Choosing a frame | Restoring Artemisia Gentileschi’s ‘Self Portrait’
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Choosing a frame | Restoring Artemisia Gentileschi’s ‘Self Portrait’

September 9, 2019


I’m Letizia and I’m the Curator. I’m
here in Conservation with Larry Keith, our Head of Conservation and Peter
Schade, Head of Framing. Now as the picture is nearing the end of its
conservation treatment, we’re beginning to think about how we might frame the
picture and whether we need to acquire a frame or perhaps make a frame for the
painting. We bought it without a frame as a picture,
as you remember, that was not restored and not framed so in a way we’ve got to
sort of clean slate: we can start from scratch and see what works and what
doesn’t work without any sort of preconceptions. So, it’s a really
interesting moment where Peter’s gathered together a variety of frames
and this is a chance to really see what works and get a sense about what works
formally and so we often nowadays can make very large scale photographic
reproductions. These happen to be taken before treatment started but they’re
really useful for giving an indication about how the frame might work and we
can test them, you know, much more happily than using the painting itself which is
here, nearing completion, so I think Peter would like to say a little bit about the
kind of frames we have and why they’re here. We try to match
historically, kind of, appropriate frames with paintings and have a
selection of a variety of Italian frames of the early 17th century which give us
everything from carved to black and gold to gilded to silver to wooden to brown
painted so there’s a variety that we can all try out to see how tonally and
how the shapes work with the painting. It was interesting, of course,
this painting is almost square and it’ll be very unlikely that we find in an
old frame that would fit perfectly so all these frames will also have to be
considered with a view to adjusting the frame or using the frame as a model for
reproduction that’s the options we need to discuss. And in looking
at this big variety of frames we’ve kind of narrowed it down to at least two
things we’re most interested in but it’s interesting to think about how frames
which are correct historically and appropriate sometimes just don’t work
with the painting and that’s the thing I find interesting is there’s a
combination of knowing about the style and history of frames
and then we still, like in conservation itself, ultimately we’re making nuanced
aesthetic judgments which are up for discussion. So, for example here, this
frame you can see that the carved elements, which are wonderful, have, in our
view anyway, a slight unfortunate tendency to repeat or compete with
the spikes on the Catherine Wheel in a way that seems a bit distracting and so
we’re inclined not to go with this frame for that reason although it’s perfectly
appropriate. It’s got beautiful colour and beautiful weight and it’s got the original
surface which is something that we find with frames or we
aim for. It’s very good in all those respects. Also it would be adaptable;
that’s something that I’m concerned about that whether it’s feasible
to adapt an ornament and this would be possible to adjust in size but
actually that really doesn’t work well in this area. – and it’s interesting, there’s no substitute really for just trying a one-to-one reproduction
with the frame itself because that’s something – it would be really hard to…I don’t
think we would have gathered that as much from just looking at an image and
so with just playing with the things you gain all sorts of insight, I think,
into what works formally, what seems right even though they all may be,
historically anyway, kind of correct. With any frame around this painting we’ve
talked about the fact that the way she’s composed it with quite a tight crop it is
really interesting to see, even with these photographic reproductions before
conservation, you can start to see how the figure has more weight and how it
emerges from the plane in really a very convincing a sort of way but I find it
fascinating to think about what happens with a darker value around the picture
even though it’s articulated with the gold you get a sense, I think, of her kind
of emerging even more powerfully from around the frame yet without feeling too
contained by it but the gold has a beautiful kind of colour and patination
that’s really nice particularly with the clean picture itself, you know, the less
yellow… – The cooler values of the cleaned picture work particularly well with the gilded frame. And so at this stage I mean it’s
not that we’re necessarily absolutely going to commit to one of these frames
but it’s so useful to see in the round different families of frames and just
get a sense about kinds of formal qualities that enhance,
you know, our view of the painting and how it’s working. – This actually
looks surprisingly insubstantial next to frames that are fractionally wider
but this just looks very, very broken up. It makes the painting look
less strong I guess. – It’s such a subjective thing as well, I
really don’t like this finish on this picture. It doesn’t work for me. – Yeah, it’s a different kind of experience about how the relationship
works between the figure and the frame. It’s not that one’s right and one’s
wrong, they just have different qualities and that’s kind of the challenge
and the fun of trying to work out what might serve the painting best. – Of course, you think about the sort of
intrinsic importance of a frame, I think about it curatorially. Is it the kind of
frame this picture would have been hung in and also I’m thinking is it something
that proportionally might work here but then weirdly doesn’t work in the Gallery,
