Reframing at the National Gallery, London: Part 1

This, the 200th post on The Frame Blog, is the first part 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.

1: Review of the year April 2008 – March 2009: Framing, by Peter Schade

Paul Levi (1919–2008)

0B Paul Levi

Paul Levi, who died in August 2008, was one of the last surviving refugees from Nazi Germany and Austria who transformed the cultural life of London. For several decades he was the most highly respected authority on frames anywhere. Born in Leipzig, he worked for the influential framemaker F.A. Pollack, another refugee who had settled in London. Pollack brought the tradition from Bode’s Berlin and helped to establish London as the world centre for framemaking and dealing. Paul Levi started his own workshop in Paddington and worked closely with Count Seilern and his Princes Gate Collection (now part of the Courtauld Institute). He always applied a vision and experience derived from his contact with the lost sophistication of Central Europe.

Paul Levi was an interested and critical observer of the National Gallery’s frames, and the complete survey that he undertook together with Nicholas Penny in the early 1990s is still the backbone of today’s frame archive. Hundreds of visits were made in the early morning, once a week, over several years.

1A NG 2672 Alvise Vivarini Portrait of a man

NG 2672 Alvise Vivarini (fl. 1457-d. 1503/5), Portrait of a man, 1497, o/panel, 62.2 x 47 cm., reframed in early 16th century Italian cassetta 

The Gallery was very fortunate to acquire possibly the last frame Paul Levi ever sold –
an Italian cassetta (of about 1500) gilded with sgrafitto ornament – which is suitable both in origin and size for Alvise Vivarini’s Portrait of a Man.

2A NG 2672 in Previous frame

Alvise Vivarini, Portrait of a Man, 1497, in its previous late 19th-early 20th century interpretation of a Baroque leaf frame

A clumsy parody of an ornate 17th century English frame was always a baffling choice for the sober portrait (Levi Survey: Quality: Poor, Suitability: Poor).

1B NG 2672 Alvise Vivarini Portrait of a man Corner detail

Alvise Vivarini, Portrait of a man, 1497, detail of sgraffito decoration on current cassetta

The very beautiful original gilding on the fine old moulding purchased from Paul Levi makes this a far more harmonious surround for the painting. Particularly beautiful are the ghostly, lace-like remains of the sgraffito: this was originally gold ornament scratched into blue paint.

Reframing Rembrandt, by Peter Schade and Nicholas Penny

3A NG 221 Rembrandt SelfPortrait in current ebony frame

3B NG 221 Rembrandt SelfPortrait in current ebony frame detail

NG 221 Rembrandt (1606-69), Self-portrait at the age of 63, 1669, o/c, 86 x 70.7 cm., reframed in 17th century Netherlandish ebony-veneered frame with ripple mouldings, with detail

A Dutch 17th century ebony frame of the highest quality and exactly the right size was acquired for Rembrandt’s Self Portrait at the Age of 63 (NG221). It is remarkable that hardly any of the Gallery’s 17th century Netherlandish paintings are framed in a way that might have been original. One explanation is that Dutch masters like Rembrandt were highly valued, collected and reframed by French 18th century connoisseurs.

3C NG 6432 Rembrandt Hendrickje Stoffels c1654tos French Régence frame F6432

3D NG 6432 Rembrandt Hendrickje Stoffels detail

NG 6432 Rembrandt (1606-69), Portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels, c.1654-56, o/c, 101.9 x 83.7 cm., French Régence frame, with detail

Rembrandt’s Portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels is a very good example. The frame was most probably made for this painting in Paris in the 1720s, one of three high-quality French Régence frames in the collection made for earlier masters (the others are around Elsheimer NG3904 and Poussin NG5597). The organic vitality of the acanthus scrolls which spring from the corner ornaments, cling to the bold and massive moulding, and overlap the narrow frieze which is decorated with delicate strapwork, contrasting in its low relief and regular pattern, make this one of the most exciting examples of woodcarving in the National Gallery. We may imagine the palatial interior filled with gilded furniture, related in style and designed by the same hand, from which this frame has long been divorced. In this way an old frame can supplement the dry facts of ownership which, conventionally, comprise a painting’s provenance. Because French frames and, of course, furniture of the period were so admired, this type of frame was not only preserved but imitated for Old Masters of all kinds.


