Early 18th Century Giltwood Mirror

An early 18th century carved giltwood frame of good size

Italian, circa 1720

This elegant giltwood frame is a fabulous example of eighteenth-century Italian design. It is symmetrical in appearance with an outwards profile and demonstrates the opulent harmony of Italian woodwork of this period. A simple fluted inner wood frame is adorned with pierced botanical detail, including acanthus leaves, and fluid, three-dimensional scrolls. The natural theme is amplified by the composition of the frame itself: the woodwork fans out at each corner, denoting the organic inspiration for the piece. Its significant size suggests it could have originally served as a frame for a portrait of a wealthy patron, or indeed a religious painting. The luxurious and spectacular nature of the Baroque style is profoundly felt in the ornate and theatrical, almost serpentine nature of the sculpted foliage.

The fashion of gilt frames, and later, gilt furniture, originated in religion and devotion. Gilding techniques involve the use of either a water or oil-based adhesive that allows the gold leaf to attach to a layer of gesso, which is built up gradually in layers over the wood. In a Western context, religious images employing gold leaf, either on the frame or the painting's surface, were intended to conjure an ethereal, heavenly presence, in the hope of inspiring the worshipper's spirituality. However, gold leaf also possessed functional qualities: its illuminating features proved useful in dark, candle-lit churches, and could reflect light from the frame onto the devotional image within.
By the late 1650s-1670s, the prototype from which the present frame evolved came to fruition. Cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici, who had amassed a sizeable art collection in his apartments in the Pitti Palace, Florence, began to reframe his works in the latest Mannerist fashion. He appointed master carvers and gilders in the Medici workshops to create what came to be called Auricular frames, distinguished by their flowing style, the trompe d'oeuil effect designed to appear like liquid gold metalwork.
Gradually, these Mannerist features evolved into the Baroque, with the overwhelming presence of horticultural details, and the use of convex and concave curves. The overlapping nature of the elements within the present frame is typical of the Baroque style; frames of this period tended to express an outward dynamism, facilitating the primacy of the image it housed, and allowing the painting to protrude from the frame. The light and shade created by the interplay of overlapping elements further emphasised this visual effect.
The Baroque began as a response to the austerity of Protestantism following the Reformation. A cultural retaliation was ordered by the Council of Trent, which stated that the arts should communicate religious themes and encourage emotional and spiritual involvement from the viewer. Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1659), an architect and sculptor of the period, paved the way for gilded frames such as this with his St Peter's Chair & Gloria, 1666, housed in St. Peter's Basilica.
The purpose of such ornate Baroque frames was to isolate the image from the baroque interior; the frame was to serve as a mediator between the virtual realm of the painting, and reality. As we situate the present frame within the narrative of the history of design, we can begin to understand the significance of its delicately carved features and overall composition.
H 190cm x W 147cm
H 74.83" x W 57.9"


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