Marco, Cornice, Cadre: Episodes in the History of European Frame Design (1748-1937)

Julia Vázquez, Ph.D.

This research project examines frames designed as part of major re-framing campaigns undertaken in Europe during the long early modern period. These include the framing of the Spanish Bourbon art collection with the “marco Mengs”; the framing of the paintings in the Galleria Borghese with the Napoleonic “cadre Empire”; and the framing of paintings for export with the “modèle Duveen” by the art dealer of the same name. An essential part of what is often referred to in museums as “collections care”, the re-framing of a painting is one of many changes that can be made to a work of art that can estrange it from its historical point of origin, and from its so-called “original state”. The ephemerality of frames makes them germane to the question of loss in art history and makes plain the instability of works of art: just as individual frames reveal changing conceptions of the art object to which they are fitted, so too re-framing campaigns can point to wholesale re-evaluations of art itself. In examining frames that were designed for and fitted to paintings that had been completed prior, this project focuses its analysis on the non-originality of the frames. It uses their ready changeability to destabilize assumptions about the fixity of the art object, and mobilizes the anachronism between painting and frame to highlight these objects’ shifting relationships to the passage of time.

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