NG 221 Rembrandt, Self-portrait at the age of 63, in previous early 18th century French Baroque late Louis XIV frame (previously cut down and in poor condition)

Framing decisions are often guided by convention, and the reframing of Dutch masters in 18th century France established an expectation that these paintings would be thus framed which remained well into the twentieth century. Many are heavily altered and re-gilded, like the old frame of the Self-portrait.

4A NG 243 Rembrandt Elderly man as St Paul in previous frame

NG 243 Rembrandt (1606-69), An elderly man as St Paul, c.1659, o/c, 102 x 85.5 cm., in previous British late Louis XIV-style revival frame, second half 19th century

Others are poor imitations, like the former frame on An elderly man as St Paul, which has also been replaced with an original 17th century Netherlandish frame – a more typical ebonized pearwood moulding.


NG 243 Rembrandt, An elderly man as St Paul, reframed in 17th century Netherlandish ebonized pearwood frame, with detail

The effect of the dark frames on both paintings is extraordinary. The room around the figures becomes more legible and the arms in the Self-portrait seem to relax into space, whereas the arch in the background of the Elderly man as well as the sword beside him become distinguishable from the darkness almost for the first time. This frame was purchased with the generous support of The Arrow Trust.

Paintings reframed in 2008–2009 with newly acquired antique frames

Hieronymus Bosch

NG 4744 Bosch (fl. 1474-d. 1516), Christ mocked (The Crowning with Thorns), c.1510, o/panel, 73.8 x 59 cm., in previous 20th century British reproduction northern rainsill frame, parcel-gilt and painted black

NG 4744 Bosch, Christ mocked (The Crowning with Thorns), reframed in 16th century Spanish architectural entablature frame; remains of original parcel-gilding and polychromy, with detail


6A NG 626 Botticelli Portrait of a young man in previous frame

NG 626 Botticelli (c.1445-1510), Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1480-85, tempera & oil/panel, 37.5 x 28.3 cm., in previous frame: an early 20th century version of 16th century cassetta with cushion frieze and double guilloche


NG 626 Botticelli, Portrait of a Young Man, reframed in 16th century carved walnut Tuscan complex moulding frame; stained and polished, although may once have been gilded overall; with detail


NG 6457 Cézanne (1839-1906), Landscape with Poplars, c.1885-87, o/c, 71 x 58 cm., in previous French Louis XIV frame, second half 17th-early 18th century

NG 6457 Cézanne, Landscape with Poplars, reframed in late 17th-18th century Italian bolection frame with rare carved ‘grape-pip’ scale pattern; one of a set from Assisi; with detail

Olivier van Deuren

8A NG2589 Van Deuren Astronomer in Previous frame

NG 2589 Van Deuren (1666-1714), A young astronomer, c.1685, o/panel, 15.3 x 12.7 cm., in previous modern narrow bolection frame, stained and varnished



NG 2589 Van Deuren, A young astronomer, reframed in late 17th-early 18th century Netherlandish fruitwood frame with ripple mouldings, stained and polished; adapted to the painting with the insertion of a stained inlay; with detail



NG 2520 Guardi (1712-93), A View near Venice, c.1775-80, o/c, 20.7 x 30.8 cm., in previous late 19th-early 20th century reproduction Baroque Italian bolection leaf frame


NG 2520 Guardi, A View near Venice, reframed in 18th century Italian Rococo labretto frame: its leaves or petals rolled into labretti or ‘little lips’ at the sight edge


11A NG 6527 Monet The Museum at Le Havre previous frame ed

NG 6527 Monet (1840-1926), The museum at Le Havre, 1873, o/c, 75 x 100 cm., in previous 20th century British reproduction Louis XIV-style compo frame


NG 6527 Monet, The museum at Le Havre, reframed in antique frame with ogee profile