in a very large picture gallery with many other pictures of competing for
space in a way so we have to kind of bring all those elements into our
decision-making. I agree with you with the black: I think the black really helps
to, sort of, extend the picture rather than compress it but actually I find
that the fact that this frame is quite large works very well. It gives an
importance to the figure, a presence. – Yes, this has got, kind of, a reverse
inner section that that projects into the room.
Actually the painting sits almost exactly the same level as this black
painted section whereas here the frame actually pushes the picture
physically outwards so it’s more of a reverse section which is, kind of, a
typical 17th century device: the paintings projecting forwards. I
think, especially portraits, were framed in a way that would project them
outwards into a room rather than a frame that makes you look into a space where
you can see a world with either the landscape or with a figurative scene, a
portrait, I think, was always meant to be projected into the room – And that’s certainly what she’s trying to achieve artistically with the way she’s
constructed the colours and the values and the modeling of the arm and the rest
that I keep talking about. – And Peter: so with one or other of these choices, obviously they need to be adapted because they don’t actually fit the
picture or we’re faced with the decision of whether to use them as a model,
perhaps to create something in the framing workshop here. I mean, perhaps you
could talk through the pros and cons, particularly with the smaller one which
is a harder thing to adapt. – Yeah that would be really…I mean
fortunately…and I think the reproductions are not absolutely the
right size but I think I know that this size fits, I think in height
or width, one dimension, it fits pretty accurately so that makes it at all
possible. I think if the frame had to be adapted in two ways
then one could rule it out but just adapting it one way is difficult
but possible. – But I think it’s worth saying that there are examples, even now in the Gallery, where we think a historical model is appropriate for a
picture and some of them we can really reproduce very very effectively. This is one of those kinds of frames, I think, because it’s not a solid
mass of 300 year old gilding that basically…is that right? I mean it’s
more easy to make a more effective reproduction?
You’re smiling at me! – Well, reproductions are possible but they always carry the
baggage of modernity, of our time, and always, in some way, it
transfers into reproduction frames and usually we don’t see it now but you
can look back at a history of frame reproduction in the Gallery as well and
most reproduction frames after 20-30 years, they don’t match up to
originals. Yeah I think that’s interesting that 50 years from now you
can always see and it’s the same thing about decisions we make about
restoration itself, you know, we think we try to be, I guess what we can say now is
we’re very transparent about the decision-making process but it’s
definitely an interpretation all the way down the line and so this is just
another aspect of how we take a view about things, about display, that is
never written in stone. – But I think by using actual old frames of the time, even if we adapt them, there’s a greater likelihood that they will stand the test
of time – Yeah, I think that’s certainly true. – So looking at this one in
particular what would be challenging in adapting this frame? – Yeah these Tuscan frames, they’re quite common but they’re very very hard to use; I think
we’ve got very few in the Gallery but they are actually a reasonably common
frame to find, partly because they’re so difficult to adapt and this one, in
particular, having to be extended in one dimension would be quite
challenging to perform and basically to do in a way that is invisible and invisible not only now but also in the long term.
Sometimes extensions only become visible after five or six or ten
years when the wood has slightly changed in size and then
cracks appear where an extension has been made in the past and we
select frames very much for the long term: something that might be on the
picture for forever, as far as we’re concerned, and therefore we really have to
think about it, especially with extensions, not to do something that will
just look alright for now but will become visible in in the future. – It’s twice as complicated with these kinds of frames isn’t it? Because, if you
make them bigger, you have to keep the ornament in the middle. You can’t just add to one side. – Yes, this would have to be extended in four places – So technically that’s double the challenge and double the ethical issue I
would say. – And this can be reproduced very effectively so, if you want to go
for this type of frame, we might have to consider a reproduction. – Whereas the gold frame,
that would be a matter of cutting that down, adapting it to make it
smaller and that would be more straightforward? – This would be
fairly straightforward: we have enough substance to alter this frame so that it
would be completely invisible and all we would see would be the original
substance. Obviously we wouldn’t have to add anything to this
and also there is no kind of ornament that would make this frame only work at
this size so this is quite adaptable. – Is it fair to say that
this is the kind of frame that was even designed and conceived to be any number
of lengths? – Yes, this kind of frame would have probably been made at different sizes. – So we’re not doing anything that they wouldn’t have been thinking about in the
workshop in the 17th century? – Yeah it’s more that our picture
is just a really unusual size.

