaf tip at back edge; egg-&-dart; frieze with running foliage and flower ornament in the form of a Vitruvian wave, with corner cassettes holding florets; cable moulding; dentil moulding; guilloche at sight edge; water gilded and patinated

This frame was happily just the right size for the panel, and as well as also being of approximately the right period is decorated with a continuous pattern of scrolling leaves and rosettes – roses being one of the attributes of the Virgin. Altogether it has five orders of ornament, the five inner rows (beneath the sculptural egg-&-dart) being small and shallow, and imparting a flicker of light and movement around the image.

Lorenzo Costa

NG 2083 Costa (1460-1535), Portrait of Battista Fiera (?), c.1490-95, o/panel, 51.4 x 38.7 cm., in previous mid-late 19th century reproduction 16th century-style frame, with shallow concave profile; with spiral ribbon at back edge; torus at top edge carved into a garland of imbricated figs and fig leaves, centred with clasps, leaf buds at corners; concave frieze (mixed carving/compo?) with opposed lily flowers, bell flowers & iris on a punched (moulded?) ground with compo leaf corners; astragal -&-double bead at original sight edge.

This frame had very obviously been cut down on all four sides (possibly around 1910), losing a lily at top & bottom, and had also had an inlay fitted, presumably for a glazing door; it had also been regilded.

NG 2083 Costa, Portrait of Battista Fiera (?), and detail; reframed in late 15th-early 16th century Italian cassetta, with architrave profile; wide frieze carved in low relief with two continuous undulating vines, springing from tied volutes, bottom centre, and meeting in scrolls at top, on a textured ground; gilded

The flowers on the frieze include borage flowers (for courage) in the corners and centres, and columbine flowers (?) at the demi-centres (for innocence, sorrow, fertility). They are carved with a softness and fluency which is extremely engaging, and lit by the touches of original gilding on the meticulously punched background. The frame did not need to be adjusted at all, as it fitted the painting.


NG 6138 Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709), The Haarlem Lock, Amsterdam, c.1663-65, o/c, 77 x 98 cm., in previous French Louis XIV ogee frame with projecting scrolling foliate, fanned lambrequin corners and S-scroll, foliate and shell centres, all on diapered grounds; with foliate strapwork and sunflower ornament on cross-hatched ground on the ogee; sanded  frieze; acanthus leaf-tip sight edge; probably a collector’s choice

NG 6138 Hobbema, The Haarlem Lock, Amsterdam, and detail; reframed in a 17th century Netherlandish ogee bolection frame, veneered with ebony on pine

A strikingly beautiful piece of shaped and veneered wood, which descends in a series of softly-flowing and finely-cut curves back to the wall, pushing the painting forward to the viewer and also emphasizing its interior space, this frame enhances the calmness and static geometry of lock and masts. The contrast with the previous setting, with its restless ornament and dulled gilding, is one of extremes.

Francisque Millet

NG 5593 Francisque Millet (1642-79), Mountain landscape with lightning, c.1675, o/c, 97.3 x 127.1 cm., in previous 19th century British NeoClassical revival scotia frame (1850s-90s), with centred bunched bay leaf-&-berry torus, fluted scotia with layered acanthus leaf corners; stopped channel fluting in cavetto; acanthus leaf-&-C-scroll sight edge; inlay

This frame had been enlarged on the short sides with an inserted centre section, having hand-made fluting in the scotia and a rose centre to the bay-leaf torus.

NG 5593 Francisque Millet, Mountain landscape with lightning, and detail during restoration; reframed in 17th century French Louis XIV carved giltwood frame with ogee profile; with complex leaf tip at back edge; projecting corners with foliate C-scrolls & strapwork, with fanned lambrequins on a basketwork ground; projecting centres with foliate C-scrolls & strapwork, with leaf buds on a basketwork ground; joined by scrolling foliate strapwork on a cross-hatched ground; scrolling foliate-&-buds on a diapered ground at sight edge

This French Baroque frame, with its sculptural ornament, textured ground (the cross-hatching and basketwork patterns cut into the gesso by the répareur or ‘recutter’) and warm gilding acts as a majestic foil for the panoramic landscape with its equally careful detail and spectrum of greens and blues. It is contemporary to the picture, and has been fitted to it with a small integral inlay to avoid unnecessary interference with the ornament.


