Olympian frames: Frederic, Lord Leighton

Frederic, Lord (for a single day) Leighton is best known as an ‘Olympian’ – one of that group of artists who, in the last third of the 19th century, painted subjects culled from Greek and Roman mythology, or (like Alma-Tadema) scenes of daily life set in the classical past, in archaeologically accurate interiors and gardens, furnished with objects studied in Europe’s many new museums. Unlike Alma-Tadema’s, however, or single examples designed by, for example, Edward Poynter, Leighton’s frames never seem to have attracted sufficient attention – either singly, or as an overall corpus – and yet they are quite as inventive, striking and eclectic as others by his Pre-Raphaelite peers. This is a first attempt to bring together as many of them as possible, in order to highlight just how imaginative they are.

Early experiments

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Ida, Adrian and Frederic Marryat, 1851-52, o/c, 51 1/8 x 35 ¾ ins (129.8 x 90.9 cm.), Christie’s, 14 June 2005, lot 12

Charles Allston Collins (1828-73), Convent thoughts, 1850-51, o/c, 84 x 59 cm., Ashmolean Museum

Leighton, like the Pre-Raphaelites, experimented with the framing of his paintings from the first: his portrait of the Marryat children, painted when he was a twenty-one-year-old student, has an oval spandrel frame on which the artist must have advised, with ribbon-tied festoons of fruit draped across the top of an otherwise very minimalist structure, and falling down the sides in long pendants. It dates from 1851-52 when Leighton was studying in Frankfurt, but must surely owe something to Charles Collins’s Convent thoughts, which had been exhibited at the Royal Academy in the summer of 1851, and for which Millais had famously designed a minimalist flat frame with shaped sight, decorated only with naturalistic lilies. Leighton had returned to London for the Great Exhibition, which took place in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park from 1 May to 15 October, overlapping with the RA exhibition. The latter was reviewed in The Times on 3 May, and the Pre-Raphaelite paintings exhibited there were described with such dismissive disdain that it would have been quite enough to take a passing art student back for a closer look.

In 1855 Leighton moved to Paris, where he met Delacroix and Ingres, both concerned in the choice or design of appropriate frames for their paintings. Delacroix had been aware of the importance of the frames since his twenties, mentioning in a letter of 1827 that,

‘I have finished an “animal” picture for the General and I have found for it a Rococo frame which I’m going to regild and which will be marvellous.’

By 1857, his Materials for a Dictionary of the Fine Arts contained the abstract for a putative entry:

‘Frame, border: They can have a good or bad influence on the effect of the picture. The gold so freely used in our day. Their form as related to the character of the picture.’

Ingres also wrote to clients and framemakers as to the patterns and finishes he required; and he designed individual frames for particular paintings, as Holman Hunt would do, across the Channel (e.g. M. Bertin, 1832; Jeanne d’Arc au sacré de Charles VII, 1851-55; La Vièrge adorant l’Hostie, 1854). The example of these much older and well-established artists – particularly, perhaps, of Ingres – may have been as influential for Leighton in how they presented their work, as in their technical experience and knowledge.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Portrait of May Sartoris, c.1860, o/c, 59 7/8 x 35 ½ ins (152.1 x 90.2 cm.), Kimbell Art Museum

Back in London, at some point around 1860 he painted a portrait of May Sartoris, daughter of his great friend, Adelaide Sartoris, retired opera singer and society hostess. It has another inventive setting which goes in a completely different direction from the Marryat portrait frame, appearing at first glance to be a sober NeoClassical revival fluted pattern – until the viewer realizes that it has a top edge imitating bamboo. Provided that the frame is original [1], which seems likely, this must date it to 1862 and later, bamboo as a joinery material and high fashion accessory having only just been introduced into Britain at the International Exposition that year. The painting may thus also date from 1861-62 rather than 1860, as it is unlikely that anyone save an artist already interested in framing could have produced such an avant-garde joke – a frame which pretends to be the essence of academic tradition, but which combines bamboo with (instead of respectable flutes) a design of lotus flowers and buds in the hollow.

Leighton, Portrait of May Sartoris, corner of frame with detail of Owen Jones, The grammar of ornament, Plate IV, ‘Egyptian No 1’    

Predating the Egyptian frames of Alma-Tadema by possibly a dozen years, and the Egypto-Assyrian frames of T.M. Rooke and Edward Poynter by almost thirty, this is evidently another design indebted to the publication of Owen Jones’s Grammar of ornament in 1856;  a book which nearly every Victorian artist, furniture maker, jeweller, craftsman and framemaker seems to have read voraciously from its advent, and filleted of its excitingly novel motifs. It may be a friend’s reference to May’s mother having sung in the opera Semiramide, which is set in Babylon and contains an Indian king.

Painted frames

Lieder ohne worte was executed at about the same time as the portrait of May Sartoris, and this conjunction of the two prompts the viewer to see the portrait as (in part) a similar exercise in the abstracted use of colour, shape, drapery and mood; in which case the frame is even more of a complement to the latter in its decorative, aesthetic patterning.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Lieder ohne Worte, 1860-61, o/c, 40 x 24 ¾ ins (101.6 x 62.9 cm.), and detail, Tate

Lieder… has one of Leighton’s hand-painted frames from the small cluster produced in the 1860s and early 1870s, and an interesting structure and profile, since the bolection moulding from sight edge to frieze is carved out in a series of curved crenellations, each holding a roundel. Leighton’s painting is deliberately ambivalent as to its location, and the frame (like that of May Sartoris) is correspondingly ambiguous; the frieze is bordered with Turkish frets around an undulating Greek ‘black figure’ vine with flowers and stylized birds; whilst the roundels in the crenellations are painted with tiny Japanese paulownia leaves [2]. This mixing of national references in a bid to find a non-specific aesthetic style anticipated even Albert Moore’s own blending of Greek and Japanese motifs, and his similar bid to express music in paint and rhythmic interval in the decoration of his frames.

Henry Stacy Marks seems to have been the only critic to mention the decorative heft of Leighton’s design – and even he apologized for noticing it, writing,

‘It is not perhaps within a critic’s province to speak of picture frames, yet I cannot help drawing attention to that which surrounds this work.

