Book Reviews / Comptes rendus de livres - Paul Mitchell and Lynn Roberts, A History of European Picture Frames

Book Reviews / Comptes rendus de livres

Paul Mitchell and Lynn Roberts, A History of European Picture Frames

Barbara Klempan
University of Canberra
Mitchell, Paul and Lynn Roberts. A History of European Picture Frames. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997. 136 pp., 94 illus., cloth US$29.95, ISBN 1-85894-036-2.

1 Picture frames are of increasing interest to conservators, art historians, curators and collectors. No longer considered merely an accompaniment to a work of art, picture frames have taken a prestigious and distinct place with in the realm of decorative art. Professionals in die art world now strive to study each frame in great detail and view it in both an historical and cultural context. Within the past few decades the picture frame has been highlighted in several exhibits on frames such as The Art of the Frame: An Exhibition Focusing on American Frames of the Arts and Crafts Movement, 1870-1920, held at Eli Wilner & Company, Inc., in New York in 1988, and the exhibit, Italian Renaissance Frames, held at die Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1990. Frames are today considered worthy of study and admiration, and it is not surprising that scholarly publications such as the book under review are being produced as resource material for this emerging area of study.

2 A History of European Picture Frames is a comprehensive survey. It consists of written and visual information on frames gathered by the authors for over twenty years. This information was originally intended for inclusion into a thirty-four-volume Dictionary of Art by Macmillan, but, once die magnitude of information collected by the authors was reviewed, it resulted in this independent publication. It explores the development of frames, from early decorative border designs on tomb paintings dating to 2000 B.C., to contemporary frame design. It examines and illustrates the most modest designs, such as the early Italian Cassetta frame, to the highly ornate and flamboyant Baroque and Rococo designs, and links the relationship between picture and frame. This book gives the reader a fascinating insight into the history, design and construction of European picture frames.

3 The book is divided into eight chapters: Introduction, Frames in Italy, France, Britain, The Netherlands and Belgium, Germany and central Europe, Scandinavia, and Spain. These chapters are again divided into subsections that break information into comprehensible and digestible sections. For example, the chapter on the frame in Britain is further divided into Medieval, Tudor and early Stuart, Early Baroque, Auricular, Late Baroque, Palladian, Rococo, Neo-classical, Regency and early Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic Movement, and late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

4 What makes this book so useful is that it is written in a reference style and is thus divided into the concise, aforementioned chapters and then sections. Each chapter is illustrated with remarkable and delightful drawings of frames and frame profiles and is sometimes augmented by black-and-white photographs. It is a shame that the photographs are so small (as is the text) and that the photographs are not always well produced. Each chapter is followed by a short bibliography, rather than compiling it at the end of the book, and I believe, considering the vast amount of information presented in the text, that this was a very useful approach.

5 The reader of this book will have historical, technical and stylistic information available to them that could influence the study, interpretation and conservation of picture frames. For example, the Introduction broadly defines the types of frames as Ecclesiastical frames, Court frames and Secular frames, and the reader can then proceed within the text in the Introduction to review the sections on the Form and Function of frames, Stylistic .Overview, Purpose, Framemakers and Refraining, and finally Historiography. Once through this Introduction, the book can be used as a reference text whereby certain regions or countries can be selected from the contents page and consulted.

6 Within the chapters of this book the reader has access to copious amounts of information on the history and development of frames, techniques and examples of frames from each period. With this information at hand, readers can make informed decisions regarding the history and construction of a particular picture frame, identify frame components, using standard terminology found in the text, interpret the originality of a frame to a work of art, using historical and stylistic information from the text, determine appropriate conservation treatments, and design and reconstruct new period frames, using the detailed drawings in the text. There are not many books available on frames that offer so much to the reader.

7 Another important function of this book is that it draws attention to aspects of picture frames in a format that was not previously undertaken. The comprehensive and well-edited nature of this book and its availability make it an invaluable tool to professionals working with picture frames of all types, and it encourages a new perspective on the preservation of frames as important decorative objects. I would highly recommend this book as a primary text for anyone interested in the history of European picture frames.