Van Dyck’s Self-portrait: The Frame and its Conservation
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Van Dyck’s Self-portrait: The Frame and its Conservation

October 16, 2019

Simon: This is the type of frame which was
used in the 1630s at the court of Charles I at which Van Dyck was such a prominent
member. This is one of the most extraordinary frames
at an extraordinary moment in the history of picture framing. Pictures flooded in from
the Continent under King Charles I, pictures were painted in this country and the collectors,
from the king down to his courtiers, expected elaborate and rich and costly frames to match
the cost of their newfound wealth. And the ornament on this frame is extraordinary, inspired
by Netherlandish and Italian sources. Ager: Well, this frame is an extraordinary
example of a Mannerist frame. Not only is it a Mannerist frame, but its free-flowing
organic forms, the frame actually slips into the Auricular style and Auricular literally
means of the ear, organic; and you see the marine forms on the frame, there are dolphin
heads, and in fact the sunflower, so the crest at the top of the frame, is a motif that Van
Dyck employed to indicate fidelity to both the king and Apollo, as do the dolphin forms
on the top left and top right of the frame and also the dolphin mask at the lower part
of the frame these also indicate their fidelity to Apollo.
The existing gilding on the frame is most probably the third gilt scheme. The existing
gilding is in fairly good condition; there are areas of delamination and loss to the
gilding that reveal the underlying oak and also some of the original gilded scheme as
well. There are several structural splits to the frame and the most prominent of those
is probably at the top left, to the left of the sunflower crest.
The planned conservation treatment to the frame is to firstly stabilise the delaminating
gilding and also assess, look at the areas of loss and aesthetically see if they can
be improved by perhaps in-filling and re-gilding and that’ll be a case of isolating the existing
surface, so retaining the original gilt scheme that’s beneath it, in-filling and then gilding
and toning to integrate the new repair with the existing gilding on the frame. It’s always pleasing to view a painting that’s
retained its original frame, especially in this case with this fine Mannerist frame,
and it’s intriguing and exciting to think that he may have had a hand in the conception
of the frame and its realisation. Simon: An artist like Van Dyck with international
experience, through the low countries, through Sicily, Genoa, he was somebody who knew how
a picture should be framed. For your own portrait you care about how it’s
framed and certainly an artist does. And he had all the contacts in London, the
carvers, the guilders, the designers, and a frame like this, which was one of the richest
made in London at the time, will have been made by a really important and leading craftsman. Ager: I’m particularly intrigued by the almost
thumb mark sculptural shaping of the carving in the frame, which really looks like it’s
been sculpted in clay rather than carved in timber. Simon: One of the extraordinary things about
this frame is that it’s not unique, the same design but stretched out horizontally is found
on a Mortlake tapestry of the 1630s. Extraordinarily, the frame within this Mortlake tapestry frames
a self-portrait of Van Dyck with one of the leading courtiers of the time and a friend
of his, Endymion Porter. The two of them are seen in this extraordinary Auricular frame
just like this one but stretched out horizontally and these are the only two examples of the
use of this frame type at this extraordinary moment in the history of framing. Both of them
associated with the artist Anthony van Dyck.

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