The pure taste and inventiveness which it displays would almost imply that the painter had a hand in its design. The hangers have not been guilty of a crueller act this year than that of placing this beautiful picture at a height where its merits can be only partially seen’ [3]

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Sisters, 1862, Private collection

In the same year, Leighton also produced the charming Sisters, 1861, which has painted roundels in the corners and centres, reminiscent of the roundels (carved and painted) employed by Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown on their frames, and of the historic Flemish frames which inspired them.  In 1860 he had written to the poet, Robert Browning, ‘I am hand-and-glove with all my enemies the pre-Raphaelites [sic].’ [4] Unlike the Pre-Raphaelites, however, Leighton appeared almost always to prefer his frames to be gilded on a layer of gesso, presenting a smooth, satin-like surface which can, as here, echo the sheen of silken fabrics in his paintings. He seems to avoid the roughness of texture – however slight – of gilded oak, in spite of its increasing fashionability (it was taken up in the frames of Albert Moore and Whistler, and in the ‘Watts’ frame). The roundels on the frame of Sisters are close in style to those on the frame of In St Mark’s (exh. RA 1865; see below).

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), The star of Bethlehem, exh. RA 1862, o/c, 61 x 23 ¾ ins (154.9 x 59.1 cm.), Private collection; Sotheby’s New York, 8 November 2013, Lot 10 

Leighton, The Star of Bethlehem, top left corner of frame; Owen Jones, The grammar of ornament, 1856, Plate XII, ‘Assyrian & Persian No 1

The next painted frame he designed has an intricate running lotus-blossom pattern around the frieze; it was made for The Star of Bethlehem of 1862, which shows one of the Magi watching the eponymous Star from a roof terrace, and is therefore set in Persia, Arabia, or Mesopotamia. The lotus-blossom alternating with a floret or small palmette is very close to the designs in the first of the plates for ‘Nineveh & Persia’ in The grammar of ornament, showing once again how indebted the second half of the 19th century was to this extraordinary compilation of international historical motifs, and how the enthusiasm for archaeological discovery was fuelling the quest for greater accuracy in paintings of Biblical and classical subjects. However, Leighton himself visited Palestine in his travels, and may very well have sketched his own variations in situ on the ornaments gathered by Jones.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Actaea, the nymph of the shore, 1868, o/c, 57.2 x 102.2 cm., and detail, National Gallery of Canada, Ontario

Equally classical, but this time playful (pace all those who seem to think that Leighton could be neither playful nor erotic), the frame of Actaea – who is reclining nymphishly on the shore, watching the dolphins – is, as with The Star of Bethlehem, a cassetta. It has minimal mouldings bordering a very wide frieze and canted sight edge, and it has one decorative carved feature – a cut-out pendant edging, rather like the top border in the Owen Jones plate, ‘Assyrian & Persian No 1’, shown with The Star of Bethlehem, above. The frieze is painted in black outline, like the latter frame, with a Vitruvian scroll along the inside edge, and centres of two curveting dolphins either side of a crowned trident. The corners also have crowned tridents.

Askos or flask in the form of a dolphin leaping above waves, c.350-30 BC, glazed clay, 9 x 7.5 x 5.5 cm., © Trustees of the British Museum, 1856,1226.64,  acqu. 1856

Leighton probably adapted the dolphin motif from black figure vases which he had seen in the British Museum [5], although his most direct inspiration – for the setting of the painting, as well as the frame – may well have been this charming pottery flask, which entered the Museum in 1856. It combines a black dolphin with a Vitruvian scroll representing waves. The frame is an attempt to use motifs in the style of classical Greek artefacts to reflect and support the painted subject; and to create an overall work of decorative art which holds the tension between a flat graphic space and a three-dimensional element. It is less successful in this than Sisters, but it demonstrates Leighton’s educated use of references (and his playfulness).

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), St Jerome, c.1869, o/c, 184.5 x 142 cm., Royal Academy of Art

St Jerome was one of his group of Biblical subjects, and also his diploma work: presented to the Royal Academy in 1869, the year after he was elected a full Academician. In keeping with the minimalism of Jerome’s life in a cave near Bethlehem, the painted border here comprises a single black line around the frieze of an equally minimalist profile (related to the plainness of the frame of Sisters).

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Clytemnestra from the battlements of Argos watches for… the return of Agamemnon, c.1874, o/c, 173.5 x 123.8 cm., Leighton House

Another relatively plain painted frame contains the monumental figure of Clytemnestra, 1874, waiting broodingly for Agamemnon to return from Troy. Here, the frame moulding is as monumental as the queen, echoing – in its wide torus and flat frieze – the architecture of Argos in the background (Agamemnon’s palace is now accepted as being in Mycenae [6]). The painted motifs are tiny black bands drawn across the two small centre mouldings.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), After Vespers, 1871, o/c, 111.5 x 71.5 cm., Princeton University Art Museum

The frame of After Vespers is at the furthest remove of elaboration from those on St Jerome and Clytemnestra.  It is even more complex than the frame of Lieder ohne worte, combining carved, compo and painted decoration in a Byzantine arrangement of four decreasingly-sized runs of dentils or square billets; three friezes (with a compo wave pattern; a painted running Gothic leaf; and a plain gold field); and four central roundels adapted from those on Rossetti’s medallion frames. Leighton was clearly still looking at the designs produced by his Pre-Raphaelite peers, but was also collecting – with magpie-like eclecticism – varieties of profiles, mouldings and motifs, decorative techniques and finishes, from his reading, travels, and visits to museums.

The assemblage of motifs on this particular frame was designed to evoke and echo the interior of the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, which is the setting of the painting. The church was begun in the 11th century, and is basically Romanesque and Gothic, with a continuing incrustation of decorative adornment over successive centuries. Leighton has done pretty well to conjure the right chronological mood from a few architectural ornaments such as the Romanesque billet mouldings, the Gothic leaf, and the moulded wave pattern (symbolizing Venice).  The bird on the roundels may refer to the numerous birds in the mosaics of St Mark’s [7].

Leighton, After Vespers, detail of frame. Photo: with thanks to Donato Esposito

The wave pattern in itself, outside its symbolic content, may derive from a German or Netherlandish ebony frame, or from a strigillated Italian Mannerist frame (even from a classical sarcophagus). The placing of roundels on the frame may have been taken from Rossetti’s example, but the swans inside them could have been inspired by a Renaissance Leda, a 17th century Protestant pelican, or any of the innumerable swan-based objects popular in 19th century Britain (cruets, plant holders, jewellery, door stops, vases, pub signs, pin cushions, door knockers, vinaigrettes, epergnes).