NG 6153 Murillo (1617-82), Self Portrait, c.1670, o/c, 122 x 107 cm., in previous 18th century British ‘Hogarth’ style frame, with a bolection profile in stained and polished wood; with gilded moulding at the back edge, and stylized gilded acanthus leaf tip at the sight edge; probably framed like this after the acquisition of the painting from Althorp House in 1953

NG 6153 Murillo Self Portrait, and details; reframed in 17th century Baroque Spanish centre-&-corner bolection frame, with concave profile; with flower-&-acanthus leaf tip at back edge; corner & centre deep relief scrolling foliate ornaments applied in hollow; leaf tip-&-petal ogee at sight edge; parcel gilt and painted black

The previous frame may have been chosen because for its echo of the torus of the integral painted frame, and for the way in which the stylized acanthus ornament at the sight edge has a vaguely ‘Spanish’ look in the way the tips of the acanthus leaves are rounded; however, apart from its genesis and anachronistic style, the repetition of the very plain moulding was deadening, and robbed the painting of some of its animation and immediacy. Reframing it in a setting from its own locale and era has restored its authority, and enhanced the dynamic sense of the artist’s presence; the characteristic large leaf corners and centres provide focal emphases which concentrate the viewer’s attention on his face.


NG 39 Poussin (1594-1665), The Nurture of Bacchus, c.1628, o/c, 80.9 x 97.7 cm., in previous British late 19th– early 20th century reproduction Louis XIV-style ogee frame, ornamented in compo; with dentil back edge; projecting centres and corners with foliated C-scrolls & fanned lambrequin ornaments on a pressed diapered ground; continuous scrolling foliate decoration with florets on a pressed cross-hatched ground; sanded frieze; acanthus leaf & leaf bud sight edge; inlay to fit painting

NG 39 Poussin, The Nurture of Bacchus, and detail; reframed in 17th century French Baroque Louis XIII garland frame, with torus profile; flowered back edge; rose-centred torus carved with bunched rose leaves & roses à tiges, oak leaves & acorns, and bay leaves & berries, with roses at the ends of the long sides and acanthus corners; double spiral ribbon; leaf tip sight edge; water-gilded

The combination of roses à tiges with the oak and bay leaves is particularly rich for a Louis XIII torus frame.

Jakob Seisenegger

NG 4206 Jakob Seisenegger (1504/05-67), Portrait of a girl, c.1545-50, o/panel, 28.9 x 21.6 cm., in previous 20th century reproduction German cabinetmaker’s frame (probably c.1920s but Victorian in structure and finish), with entablature profile; frieze and smaller inner canted frieze, veneered in burr walnut; separating astragal, complex top and sight mouldings, all in stained and polished wood; gilt inlay

NG 4206 Jakob Seisenegger, Portrait of a girl, reframed in 18th century Netherlandish ebony cabinetmaker’s frame with concave and canted profile; water-gilded sight edge

Although this frame is rather later than the painting, it is very close in effect to other wooden frames on Seisenegger’s work.

Jan Steen

NG 856 Steen (1626-79), A young woman playing a harpsichord to a young man, c.1659, o/panel, 42.3 x 33 cm., in previous British 20th century reproduction Louis XV-style frame, with straight sides; projecting C-scroll, foliate and fanned lambrequin corners with a diapered ground; strapwork, foliate and shell centres on a diapered ground; scotia with very low relief flowered sprigs; sanded frieze; acanthus tip sight edge

NG 856 Steen, A young woman playing a harpsichord…, and details; reframed in a 17th century Netherlandish bolection frame, and details; veneered in tortoiseshell; with a stepped, convex and canted profile

The moulding at the back edge and echoing moulding at sight edge are scraped into the tortoiseshell, rather than its being heated and shaped; the lost sight moulding at the top has therefore been replaced with a painted element.

Paolo Uccello

NG 6294 Uccello (c.1397-1475), St George and the dragon, c.1470, o/c, 55.6 x 74.2 cm., in previous Baroque-style ogee moulding frame

NG 6294 Uccello (c.1397-1475), St George and the dragon, and detail; reframed in 16th century cassetta (either Spanish or Italian); entablature profile; water-gilded

Adriaen van de Velde

NG 869 Van de Velde (1636-72), Golfers on the ice near Haarlem, 1668, o/panel, 30.3 x 36.4 cm., in previous mid-20th century pastiche Louis XIV-style reproduction compo frame of poor quality, applied in the early 1960s; with a shallow concave profile; with low relief fanned lambrequin & scrolling foliate corners, joined by strapwork, acanthus leaf & leaf-bud running ornament on a pseudo cross-hatched ground, and stepped mouldings to the sight edge; gilded overall with schlagmetal

NG 869 Van de Velde, Golfers on the ice near Haarlem, reframed in 18th century Netherlandish frame with concave profile, veneered in ebony; with a wide band of ripple moulding at top edge, and narrow ripple moulding at sight edge

The previous frame was of poor production and finish, the ornament and ersatz gilding sucking the atmosphere and spatial depth out of the painting. This contemporary polished ebony frame has more than restored the relationship between painting and viewer, providing a foil to the chill sunset expanses of sky and emphasizing the rapid perspectival shift to the far horizon.


