The picture frame – gilded, silvered and metallised
Picture frames are not limited to the domain of collectors and art lovers – in many ways a picture frame provides a context in which the picture’s subject can exist and find expression. The frame separates the painted work from reality, from the wall and the space around it.
Shortly after panel painting broke away from mural painting in the Middle Ages, gilded frames for carved altarpieces experienced their heyday. The picture frame continued to develop in terms of shape, size and design. Gold leaf was soon considered an essential feature, inextricably linked with the concept of a high-quality picture frame. In the 16th and 17th centuries, frame production reached its peak. Thanks to the architecture and decorative styles during this period, gold leaf, mixed gold-foil and silver leaf become increasingly popular. Engravings on gesso, profiles on wood panelling, doors, furniture and picture frames were all generously embellished with gold leaf. The courtly baroque art of the 17th century and the rococo art of the 18th century frequently featured gold frames, lavishly decorated with carved and water gilded ornamentation.
Baroque and rococo – connoisseurs of lavishly gilt frames
Over the following centuries, while gold leaf was used to some extent as a design feature during the classical, Biedermeier and art nouveau periods, representatives of the baroque and rococo eras remained the undisputed connoisseurs of lavish gold leaf decoration. It was not until the years of rapid industrial expansion in Germany, known as the Gründerzeit, that there was once again a high demand for ornamental picture frames. Ornamentation made from a gilding carton-pierre was applied to covings. The decorated frame would then be “gilded”, or more accurately metallised, using oil gilding techniques and imitation gold leaf.
The question of the gold leaf colours used in the relevant periods is hard to address. There would usually have been several gold-beating enterprises in every major town in the world at that time, but they would not have been bound by any general alloy tables or a standardised colour chart. When compiling the different gold alloys using uncalibrated scales, there was always the possibility of small colour deviations in the finished gold leaf.