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Perseus, on Pegasus, hastening to the rescue of Andromeda, c.1896, o/c, 184cm. diam., and detail, Leicester Museum and Art Gallery

Leighton recycled the combination of wave pattern and roundels from After Vespers again, right at the end of his life, on the stunningly decorative tondo of Perseus on Pegasus (c.1896). Unlike his other tondi with square frames and spandrels (see below), the latter here are left bare save for an inscribed line, giving space for the galloping airy swirl of hero and winged horse, caught in mid hoof-beat above the placid Aegean. The outer frame is a very plain architrave profile, edged by small ovolo mouldings, and the compo wave pattern flows from corner to corner, punctuated by twelve roundels, which – like the lotus-&-flower design on The Star of Bethlehem – are taken from the Assyrian & Persian pages of  The grammar of ornament. Their sun-like form may allude to Perseus’s father, Zeus, king of the gods. The wave ornament in this case is a reference to Pegasus’s birth from Oceanus, as the child of Poseidon and Demeter, and the fact that where he touched the earth, a spring of water gushed out [8].

Holman Hunt was the Victorian master of unique frame designs for each painting (save a very few series), but Leighton, especially in these earlier painted examples, ran him a close second.

Architectural mouldings

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), A condottiere, 1871-72, o/c, 124.5 x 78 cm., and detail, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

The pattern of alternating dentils/square billets on the frame of After Vespers was picked up a year later for Leighton’s Condottiere (1872), where the central torus is carved into a more complex variation on a round billet moulding.

Billet moulding above a double capital, from a 12th century Romanesque cloister re-erected at Mas del Vent, Palamos, north-eastern Spain

Here, Leighton was producing what might be called an historical frame, based on Romanesque and later architectural motifs. Again, this was an ornament which he might have sketched on his travels, and which he applies to a similarly monumental moulding to the one used for Clytemnestra; save that here it forms something like a deep embrasure giving onto the corner of a shadowy alley by a church or palazzo, in which you might expect to see some mercenary employee of the Medici lurking. The alternation of square or round billet mouldings crops up in various forms in a number of Leighton’s frames, and is related to the alternation of round and square motifs and profile sections in designs by F.M. Brown and D.G. Rossetti. Geometric ornaments were the polar opposite of the motifs used by academic artists on their (frequently bought off-the-peg) loosely French Baroque revival frames; they were avant-garde in the 1860s and 70s: Victorian Brutalism.

Uccello (c.1397-1475), The Battle of San Romano, c.1438-40, tempera with oil on panel, 182 x 320 cm., and detail, National Gallery

It would be interesting to know the genesis of the billet frame on Uccello’s Battle of San Romano in the National Gallery. The painting was acquired from the Lombardi-Baldi collection in 1857 [9], and there is no record of its being subsequently reframed, although it was altered (probably having a glazing door removed) in the 1960s, and then regilded. If it came framed into the Gallery, then this billet moulding on such a large and notable painting may have influenced the use of alternating geometrical shapes by contemporary artists; if not, then perhaps it may have been the other way round.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Jezebel & Ahab, c.1862-63, Scarborough Council

Another example of a similar geometrical architectural ornament was used on the earlier Biblical subject: Jezebel and Ahab, c.1862-63. Again, this is a relatively plain frame, decorated with a nailhead moulding, which was often used in Gothic architecture to define, for example, the arch of a church door. There is thus a generalized justification for its use here, but it lacks the closer archaeological, historical or topological connections which Leighton put into most of his frames.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), In St Mark’s, exh. RA 1865, 42 x 27 ins (106.7 x 68.6 cm.), Christie’s, 13 December 2012, Lot 13

The architectural motif used on the top edge of In St Mark’s is a further variation on a dentil or billet moulding, with a slightly shaped form which appears to echo the interior painted arches, and the pendant arches beneath them. The garland of gilded bay leaves similarly echoes the painted festoons at the top of the church doorway behind the figure of mother and child; and the frame itself seems to be only the outermost entrance in the series of columns and openings which lead back into the church – a method of enhancing spatial recession in the picture, although the flat, painted roundels undercut this.

‘Renaissance’ frames

As well as the individual and specific designs intended for particular paintings, Leighton created at least four versions of a Renaissance garland frame.

They probably derive from the late 15th and 16th century giltwood frames on painted tondi of the Madonna and Child which Leighton must have seen in Italy [10]; they may also be directly inspired by the work of the Della Robbia, whose glazed ceramic frames of fruit and flowers remade their classical Roman models as immensely colourful, botanically accurate, symbol-laden wreaths of great beauty and skillful production. This subject is discussed in ‘Fruit, flowers, foliage: the symbolism of Renaissance frames’.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), At the balcony, c. 1859, watercolour/paper, 121 x 118 cm., NT Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton

The earliest of Leighton’s garland frames contains a shaped watercolour of around 1859, now at Wightwick Manor. Leighton had returned to Italy in 1858, staying there into 1859, and this watercolour, which may have been painted in Capri, has been given a frame which plays on particular examples of the 16th century Italian Madonna tondo.

Franciabigio (1482-1525), The Holy Family with John the Baptist, c.1508-10, Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence

Like this version on a tondo by Franciabigio, it has a back edge of imbricated scales beneath the torus of fruit and foliage on the top edge; and where the fruits on the former are symbolic of Christ and the Virgin, and aspects of Christ’s story and Passion, in the latter they probably represent the fertility of autumn seen in the painting, as well as being purely decorative. The bolection moulding pushes the painting forward, and also focuses attention on the main figure as a personification of Demeter, the harvest and abundance.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), A noble lady of Venice, 1866, o/c, 116.5 x 95 cm., Leighton House

Luca della Robbia (c. 1400-82), Madonna & Child & angels, c.1450, glazed terracotta, 100 cm. diam., Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence

The later painting  of a Venetian noblewoman uses a garland of flowers to define the image and echo the flowers in vase and mantle. This is much closer to a Della Robbia frame than to a Madonna tondo ; the flowers seem to be daisies or marigolds on a bed of bay and olive leaves, and are there solely for their aesthetic effect, rather than for any symbolism.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Acme & Septimius, before 1868, o/c, 99 cm. diam., Ashmolean Museum

Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-96), The Garden of the Hesperides, 1891-92, o/c, 66 ½ ins diam. (169 cm.), Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight

Leighton’s two other tondi (predating the Perseus in Leicester) both have garland frames; the earlier, on Acme & Septimius, a square torus outside the spandrels; the later, on the Hesperides, its reverse – a true tondo set within a square outer frame. The frame of Acme has a compo garland constructed in repeating lengths – about two-&-a-half per side – with raised roundels of echoing leaves and further incised leaves in the spandrels. There seems to be no reason at all for the wreath to contain oranges, but that is what they are, entwined in orange leaves and orange flowers. They may represent the ‘golden apples’ (or oranges) which were given to the prince Hippomenes by Aphrodite, to help him win the huntress Atalanta in marriage. The task her suitors were given was to beat her in a running race, or die; Hippomenes threw down three apples, one by one, which were so beautiful that Atalanta stopped to pick them up, thus losing the race. The golden apple/ orange therefore became a symbol of married love, and is appropriate, if rather vaguely, for the love of Acme & Septimius; oranges also glow in one small background area behind Acme’s back.

