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The frame as work of art

Experts or amateurs of Modern or Contemporary painting quite often have a little knowledge of frames. The frame is actually a work of art in itself, crucial to the framed painting as it conveys the taste of the time, and meaningful signs of the mentality, culture and sensibility of various historical periods. However, rarely are these values correctly understood and interpreted by scholars. In other words, all the experts are fully aware of the importance of frames as expressions of culture and feelings, such as the painting for which the frame is intended. Nonetheless, there is often a lack of adequate explanations of this phenomenon and of useful information to interpret the matter and make it fully accessible.
When dealing with a little-known old master, a frequent issue is represented by the originality of the frame. Only an extensive experience and a great acumen allow adequately answering the question. Moreover, it should be taken into account that frames are particularly fragile and delicate. So much has been lost over the centuries or due to inappropriate conservation practices.

The connoisseur, therefore, should not give anything for granted, but explore this peculiar typology of works of art throughout a meticulous study and a careful discipline. This is exactly what can be found in this book, where numerous and exquisite frames are examined with authentic passion and in-depth knowledge by two experts in the field. In the first place, the book is the history of a long-lasting passion and a long-lasting research in this field. The chronological frame is quite vast, ranging from late Quattrocento to mid-18th century. The ‘Impero’ style is excluded, thus representing a spatial and chronological border for the authors, thus wisely self-confined within a coherent work.
This is, therefore, the result of a passion born in a cultural environment already projected towards the study and love for ancient art, grown through a spontaneous approach towards the matter, later developed through historical and typological researches which make this book a very useful catalogue, and a rich tool for the scholars seeking certain and detailed information to exactly trace the various models.
Either in houses or museums, observing frames before framed works might seem bizarre. Yet, this book shows how this choice proves thoughtful and respectable, the results being evident. Every frame has got a peculiarity and a history and for this reason there are not identical frames in this book. The creativity and skilfulness of great masters/craftsmen seem endless. In the pages of this book, we read the reflection of the powerful desire of the collectors, freed from every possible limit in their research and collecting activity, projected towards the discovery of increasingly beautiful and rich frames. This reconstruction could be read in terms of quantity, but its result should be interpreted in terms of quality, a refined and precious quality. It should be underlined that antique frames were not bought by experts, but, on the contrary, by curious profane, captivated by this peculiar form of sculpture, fashionable and somewhat ‘new’, a real discovery in the field of antiquities. Then, those profane, if provided with assiduity and skills, would inevitably become experts and specialists. Family background proves particularly fruitful, especially for those grown up among dealers of paintings, furniture and sculptures, given the instinctive inclination towards that world, which they enter very naturally, so that they influence potential collectors and convey their passion and knowledge. This is precisely the history included in this book. As a consequence, the volume succeeds at conveying a sense of discovery and aesthetic achievement, introducing interesting thoughts on the use and perception of frames in the broader picture of art collecting. This way we discover (just to mention a single yet significant example) how beauty can clearly emerge from the combination of an antique frame and a contemporary, even informal painting, which can often be more interesting than the combination of an ancient frame and an old master. Accordingly, works by Mirò, Twombly, Fontana or Vedova, if inserted in a Cinquecento frame, could achieve a great splendour, simultaneously enhancing the frame itself. It thus emerges a great balance between Renaissance form and abstract brushstrokes of bright and violent colours, rich in poetry and elegance. Our book, moreover, explores the fundamental principles of the conservation and valorisation of frames. Analysing the text, we understand that varnishes should never be altered, as they are a proof of integrity and correct interpretation of the past. In the case of non-recent loss of varnishes, for instance, abrasions of the gilding or scratches in the wood, restoration should be avoided in any case. As a matter of fact, restoring would compromise the originality of the frame, which, on the contrary, should be always preserved. Every case is, of course, different.
An example which, by contrast, requires accurate interventions is offered by the antique frames painted in black, a sort of sign of mourning typical of the 19th-century tradition. In these cases, the removal of the black varnish allows rediscovering gold and lacquered surfaces, mainly in a perfect preservation state as they were protected by the black varnish and isolated from dangerous atmospheric agents.
In these circumstances, the conservation treatment is necessary to find the historical and aesthetical truth of the frame.
This way, the journey indicated by the book finds its end, enriching us with numerous and various notions, capable of making us aware of framerelated issues, from its history to its artistic meaning.
Claudio Strinati

The antique frame

One can establish an intense dialogue with frames, leading to an exchange of sensations and information finalized to an unceasing search for knowledge.
Therefore, the frame should not be interpreted as mere appearance, but first and foremost as beauty, art, creativity and rarity. The scope of this collection is to convey an experience of passion and research, carried out as individuals and collectors. Additionally, it should be stressed that collecting is associated to the sometimes-obsessive pleasure of possessing objects.
It is widely believed that, even in the presence of wonderful things, there is a lack of sense of wonder. This belief is so strong that some people are not crying or smiling anymore. Both Art and the positivity of beauty, witnessed by frames in this case, help contradicting this belief and rediscovering wonder by means of looking at beautiful objects, such as those included in this book and resulting from an accurate search for beauty and from a culture, a passion, a true love for that marvellous object which is the antique frame.
One might wonder why frames are collected to be hung, empty, on a wall. First of all, the small dimensions of these objects make them even more fascinating, helping us to focus on the executional technique, details and decorations. Then, the empty space framed by these objects enable us to easily imagine everything (real or fantastic) and it also enhances the pure beauty, the elegance, the refinement and the significance of the object itself, in both its artistic and historical value. This way the role of the frame is finally freed from being an imposed “limit” to another work of art. As a consequence, the frame finally reaches its own value, not as an accessory element but as an essential one, in its closed form and supporting structure. Nothing would stand without a frame, nothing could be imagined without a structure; a house without a spatial and geographical environment cannot exist but in the mind which conceives it.
Moreover, we cannot find a starting point or an end if we do not know whether to privilege the frame or its content, the outside or the inside; I have myself made this choice a long time ago, being inspired by a life devoted to the search for and research on antique frames.
Even if today antique frames are interpreted as a ‘status symbol, their artistic value remains undoubted.
According to me, the antique frame has embodied and still embodies, beyond its historical and artistic value, far more than a gift or commercial object; it is an element capable of arousing wonder, love, and desire for possession. A pleasant consequence is offered by the collecting activity of this wonderful object: the antique frame.
Franco Sabatelli