NG 230 Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), St Francis in meditation, 1635-39, o/c, 152 x 99 cm., in previous 17th century Italian cassetta, architrave with convex & ogee top and sight mouldings, made of poplar and grained as faux walnut with mordant-gilded corner & centre scrolling foliate-&-flower bud panels, with florets at demi-centres

NG 230 Francisco de Zurbarán, St Francis in meditation, reframed in restored 17th century Spanish reverse architrave frame; ebonized frieze, with carved giltwood stylized leaf-tip moulding at sight edge

The sobriety of this frame, as well as its Spanish provenance, made it indisputably a more appropriate and complementary frame for this archetypal image by Zurbarán.


Framed from Gallery stock


NG3949 Titian (attrib.; fl.1506-d.1576), Portrait of a man (Girolamo Fracastoro?), c.1528, o/c, 84 x 73.5 cm., in previous Italian Baroque bolection torus frame, with cavetto at back edge, the torus carved overall with spiralling acanthus leaves centred with stylized acanthus leaf clasps, and with leaf corners; probably first third 17th century; regilded

NG 3949 Titian, Portrait of a man, and corner details; reframed in Venetian ‘Sansovino’ frame, probably last third 16th century; symmetrical around vertical axis, made of pine wood, with concave profile on a flat frieze; broken scrolling crest, voluted at each corner, with abbreviated swan’s neck scrolls at centre & two pendant swags of fruit, central flower & two corner florets; the pilasters with scrolls at top & base, & a scroll looped round central frieze echoed by a swag of fruit & flowers above it, with pecking bird; vestigial capitals depending straight stylized leaves supported on a winged three-quarter profile cherub’s head, & echoing pedestals supported on double C-scroll; the base with S-scrolls crossed by C-scrolls, each side with fruit swags and florets, centred on an angel’s head carved frontally; leaf-&-dart sight edge; parcel-gilt finish with polychromy: blue ground suggesting a pierced frieze, and remnants of colour on the faces

The style of the previous frame was too late for the painting, and noticeably too mean and narrow to do justice to its style and composition. The ‘Sansovino’ frame which replaces it is a virtuoso, theatrical production, perfectly matched to the magnificent presence of the portrait itself. The sitter is now set back in the space behind the sill of what has become a great sculptural window frame, decorated with a richness which is a complement to the small range of painted colours, and where elements of the carved ornament create surprising focal relationships with the portrait – for example, the two upper scrolls on each side echo the curves of the face, and direct the eyes towards it.


Frame reproductions

NG 1661 Leonardo da Vinci (associate of; 1452-1519), An angel in green with a vielle, c.1490-99, o/panel, 117.2 x 60.8 cm., and NG 1662 Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis (c.1455-1510), An angel in red with a lute, both from the San Francesco Altarpiece, Milan, c.1495-99, o/panel, 118.8 x 61 cm.; both in the previous 20th century frames, constructed after 1931 in the style of a Renaissance cassetta; both made from antique mouldings with new sight edges; the original polychrome finish of the antique sections (black and red paint on gesso ground) concealed beneath sanding on the frieze and an overall gilded finish.

NG 1661 Leonardo da Vinci (associate of), An angel in green, and Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis, An angel in red, reframed in replica 15th– 16th century Italian-style carved giltwood borders with a flat frieze between minimal fillets; the frieze with a low-relief enriched guilloche scrolling continuously round the frame; gilded and patinated on a blue ground

These two angels panels were originally part of a major altarpiece commissioned from Leonardo and Ambrogio de Predis for San Francesco Grande, Milan, and for which Leonardo executed the large panel, The Virgin of the rocks, of which the Gallery owns the second version (NG 1093; the first version is in the Musée du Louvre).

Giacomo del Maino & workshop, Altar of the Immaculate Conception, post-1495, San Maurizio, Ponte in Valtellina

The Virgin of the rocks was reframed in 2010, and a great deal of research was carried out in order to achieve the most authentic design possible. The reconstruction of the frame was based on the sculptural Altar of the Immaculate Conception, post-1495, San Maurizio, Ponte in Valtellina, carved by Giacomo del Maino and his workshop, from whom the original frame for The Virgin of the rocks had been commissioned (before the painting was executed) for the church of San Francesco. The altarpiece in Ponte in Valtellina was photographed and studied, and was found to be very close in its structure and ornamental elements to a partial 16th century aedicular frame which had been fortuitously purchased from Genoa (see ‘National Gallery frames: an interview with Peter Schade’).