There is much greater reason for the circular garland on The garden of the Hesperides to contain oranges, since the tree at the centre of the garden had been given to Hera, queen of the gods, and bore solid ‘golden apples’ which are generally considered to be oranges. In real life (as it were), oranges came to Europe from China in the Middle Ages, bringing with them an aura of rarity and prestige almost equal to apples of solid gold; they flourished in Spain and north Africa, in either of which the Garden was supposed to be located.  Leighton makes his painted tree, around which the Hesperides lounge, a massive orange tree, as large as an oak. He was in his early sixties when he produced this painting, and very well off by then: easily able to afford what appears to be a carved giltwood frame (there are no repeats along the length of the garland).

Leighton, The Garden of the Hesperides, detail of frame

The spandrels contain triangles, outlined in black, with applied carved shells on a ground of wave moulding. These may refer to the garden’s site, beyond the Ocean; to the spring which Heracles struck from the ground when he visited the garden to steal the apples; and to the Argo, which Jason sailed to the Hesperides at one point in his epic journey.

Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743), Les baigneuses, c.1718, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen

Leighton, The Garden of the Hesperides

The whole frame, with the circular sight/top moulding set against a rectilinear outer contour, subverts the design of the traditional French Baroque style of spandrel frame seen, for example, on the Lancret Baigneuses, above. The shells Leighton has used in the spandrels provide the same corner emphasis as the foliate-&-rocaille corners on the Lancret, drawing the eye in to the painted image and reinforcing its compositional lines. In the case of the Leighton, these include the repeated diagonals of arms, thighs, and the lines of the tree trunk, which form a powerful ‘X’ shape on the canvas, pivoting on the central heart-shaped figure clad in apricot silk and wound in the coils of the guardian snake, Ladon.

It is, altogether, a weighty, very splendid, and carefully-calculated frame.

‘Classical’ frames

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Psamathe, nymph of the sands, 1879-80, o/c, 85 x 66.5 cm., Lady Lever Art Gallery

Leighton produced several aedicular or temple-like frame designs for his work, but he also used more everyday patterns of cassetta form, with a wide frieze which could be decorated relatively economically in compo. The moulded ornament in classical style which he usually employed takes the form of a running pattern with an alternating palmette and anthemion. It is small-scale and low-relief, creating a shimmering border and a suitably antique air for mythological subjects or classically-inclined subjectless paintings, whilst being completely removed in appearance from the conventional Victorian academic frame (although, of course, intimately connected with it in terms of manufacture).

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Crenaia, the nymph of the Dargle, 1880, o/c, 30 ¼ x 10 11/16 in (76.8 x 27.2 cm), Pérez Simón Collection

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Wedded, c.1881-82, o/c, 145.4 x 81.3 cm., Art Gallery of New South Wales

These are further examples of Leighton’s ‘classical’ frame, and its use on scenes of Greek or Roman life and aesthetic paintings with a vaguely mythic cast; all three frames were made within a couple of years. The two larger frames have the same range of mouldings; Crenaia, which is smaller, only has one beside the frieze. Once again they are evidence of Leighton’s use of historical models for his work, either for frame designs or in his paintings; and once again the British Museum may have provided the source he needed.

Pheidias (workshop; c.480-430 BC), anta-capital, east porch of the Erechtheion, 421-406 BC, marble, © Trustees of the British Museum, 1816,0610.255, acq. 1816

This is part of the entablature from the east façade of the Erechtheion; it combines a deep frieze, supported by runs of small architectural mouldings, including a larger egg-&-dart. The whole thing, save for the leaf tip ogee at the top, is close but not identical to Leighton’s design, and may have provided the initial inspiration.  He may also have looked at the album known as the Elgin Drawings, made in 1800-01 and acquired by the British Museum with the Elgin Marbles in 1816.  Sebastiano Ittar’s drawing of the same entablature might almost be the pattern for a Leighton-like frame.

Robert Adam (1728-92), ornament on the cornice of the Ante Room, Syon House

Other influences might have included Robert Adam’s similar use of classicizing ornament (often with alternating palmettes and anthemia) to decorate cornices and chimneypieces, and sometimes the portable frames which were to hang near them.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Elisha raising the son of the Shunamite, 1881, o/c, 127 x 174 cm., and detail, Leighton House

Occasionally such frames might generate a particular, unique design for a notable painting. The Son of the Shunamite has one of these: an architecturally inspired frame with an inner series of mouldings – an astragal with engraved spiral  and a run of concave dentils – but with the emphasis on the major frieze on the top. This has been given a very beautiful low-relief ornament, moulded in compo but appearing as if carved, of a continuous linked lotus flower-&-bud, which progresses in an arcade of arches underpinned by the C-scrolls of the stems. It produces a chiming rhythm along each rail which is very satisfying, and ends at the corners in immaculately joined double flowers.

Assyrian door sill from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal (668-c.631 BC), Nineveh, 645-40 BC, limestone, 127 x 124 x 7.5 cm., © Trustees of the British Museum, acqu. 1856. Photo: with thanks to Penny Ewles-Bergeron

Owen Jones, The grammar of ornament, 1856, ‘Egyptian’, Plate VII, No 4, and detail  

The model for this frame was incontrovertibly found by Leighton in the British Museum: an Assyrian motif, a version of which had not only been published in The grammar of ornament, but the same year (1856) had coincidentally entered the Museum in the form of a stone door sill, excavated from the palace of Nineveh in modern Iraq. Leighton, as has been seen, haunted the British Museum, using its growing collection as a reference library for objects in paintings, as well as appropriate decoration for frames. In this case he may even have sent his framemaker or studio assistant along to examine and sketch the lotus flowers and buds running round the border of the door sill, since they are reproduced so accurately on the frame. Although this sort of ornament appeared in Greek and Roman architecture as well, its presence in Assyrian sculpture, even six and-a-half centuries before Christ and long after Elisha, made it eminently suitable for both Old and New Testament subjects.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Architectural decoration, metalpoint drawing, 3 9/16 x 2 13/16 ins (9 x 7.2 cm.), Fogg Art Museum, Harvard

A version of it turns up in Leighton’s sketchbooks as well, of course, roughly sketched from an architectural piece of ornament somewhere, amongst the many things which he noted as features to be used in a painted interior or on the exterior frame. The same sketchbook holds the profile of a moulding and ornament drawn in San Gregorio, Venice, as well as more substantial architectural profiles.