NG 74 Murillo (1617-82), A peasant boy leaning on a sill, c.1675-80, o/c, 52 x 38.5 cm., in previous reproduction Spanish-style frame



NG 74 Murillo, A peasant boy leaning on a sill, reframed in 17th century Baroque Spanish frame, parcel-gilt and painted; with detail

Le Douanier Rousseau


NG 6421 Rousseau (1844-1910), Surprised!, 1891, o/c, 129.8 x 161.9 cm., in previous 18th or 19th century ‘Carlo Maratta’ frame, with papier mâché ornament

13B NG6421 Rousseau Surprised

NG 6421 Rousseau, Surprised!, reframed in 17th century Baroque Genoese gallery frame with bolection profile

Paintings reframed in 2008–2009 from Gallery stock

14A Caravaggio NG6504 in previous frame

NG 6504 Caravaggio (1571-1610), Boy bitten by a Lizard, c.1594-95, o/c, 66 x 49.5 cm., in previous 17th century Baroque Italian leaf frame, made to fit painting with inserted ogee sight edge

14B Caravaggio NG 6504

14C Caravaggio NG 6504 Corner detail

NG 6504 Caravaggio, Boy bitten by a Lizard, reframed in 16th – early 17th century Italian reverse cassetta with bolection moulding to sight edge; parcel-gilt and decorated with faux marbre finish in in black and warm golden-brown; with detail

Paintings reframed in 2008–2009 in authentic replica patterns made in the Gallery workshop


NG 2082 follower of Botticelli (c.1445-1510), A Lady in Profile, c.1490, tempera on panel, 59.1 x 40 cm., in previous late 19th-early 20th century pastiche frame constructed from a gilt acanthus-&-shield moulding and ebonized fillets




NG 2082 follower of Botticelli, A Lady in Profile, and reverse with a winged allegorical figure, reframed in replica of an antique 15th – 16th century frame; with detail; copied from a frame used for NG 590 Zoppo, The dead Christ supported by saints

16A Hondecoeter NG1222 Previous frame

NG 1222 Melchior Hondecoeter (1636-95), Birds, butterflies and a frog, 1668, o/c, 68.3 x 56.8 cm., in previous late 19th century British NeoClassical revival fluted frame in compo



NG 1222 Melchior Hondecoeter, Birds, butterflies and a frog, reframed in replica of 17th century Netherlandish concave ebony frame; with detail

17A Macchietti NG6606 in Previous frame

NG 6606 Girolamo Macchietti (attrib.; 1535-92), The Charity of St Nicholas of Bari, c.1555-60, o/panel, 75 x 112 cm., in previous late 19th-20th century pastiche of Baroque/Mannerist Italian frame

17B Macchietti NG6606 in Current frame 2009

17C NG6606 Macchietti in Current frame 2009 Corner detail

NG 6606 Girolamo Macchietti, The Charity of St Nicholas of Bari, reframed in replica of a 16th century Tuscan Mannerist fluted frame in walnut with parcel-gilding; with detail


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

19B Uccello George and the dragon

19C Uccello George & the dragon Corner detail

NG 6294 Uccello, St George & the Dragon, reframed in 16th century Italian or Spanish entablature frame

Also reframed:

L603 Guercino Saint Gregory the Great with Saints Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier
NG 6260 El Greco The Adoration of the Name of Jesus
NG228.2 Perugino The Archangel Michael
NG228.3  Perugino The Archangel Raphael with Tobias
NG228.1  Perugino The Virgin and Child with an Angel
NG181 Associate of Perugino The Virgin and Child with Saint John
X6283 Pontormo Portrait of Two Friends, Fondazione Giorgio Cine, Venice
L1079 Pontormo Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cape (Carlo Neroni)
NG1280  Lo Spagna Christ appearing to the Virgin with the Redeemed of the Old Testament

Supporters 2008–2009 J.A. Floyd Charitable Trust
Reframing of El Greco’s The Adoration of the Name of Jesus and Murillo’s A Peasant Boy leaning on a Sill were supported by Mr Juan Corbella
Reframing of Rembrandt’s An Elderly Man as Saint Paul was supported by The Arrow Trust