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  1. So illuminating, thank you. I learned to evaluate and love the frames as well as the pictures by hearing Peter Schade speak at an NG lecture. Only downside is that now it takes me twice the time to visit any exhibition! Please could he be a regular feature?

  2. are you all done and dusted now? excellent. are you gonna show the various stages in time lapse to totally restored image replete with new frame?
    well, I did enjoy this set of clips sent, if nought else.

  3. In a perfect world of conservarion, framing and decision making where everybody can express themselves and in a such subtle and polite manner ❤ This series is a truly gem.

  4. That was a great segment. Thank you!
    I love the Italian frame on the Gentileschi. This style of frame is usually found encasing many of the works by Rembrandt.
    There are a lot of people who do not realize framing is an art in itself; I learned this lesson when I apprenticed under the late Aldo Pistidda of Décor Aldo Inc., a fine art and furniture restoration & conservation firm.

    It's best to allow a client to decide upon a frame of their choice, when having restoration done on a piece; the same goes when selling new works.

  5. I missed the first hour on the painting itself So what wall colour best goes with the painting,,and what about the carpet, And how are you going to market the painting to bring in the punters,The title is a real bummer,,its a real branding problem ,,,,sorry,,,branding issue, St Catherine of Alexandria,,,for Chrissake,,who cares about an Egyptian saint,And the artists name ,,I mean,,seriously,Why not change it to something sexy/Irish eg Siobhan McNamars

  6. i haven't heard this much of nothing in a long….well…maybe not long….well…it's really not short since the increments increase successively upon itself…. but what is quite crucial, that one is prone to fail at applying is the factors of x to the y, which are irrelevant without the z. Just save us all some time and take the piece in question to your local Mom's & Pop's frame shop and let the pro's help you out !

  7. Fascinating discussion. I was expecting to hear more consideration of how the frame works with lighting in the gallery and whether there will be glass on top of the picture. One of my greatest frustrations with museums are works displayed such that shadows and glare and reflections prevent the viewer from seeing the whole work clearly.

  8. I would go straight for a reproduction as I am totally against cutting and modifying period frames. I also agree that there is a great deal of interpretation when finding a new frame for a painting. Viewers might be actually tricked in assuming that the applied decorative frame is the painting's original. Hence sometimes I consider the manufacturing of new decorative frames that are plain and simple to make it evident that its a new one. Of course then it is important to paint such frames with a neutral-toned colour that compliments the painting without stealing much attention. Well done for sharing such behind-the-scene discussions as they raise awareness of the complexity and professionalism of conservation and restoration projects.

  9. Absolutely absurd using a dull grey mockup with all its visual distractions, as opposed to a copy of the newly restored painting. No way to be having this discussion. Depressing to see otherwise intelligent people not seeing the obvious!

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