Signature frames: the bay leaf garland

1895 submission to the Royal Academy displayed in Leighton’s studio on 1st April

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Jonathan’s token to David, c.1868, o/c, 67 ½ x 49 ins (171.45 x 124.46 cm.), and detail, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

One particular design was also loosely linked to Leighton’s more overtly classicizing styles. This one he continued to use at intervals for nearly thirty years, and it appears on four of the paintings lined up his studio in 1895 for what was to be his last submission to the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition.  Its earliest – or one of its earliest – appearances was on his painting of the Old Testament Jonathan… in about 1868. It has a simple but unusual profile, with a bolection moulding falling from the torus on the top edge through a quarter-round fluted concave moulding at the back edge to the wall. The torus is formed of two festoons of bay leaves, springing from the ribbon-bound top centre to their meeting on the bottom rail, with another crossed ribbon binding.

Millais (1829-96), The order of release, 1852-53, o/c,  102.9 x 73.7 cm., Tate

Millais (1829-96), The Black Brunswicker, 1860, o/c, 104 x 68.5 cm.,  Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight

Interestingly, it also appears on at least three paintings by Millais – The order of release (1852-53), The rescue (1855), and The Black Brunswicker (1860).The first two of these were bought from the Royal Academy by Joseph Arden of Rickmansworth, staying with him until his death in 1879; The Black Brunswicker was acquired through Gambart by the collector Thomas Plint, and was sold after his death in 1861, after which it only seems to surface after Leighton’s death in 1898, when acquired by Lord Leverhulme. Leighton might possibly have seen The Black Brunswicker at the Royal Academy in 1860 and liked the frame, but this is a tenuous connection, since it is not an eye-catching design; and it seems much more likely that this is an off-the-peg frame, offered to Millais – perhaps – by Joseph Green, who framed a lot of early work by the Pre-Raphaelites [11], and later, either by Foord & Dickinson, or by a firm such as Agnew’s, which seems to have had connections with Millais for his exhibition frames [12].

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), The vestal, c.1882-83, o/c, 91.5 x 73 cm., Leighton House

This was a design which was easily repeatable in many different sizes (the width of the torus remaining constant) since the ornament was made of compo, and could be infinitely extended or cut down; it was classical, with the architectural fluting and the bay leaves, but understated – something which would fit in with the heaviest horror vacui of drawing-rooms, the chastest of NeoClassical galleries, and the most Palladian of British country houses. It worked equally well on aesthetic arrangements of form and colour as on the more realistic composition; and it was used by Leighton (as in 1868) for Biblical subjects; on ‘Greek’ paintings (c.1882-83, above); and for portraits and contemporary subject paintings (below, in 1895).

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Candida, c.1894-95, 21 x 15 ins (55 x 38 cm.), Martin Beisly Fine Art

In the group of 1895 paintings, we find it being used for all of the last three types, very effectively. The version on Candida has been given additional oomph with an acanthus leaf moulding at the back edge, and an auxiliary fluted hollow at the sight. The acanthus leaf branches on the top edge spring from the bottom and meet at the top; they form a rich ornamental foil to the simple lines of the composition, and harmonize with its deeper shades of amber, chestnut and red.

Leighton, Jonathan’s token to David, c.1868, and Candida, c.1894-95, details of frames (Candida reversed)

Although the two frames were presumably made thirty years apart, they were made using the same moulds, as can be seen by comparing corner details. Millais’s Black Brunswicker also seems to use exactly the same moulds as Candida, so the solution as to where this particular frame came from, and why it was being used by two such major Victorian artists from 1852 until 1895, may be that the moulds (or the runs of compo ornament pressed from those moulds) were produced by George Jackson & Sons (‘Composition Ornament Manufacturer’) [13], who, from their account books, supplied Joseph Green junr, the Pre-Raphaelites’ framemaker (used by Millais; possibly used by Leighton: see below), and George Foord, the founder of Foord & Dickinson (definitely used by Leighton).  For a busy man, constantly painting, executing commissions and producing work for exhibitions in a variety of sizes, it must have given some slight relief of pressure to be able to order such a versatile stock pattern (even perhaps from more than one framemaker), and to know that he would receive a familiar and reliable result.

1895 submission to the Royal Academy displayed in Leighton’s studio on 1st April; photomontage with coloured images

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), The maid with the yellow hair, 1895, o/c, 83.2 x 61.6 cm.,  private collection (montaged with the frame of Jonathan’s token…)

The maid with the yellow hair was another of the 1895 Royal Academy entries. Unfortunately it has lost its original frame, which appears, in the black-&-white photo of Leighton’s studio, to be the same as that of Candida; so here it is, slightly more true to the way it would have appeared then. Having once seen it in this setting, it’s hard to imagine how it can be suffered to remain in the characterless moulding it now endures. ’Twixt hope and fear, between The maid… and Flaming June in the photograph of Leighton’s RA submission, has also had its original frame replaced by a coarser modern replica.

Although the bay leaf garland frame may have been a commercial and easily available design (perhaps through George Jackson & Sons), in Leighton’s case it might, through fairly frequent use, have been associated with his work enough to operate like the ‘signature’ patterns used by artists such as George Romney or Sir Thomas Lawrence. His use of a group design, as evidently intended with his 1895 RA submissions, would have given his paintings a family connection on the crowded walls of the Royal Academy, enabling spectators to pick out his work more easily. These frames are therefore important, not only for their relationship to the individual painting they frame, but as a visual trademark and aesthetic index, and should be retained and restored, or replaced wherever possible.

Aedicular frames

The other designs which became signature styles for Leighton’s work are two forms of aedicular frame. The earliest Pre-Raphaelite examples of this type are Holman Hunt’s The finding of the Saviour in the Temple (1854-60), and his London Bridge… (1866). In the late 1860s Alma-Tadema started using aedicular frames capped with cornices, and some years after – probably in the mid- to late- 1870s – frames with triangular pediments.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Cimabue’s celebrated Madonna is carried in procession, 1853-55, o/c, 231.8 x 521.4 cm., National Gallery, on loan from the Royal Collection Trust

Leighton’s frame, now long gone, for his first large exhibition work, Cimabue’s celebrated Madonna is carried in procession, 1853-55, may well have been in aedicular style. He certainly wrote at length to his mother about it (see below) from Rome, having ordered it to be made in London, and calculating that it would cost about £25 [14].  This would probably equate now to around £18-19,000, in terms of labour; and even had the frame been an off-the-peg moulding, the equivalent cost would have been around £2,300: Cimabue… is just over 17 feet wide, and just over 7 ½ feet high, so would need more than 50 feet of moulding to frame it [15]. Since Leighton had executed a special design for the frame, and was prepared to send it to London again if, as he feared, the first drawing posted had been lost [16], it must have been something unusual, carefully considered to reflect the subject, and produced directly from references around him. The painting was purchased from the Royal Academy by Queen Victoria, impelled by Prince Albert’s enthusiasm for the painting; but Albert was also a meddler, convinced that he could design better frames for works in the Royal Collection than they already possessed, and capable of adding inches of extra mouldings around even those frames which he allowed to remain with their paintings.  At some point in its life in the Royal Collection, Leighton’s frame was adapted or replaced, and the painting now has a modern moulding completely unsuitable for displaying it adequately.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), The Daphnephoria, 1874-76, o/c, 231 x 525 cm., Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight. Photo: with thanks to Opera Creep