Top, detail of the guilloche on the upper tier of the altarpiece in Ponte in Valtellina; bottom, detail of the guilloche frame of the Angel in red

The carved guilloche frames for NG1661 and NG1662, Angel in green and Angel in red, were based on the guilloche carved in the pilasters of the top tier of the Ponte in Valtellina altarpiece.

NG 1093 Leonardo (1452-1519), The Virgin of the rocks, 1491/92-99, and 1506-08, o/panel, 189.5 x 120 cm.

NG 6337 Leonardo (1452-1519), The Virgin and Child with St Anne and the infant John the Baptist (‘The Burlington House Cartoon’), c.1499-1500, charcoal and white chalk on paper, mounted on canvas, 141.5 x 104.6 cm., in previous frame: a giltwood ogee moulding carved with cross-cut stylized lotus leaves with a top fillet, made c.1964/65 and used for the cartoon from then until 1991, and then again from 2002 or earlier until 2011

NG 6337 Leonardo cartoon and detail, reframed in replica Tuscan Mannerist carved walnut tabernacle frame, in the style of the third quarter of the 16th century, reflecting the display of Renaissance drawings at a that period in trompe l’oeil borders; with bolection profile and wide frieze; outset corners, the single straight contour at the top supporting undecorated cornice; the inset lateral rails with S-scrolled supporting brackets with central half-round motif on a fillet; the inset bottom rail with a double C-scrolled apron; stained & polished

This frame was modelled on the example illustrated as fig. 24, on p.53, in T. Newbery, G. Bisacca, L. Kanter, Italian Renaissance Frames, 1990, Metropolitan Museum, New York. It also echoes the frames drawn by Giorgio Vasari in the mounts for his collection of Renaissance drawings, Il libro de disegni. It is purely a decorative façade for the cartoon, however, rather than a containing frame; it has been engineered to slide onto the carriage of the metal support of the drawing.

NG 1665 Marco d’Oggiono (fl.1487-d.1524), Portrait of a man aged 20 (‘The Archinto Portrait’), o/panel, 53.3 x 38.1 cm., in previous Italian Baroque convex frame with fluted back edge, perhaps with French influence, probably 17th century; with projecting corners joined by undulating foliate decoration, centred with flower drops; regessoed and regilded in the 19th century, possibly over original gilding

NG 1665 Marco d’Oggiono, Portrait of a man aged 20, reframed in a replica 16th century Italian-style carved wooden cassetta, with an architrave profile; the frieze carved with continuous low-relief undulating vine of ivy-like leaves & flowers, with flower corners, centred at top and bottom with paired bound volutes, all on a punched ground; gilded a dark red gold & patinated

The design of this frame was based on the antique late 15th–early 16th century Italian cassetta purchased for NG 2083, Lorenzo Costa, Battista Fiera (see above).

NG 6350 Rembrandt (1606-69), Belshazzar’s Feast, c.1636-38, o/c, 167.6 x 209.2 cm., in previous reproduction Netherlandish 17th century-style cabinetmaker’s frame, made in the Gallery in 1986; ebonized (painted black & beeswaxed) & parcel-gilt jelutong, with an exceptionally deep raked top edge with ogee inner profile; stepped ogee & convex mouldings; flat frieze; double ogee sight edge

This frame was chosen by the curator at the time, and was said to be based on an original 17th century Netherlandish frame, although a specific model is not recorded.

Frans Hals (1582-1666), The Regents of the St Elizabeth Hospital, 1641, o/c, 153 x 252 cm., Frans Hals Museum

NG 6350 Rembrandt, Belshazzar’s Feast, and details; reframed in a replica of a 17th century Netherlandish ebony cabinetmaker’s frame, with entablature profile and wide frieze, veneered with polished ebony on a wooden carcase with gilded sight edge

When it was decided to reframe such an important work by Rembrandt, research suggested the original frame on Fran Hals’s group portrait of hospital regents, executed within four or five years of the Gallery’s painting, as the most suitable model. The mouldings are finely cut by hand, as they would have been in the 17th century, and the use of an ebony veneer gives a depth of subtly changing colour within its velvety blacks, and a warmth which harmonizes admirably with the painting.


Supporters 2011–2012

Mr L. Chase
Mr Colin Clark
Mr Juan Corbella
Ms Gabriela Galcerán Montal & Mr Ball Miss Elizabeth Floyd
Dr David R. Ives F.R.C.P.
Mr & Mrs Robert Johnson
James & Clare Kirkman
Sarah & David Kowitz
Walter & Barbara Marais
The Basil Samuel Charitable Trust
Mr Matthew Santos & Mrs Mary Kuusisto Mr Adrian Sassoon
Mr Nick Segal & Ms Genevieve Muinzer Sir Angus & Lady Stirling