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Brief history of the picture frame

Example of decorative gold frames
Example of decorative gold frames
copyright of Indric/

"Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is in the frame." - G.K. Chesterton

It is debated by historians and art collectors when the first picture frame actually emerged, however a general time range of mid 14th to mid 16th centuries have been relatively agreed upon. Before that time decorated borders adorned fresco's and elaborate door and window frames were constructed on palace's and cathedral's. One of the first variations of a separate frame surrounding an artistic image was on the diptychs and triptychs that surrounded the alters in, again cathedral's. These were elaborately encrusted with jewels and gilded with gold to replicate the ornate designs that filled these cathedrals. By around the 17th century intricately designed frames were beginning to emerge out of various areas in the European world. The styles were usually named for the area in which they were from. It was not until around the 1850's when the printing process became able to print in volume that framing became an affordable market. It is also believed that the first frame shops in America were simply extensions of the woodworking and carpentry shops.

Today's frames are not limited to the native trees surrounding the shop in which they are created. The options now include metal, plastic, bamboo, compressed particle board, recycled wood and poly resin. Regardless of how you define framing it has deep roots in the  visual arts and architectural world of yesterday and today. They are also not only aesthetic extensions, they are a fundamental support piece for the art that is within them.

During this research one random question came to mind, did DaVinchi frame his own paintings? While that will not be answered today it is known that the impressionistic artist Edgar Degas did have quite the affinity for the frames he chose specifically for his pieces. It is even rumored that if he found that a buyer or a gallery had changed the frame that he chose he would buy it back, remove it from the gallery and even de-frame the piece. 

There is a wealth of knowledge that has emerged about this topic, and if so inclined to know more, check out some of these suggested sites. 

Paul Mitchell Ltd.

E. Greene Gallery

The Lordprice Collection


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