Leighton, The Daphnephoria, details of pilaster, top and bottom

Leighton’s earliest surviving aedicular frame is that on The Daphnephoria of 1874-76, a painting which is almost identical in size to Cimabue… Its height and length contrive to make the relatively deep entablature and plinth look too flimsy to support it; and the interesting details of cloven hooves and screaming masks at each end of the pilasters are rather lost in the crowd. It may have been preceded a decade earlier by the frame of The Syracusan bride (private collection) [17]; this has (like the frame of Cimabue…) unfortunately been lost, but we are left with Rossetti’s tantalizing references to it, when the Pre-Raphaelite collector Frederic Leyland sold it at Christie’s in 1874.

Rossetti wrote to Leyland, ‘By the bye, WHAT a haul you did make with that blessed Leighton, the frame did it! [18]; and to F. M. Brown, ‘His big Leighton fetched – what do you think? £2,677! and the thing is really bad even of its own kind! I believe that flash frame he put on it did the job!’ [19]

‘Columna’, A dictionary of Greek & Roman antiquities, 1859, p.326

At a time when archaeological accuracy had begun to be as important in paintings with classical subjects as a competing aesthetic abstraction, it is very probable that Leighton – besides roaming the Mediterranaean and bringing back authentic painted landscape backgrounds, or roaming the British Museum for authentic accessories – owned a copy of A dictionary of Greek & Roman antiquities, published the year before he moved back to London [20]. It includes clearly-drawn, close-up details of all sorts of classical features, architectural as well as costume and accessory.

As well as visiting ancient ruins in situ, he probably studied this kind of book (just as he had Owen Jones’s Grammar of ornament) in order to achieve a more convincing aedicular design; since, by the 1880s, his frames were much sleeker, stripped back and better-proportioned, and he had evolved two different versions of the classical aedicular frame which would take his work on until the end of his life.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Corinna of Tanagra, 1893, o/c, 146.5 x 109 cm., Leighton House

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Fatidica, 1894, o/c, 153 x 111 cm., Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Flaming June, 1895, o/c, 47 x 47 ins (120 x 120 cm.), Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico; replica of original frame made by Arnold Wiggins & Sons

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Clytie (unfinished), 1896, o/c, 156 x 136 cm., Leighton House

Both versions were in the Ionic order. The first was conventional, with small flat-topped capitals with scrolled ends, and different orders of ornament; it could be varied with a deep predella panel, or have a small supporting moulding; it might have rosettes along the frieze of the entablature, or a version of the continuous palmette/ anthemion ornament which Leighton used on his cassetta styles. All these variations produced a more or less enriched example of an architectural opening – a window or door through which the spectator could catch a glimpse of the classical past as imagined by Leighton. Corinna of Tanagra appears as though standing inside a window, and the sitter in Flaming June as though sleeping on a balcony outside one; in Fatidica and Clytie, the viewer looks respectively through a door into the heart of a temple, and from the temple out through the doorway to the landscape beyond.

The Bassae frame

The second frame design in the Ionic order was altogether more avant-garde. Leighton’s Daphnephoria had been commissioned for his London house by James Stewart Hodgson, a member of Baring’s Bank, who had known the artist since the 1850s and had been collecting his work ever since. He also owned a country house in Surrey, and both houses had been built for him by the architect Frederick Cockerell, who was the brother of one of Leighton’s greatest friends, Samuel Cockerell. These connections and Leighton’s interests in archaeological remains make it inevitable that Leighton would also have known Frederick’s and Samuel’s father, C. R. Cockerell, who was an architect, artist and archaeologist, as well as a Royal Academician from 1836, and Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy.

Temple of Apollo Epicurius, Bassae, Arcadia, north side

Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863), The Temple of Apollo Epikourios, Bassae: view of interior, 1860, engraving, Royal Academy

One of Cockerell’s claims to fame was his part as a young man in an expedition in 1811 to the almost unknown Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae, in the hills of Arcadia. This was celebrated for its great beauty when it was built, but has been very much eroded by weather, and is now protected by a vast tent.  It has the oldest Corinthian capital in the world, seen on top of the central column at the end of the temple in Cockerell’s reimagining of it, above.  Cockerell also drew the temple as it was after he and his companions had found it, and tidied up the fallen stones; it is a sad wilderness of fallen parts of the carved figural frieze, tumbled columns and trees growing inside the outer screen of Doric columns.

Diagram (top left) of normal Ionic order; diagram (top right) Bassae capital; surviving capital from the Temple of Apollo Epikourios, Bassae, Arcadia, marble, 45.72 cm. high, © Trustees of the British Museum, 1815,1020.25; acq. 1815

The temple has a very unusual Ionic order, which in Cockerell’s reconstruction can be seen in the avenue of columns leading to the Corinthian column and the statue of Apollo. A fragmentary survivor of these capitals was rescued from the debris around the temple by Cockerell and is now in the British Museum. Instead of a flat top, it arcs in a beautiful curve which extends the natural line from one volute to the other. This capital evidently greatly impressed Leighton. It would have been on show in the British Museum, which had purchased it in 1815; but versions of the very same capital could also be seen in the architecture of Victorian England, since Cockerell used his knowledge of the temple at Bassae in his own buildings.

Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863), entrance to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863), façade of Taylorian Institute, and view of Bassae capitals from the library window. Photo from Anne Bordeleau, ‘Charles Robert Cockerell’s architecture and the language of ornaments’, The journal of architecture, vol. 14, issue 4, 23 July 2009

Perhaps the best-known and most striking application of this Ionic order appears on the façades of the Ashmolean Museum and Taylorian Institute, Oxford; but Cockerell also designed several banks [21] and insurance offices, including the Sun Fire Office in London, some of which also use the Bassae order.  Sadly, the last building was later demolished, and there are no discoverable photos of it and its related offices. However, we are told that,

‘In 1890 Phené Spiers and the Baron de Geymüller came across Leighton gazing in rapt admiration at Cockerell’s Sun Fire Office, whereupon he explained to his surprised observers that, “whenever he wanted to revivify himself with the sense of the beauty of Greek work he used to come down and look at Cockerell’s works.” ’ [22]

The result of this is evident in many of his aedicular designs from the beginning of the 1880s: a Bassae frame became the second of his designs in the Ionic order, providing a substantial but very elegant counterbalance to the more vertical of his paintings. 

