Art Gallery
Recent Framing
Other Services
A Good Frame
History of Framing
About the Artist

A Short History of Framing

The first timber picture frames were probably used as fireside screens in Italy 2000 years ago. Before this, silver and ivory frames were used on small precious mirrors, enamels etc. Icons and religious pictures in their elaborate gothic frames could be found in the churches of the Middle Ages.

Modern framing really started when the innovators of the 15th century were producing frames for the first oil painters and art collectors of that time.

As awareness and appreciation of art spread from the church through the monarchy to the wider population, demand for framing grew correspondingly. This resulted in many different styles and types of frames developing over the last 500 years.

15th and 16th Century: English Renaissance frames were broad, flat frames, often carved into details showing flowers, birds, fruit or military trophies for example. Italian Renaissance frames incorporated colouring and gilding onto frames with high relief. Details such as faces, angels and Latin script were used.

17th Century: In France, elaborate tortoiseshell and brass frames were made by Boulle for Louis XIV. Curved wood and gesso frames became very popular during this Baroque period. The style was heavy.

18th Century: Almost in rebellion to this heavy style of framing were the lighter and finer designs of the Rococo period. Some details showed a distinctly Chinese influence with the use of bamboo.

19th Century: From the late Edwardian and Victorian periods, large numbers of steam pressed timber frames were being produced. They depicted hearts, twists, oak leaves, gum leaves and other patterns. Soon after, the impressionists painted on the frame as though it were a continuation of the canvas. People at this time were also making simple flat or bevelled frames where the main feature was the polished timber grain, for example, Huon pine, cedar, silky oak, bird's eye maple, English oak etc. Many of these frames also incorporated a simple gilt edge around the inside of the frame. You can still find plenty of these frames in the antique shops of today.

20th Century: After the impressionists came an explosion in art from Fauvism and Cubism to Surrealist and Pop Art. Advances in printing, photography and communications have caused a deluge of images to impact on our lives. Minimalist framing has made framing more affordable; this has led to an exponential growth in the number of things being framed. Restoration of old frames has also become popular, as sources of prized cabinet timbers are becoming scarce.

At the end of the 20th century, we can see the use of all framing styles that have gone before. Simple or neutral frames using plain blacks, timber and muted whites are able to emphasise all works of art by their very simplicity. Use of recycled materials is increasing. Framers and artists are collaborating to produce innovative results. Some artists are enjoying the challenge of framing their own work, bringing their artistic influence and intention to the work in a holistic approach. Examples of this appear in cafes, restaurants and galleries.

[Bibliography: 'Have you been Framed?' Phillips, Antiques and Art in Queensland Feb 1999 issue; 'Framing and Gilding', Curson P., Skills Book Publishing Pty Ltd, 1992]