The More You Know – A Brief History on Picture Frames

picture framing

People rarely think about the history of humble picture framing. In the past, many historical casings became famous not only because of the art they highlighted but also as a result of their exquisitely detailed craftsmanship, intricate carvings and subtle gold trim. After all, it also used to be considered part of the overall artwork itself.

If you’re one of the curious customers wondering about the story behind the good, old frame – where they hail from, who first used them, and how far back in history they date – then you’re in the right place.

In this article, Picture Framers Melbourne will take a deep dive to review antique practices and highlight some of the most famous pieces in history. Learn who first used them, what sort of art they housed, and what they were made of back in the early days.

The World’s Earliest Frames Date Back to 50-70AD

Did you know that one of the first borders ever discovered were from Ancient Greek times – in approximately 60 AD? Back then, these were used to show off selections of pottery and wall art, with drawings of borders used to section off drawings across the canvas.

Around the same time, 1500kms away, framing was used in Ancient Egypt to display various forms of artwork. Years later, some of these precious casings were discovered still intact. Through the processes of precise mummification, all artifacts uncovered were still meticulously preserved, including a selection of drawings, portraits, paintings and their respective casings.

In fact, one of the first-ever borders uncovered in Egypt was surrounding a Fayum mummy – a type of highly-regarded classical portrait that had been painted onto wooden boards and secured to upper class Roman Egyptian corpses.

The Discovery of Stucco

The earliest cases in circulation are likely to have been made from stucco (a substance made of an aggregate, such as sand, clay or crushed stone), a binder (such as tree bark, sap or ancient collagen-based glue), and water.

When mixed together, stucco could be applied to surfaces in a wet state and hardened as it dried, forming an extremely compact and solid material. Think of this as ancient concrete. This was then carved and shaped to act as a border for a variety of artworks.

It’s likely these were used mostly for Ancient Egyptian funeral proceedings to showcase the deceased prior to burial. At that time, the portrait would also be buried with the mummy.

Wood Becomes Popular

Fast forward 1,140 years to Europe, where we see carved wooden borders beginning to surge in popularity. Moving away from stucco and using wooden panelling, frames were typically made from one piece of wood with the middle cut out ready for the art to go inside.

The detailed carving left a raised edge and then had Gesso applied – which is a white coloured paint that’s used to prepare wood panelling, quite like a modern-day canvas primer. From there, the Gessoed framing was guilded, which saw gold in either leaf or powder form is applied. Once dry, the carved, lowered section would then act as the blank canvas ready for painting.

The Great Split

It wasn’t until the establishment of the Florentine Renaissance that spanned the 14th – 17th centuries that we saw the introduction of frames as separate entities from artworks.

Before this time, frames and paintings came as one. It wasn’t until Italian painter Gentile da Fabriano was commissioned by Italy’s wealthiest financier Palla Strozzi that paintings and frames became separate. Upon Strozzi painted his interpretation of the Adoration of the Magi, the framing and canvas split into two separate pieces – inspiring future artists such as Donatello, Masaccio and Brunelleschi to adopt the same separation.

The Future of Framing

We know good picture framing can be expensive, especially when you’re choosing them for a larger work of art.

As framing evolves and becomes more commonplace in people’s homes, op-shoppers are finding enjoyment in repurposing old frames – where they remove old artwork and replace it, sand and paint existing borders, or simply buy used, pre-loved products.

Customers also find ordering personalised frames is the best way to preserve their art. Custom framing ensures your border fits your art perfectly and is a great way to ensure their art lasts for years to come.

For more on custom framing and to discuss your options, get advice, or order tailored products that suit your needs, reach out to our friendly team on (03) 9459 1777. You can also contact us here.