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Whispers, 1881, o/c, 49 x 30 ins (124.5 x 76.3 cm.), Martin Beisly Fine Art

The frame of Whispers is a fine example of this vertical structure, with a predella panel at the bottom, roundels on the pilaster pedestals, and the palmette/ anthemion pattern on the frieze [23]  

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Captive Andromache, c.1888, o/c, 197 x 407 cm., Manchester CAG

However, Captive Andromache – another of Leighton’s processional paintings – has an emphatically horizontal emphasis, for which he has adapted the Bassae frame in perfect proportion to the image. It’s a shorter canvas than the Daphnephoria – 13 feet 4 inches, as against just over 17 feet – but the weight of each element of the frame is far more satisfying, and creates an architectural proscenium in complete harmony with the picture it contains, presenting it with superlatively greater authority than the frame of the earlier painting. The fluted pilasters are particularly effective, as they echo the vertical procession of figures, whilst the rounded capitals dilute the grid-like effect of linear mouldings on a post and lintel structure.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), The bath of Psyche, exh. 1890, 189.2 x 62.2 cm., Tate

At the other extreme from Captive Andromache, this exaggeratedly narrow and vertical composition measures over 6 feet by just over 2 feet, and employs the Bassae frame to extraordinary effect. The first, smaller version of the same subject was produced as an inset for panelling in Alma-Tadema’s house at 17 Grove End Road, the artist’s friends being asked to paint whatever they liked so long as it conformed to this very narrow upright format. When Leighton enlarged the composition for an exhibition painting, he widened it (it is twice as wide relative to the original dimensions), but also retained the usual width of the pilasters, thus generating a sense of abnormal confinement. The shape of the frame doesn’t suggest a door in these circumstances; taken with the painted Bassae columns in the background, it suggests instead the view between two columns in a screen, enhancing a feeling already present in the spectator of being an unavoidable voyeur, of having pulled aside the companion curtain of the one in the background – perhaps of being Aphrodite, the jealous goddess who spies on her son’s beloved in order to destroy her.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Lachrymae, c.1894-95, 62 x 24 ¾ ins (157.5 x 62.9 cm.), Metropolitan Museum, New York

In Lachrymae, one of his last paintings, and present in the photograph of his final RA submission, the pilasters are less obtrusive and the focus has widened a little – perhaps to suggest a minor doorway out of a temple to where the funeral altar stands; however, this is still a very tall and narrow painting, and the constriction of viewpoint and concentration on the close-up figure of the mourner seem to indicate the constriction of grief.

Hero and the Bassae frame

One of the most striking applications of the Bassae frame is its use in Renaissance tabernacle form for The last watch of Hero. Hero was a priestess who lived on one side of the Straits of Gibraltar, and Leander was her lover, who lived on the other side.  Every night he would swim nearly nine miles across the Straits to reach her, and she would put a lamp in her window to guide him. One night there was a storm and the lamp blew out; Leander was disorientated, drowned, and washed up dead on Hero’s coast. Sarah Doyle, Poet-in-Residence at the Pre-Raphaelite Society, responds to Leighton’s extraordinary evocations of this story in a poem written especially for The Frame Blog:

46B Sarah Doyle The last watch of Hero

46 Frederic Ld Leighton The last watch of Hero c1887 Manchester CAG

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), The last watch of Hero, c.1887, o/c, 63 1/8 x 36 1/8 ins (160.3 x 91.7 cm.), predella 13 1/8 x 30 1/8 ins, Manchester CAG

The frame in this striking work of art functions as the actual window where Hero stands waiting, and is carried on in the internal architecture of her room. The carved pilasters are particularly close to the original fluted Bassae column, where the bottom of the column shaft flares outwards into the pedestal (as it also does in Lachrymae). They reinforce and emphasize Hero’s stance, the flutes echoing the pleating of her dress and the folds of the curtain. The composition is brought so near to the spectator, with Hero barely contained by the plane of the picture surface, that her emotion is given an extraordinary vividness and power; this is multiplied by Leighton’s use of the apron of the tabernacle. 

Here, in this secular predella panel, is a picture of what Hero sees already in her mind – the loss of Leander in the stormy Mediterranean. The use of two scenes set in different locations mimics mediaeval and Renaissance altarpieces, where different parts of a single story may be taking place in the same painting; or secular depictions of a myth, such as Uccello’s St George and the dragon, where the passage of time moves from right to left across the canvas. Leighton’s knowledge of early art, the different structures of frames, and his archaeological enthusiasm for the appropriate forms and ornaments to complement his subject, come together here with particular force. It is incomprehensible that such a work, in which paintings and frame are so inseparably linked, can ever be reproduced as two naked floating images; but this is how they appear on the Art UK website – a travesty of two postcards on a white ground.

Leighton’s framemakers

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Cimabue’s celebrated Madonna is carried in procession through the streets of Florence, 1853-55, o/c, 222 x 521 cm., National Gallery, on loan from the Royal Collection Trust

As noted above, Leighton’s first really large and notable painting, Cimabue, was finished in 1855 in Rome; and in January of that year he was writing to his mother to let her know that it would be leaving for London at the end of February. He goes on,

‘One thing has caused me some annoyance and anxiety; I wrote a month ago (or more) to one Mr Allen, carver and gilder, 31 Ebury Street, Pimlico, sending a design of my frame, and requesting him to let me know at once what would be the cost of such a frame, whether he would undertake it, and asking many questions important to me to know; I have received no answer; I therefore must take for granted that either he has not received my letter, or his answer to me has been lost; now, as there is no longer any time to correspond on the subject, I must, on the supposition that my letter has gone astray, send another design together with an unconditional order to begin at once at whatever cost; now I grudge the time of writing a duplicate of my old letter, and especially that of drawing a new diagram for his guidance. With regard to the price, Fripp, who recommended him to me, says Allen is a very respectable man, and will no way take advantage of my awkward position; I calculate the frame can hardly exceed five and twenty pounds; then there will be the bill for exhibiting the picture of which he will take charge; I expect that the framing, packing, sending, &c., of the two canvases together will cost about fifty pounds “tant pis pour moi!” ’ [24]

Unfortunately, not a great deal else is known at the moment about Mr Allen, except that Leighton doesn’t mention him again. However, this letter is evidence that Leighton was designing his frames, at least for major exhibition pictures, at the age of twenty-four, and was prepared to spend quite a lot on this first grand machine (the equivalent conversion to 21st century sterling would, as already noted, be about £2,300, ranging up to £18-19,000; this is presumably the difference between a stock frame, which it obviously wasn’t, and a custom-made, hand-carved and gilded design).

Researching Leighton’s framemakers is still an open subject; there may be references in unpublished letters. Daniel Robbins, chief curator of Leighton House, has kindly supplied this information from Leighton’s accounts at Coutts Bank:

 ‘Joseph Green:  There are no payments to ‘Joseph’ or ‘J’ Green.  There are three payments to ‘Mr Green’.  One of £3 in March 1865 and then two in 1870 – £19 in October and £7 in November.  No real way of knowing what these relate to – but seems unlikely they relate to frames?

 W A Smith:  There are no payments to ‘W A Smith’ or ‘William Augustine Smith’ or ‘Smith & Uppard’.  There are two payments to a ‘Smith & Co’ – but there is also ref to a ‘C Smith & Co’ so might all be the same enterprise?’ [25]

Jacob Simon notes in the Directory of British Picture Framemakers that Leighton’s Capri: sunrise (1860, Christie’s, 14 June 2000, lot 13, & 31 October 2018, lot 2) and A sunny corner (c.1872-75, Sudley Art Gallery) both have labels of W.A Smith.

 Foord & Dickinson:  There are regular payments to ‘Foord & C’: every two years from 1874, every year but one in the 1880s, and every year in the 1890s until Leighton’s last payment, twelve days before his death, and the concluding payment, presumably by his executors, in March 1896. [26]

Foord & Dickinson label on the back of a Leighton frame

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Sir Richard Burton, 1872-75, o/c, 24 x 20 1/8 ins (61 x 51 cm.), National Portrait Gallery

Jacob Simon (Directory of British Picture Framemakers) lists paintings with Foord & Dickinson labels, including Weaving the Wreath, exh.1872 (Sudley Art Gallery), Sir Richard Burton, 1875 (‘Watts’ frame, National Portrait Gallery), Giovanni Costa, before 1878 (Leighton House), Giovanni Costa, 1878 (Leighton House)Alexandra Leighton, 1890 (Leighton House) and Fatidica, exh.1894.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96), Fatidica, 1894, o/c, 153 x 111 cm., Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight

Agnew’s: Jacob Simon (Directory of British Picture Framemakers) reports that  Leighton patronized the Bond Street firm of Agnew’s at least once: ‘A bill for a frame “specially made to pattern” for Lord Leighton, June 1895, exists in the Walker Art Gallery archives’. Agnew’s retained their Manchester-based frame manufactory (which is where they had started out, in the early 19th century), until the 1930s, and their service included framing paintings submitted to the Royal Academy exhibitions; so Leighton may also have used them in this regard.

Lance Calkin (1859-1936), The late Lord Leighton lying in state in his studio, engraving for The Graphic, 1 February 1896, 129, with Perseus on Pegasus on the left, and Clytie in the centre


[1] The corner ornaments are in the main symmetrical, although the mitres are quite tight (perhaps through restoration, rather than reduction). Against this being a reframing is the fact that the sitter or mother of the sitter interfering with the artist’s frame later without consulting Leighton is extremely unlikely, given that they were close friends; whilst the work descended in the family until at least the mid-20th century, after which it is even more unlikely that a reframing would employ such an eccentric design

[2] For more on the latter motif, see ‘How Pre-Raphaelite frames influenced Degas and the Impressionists

[3] Henry Stacy Marks, ‘Art critic and contributor to the Spectator’, Pen and pencil sketches, 1894, vol. II, ch. XIV, p. 3

[4] Letter of 29 January 1860, Mrs Russell Barrington, The life, letters and work of Frederic Leighton, 1906, vol. II,  p. 52

[5] There are two dolphins on the shield of Athene on a black figure neck amphora, acquired 1847; and paired dolphins around the inside border of a black figure kylix, acquired 1843

[6] See Clarence Powers Bill, ‘The location of the palace of the Atridae in Greek tragedy’, Transactions and proceedings of the American Philological Association, vol. 61, 1930, pp. 111-29

[7] See J.A. Farley, ‘Ornithology at St Mark’s’, The auk, vol.34, no 2, April 1917, pp.171-81

[8]  Pegasus was also ‘said to have sprung from the trunk of the Gorgon Medusa when her head was cut off by Perseus…

[9] A collection of paintings made from 1838 by Francesco Lombardi and Ugo Baldi, dealers and restorers in Florence; perhaps they framed the Uccello in what may have been seen at the time as a suitably historical moulding for a 15th century painting (much as Leighton was doing in England)

[10] ‘He wrote to his sister in 1857 from Algiers: “I shall spend my next winter in my dear, dear old Rome, to which I am attached beyond measure; indeed Italy altogether has a hold on my heart that no other country ever can have (except, of course, my own)…”’ Mrs Russell Barrington, op cit.,  vol I, p. 19

[11]  However, in 1852, Millais was using ‘Chiswick the framemaker’; see ‘Victorians in London

[12] See The Directory of British Picture Framemakers, NPG website

[13] Ibid.

[14] Mrs Russell Barrington, op cit.,  vol I, p. 179-80

[15] See the website MeasuringWorth.com

[16] Mrs Russell Barrington, ibid. 

[17] To see The Syracusan bride in its present, Alma-Tadema-ish moulding frame go to the V & A Annual Review for 2010/11, and scroll down to page 61

[18] The Rossetti-Leyland letters, ed. Francis L. Fennell, jnr, Ohio University Press, 1978, p. 66, 22 June 1874. Leyland sold The Syracusan bride because it is 14 feet wide unframed, and wouldn’t fit into his new house at Prince’s Gate alongside the rest of his collection

[19] Letters of D.G. Rossetti, ed. O. Doughty & J.R. Wahl, no.1501, June 1881.

[20] Leighton, like – for instance – Holman Hunt and Alma-Tadema, drew architectural details wherever he went: arabesques on a pilaster, or a capital

[21] For example, the Bank of England, Liverpool

[22] David Watkin, The life and work of C.R. Cockerell, 1974, p. 229; Leighton’s words quoted from RIBA Journal, 3rd series, VII, 1899-1900, p. 367

[23] See ‘Victorians in London’. The return of Persephone in Leeds Art Gallery uses a similar combination of ornaments, but without the bottom panel.

[24] Mrs Russell Barrington, op cit.,  vol I, p. 179-80

[25] Daniel Robbins, Chief Curator, Leighton House Museum, 22 December 2014; with grateful thanks

[26] Ibid.