Have you ever been frustrated trying to describe a certain frame you saw to your local framer, or tried to explain what style you like to your significant other and end up saying you want the one with the curly things in the corners? Well, just like styles of art, frames fall into categories that can help you get the look you want.
The Tabernacle frame is one of the earliest types of frames and was invented during the early renaissance.
Based on Greek temples, it is very architectural and its parts are named the same as parts of classical buildings. The very top decoration is called the pediment, and can be many shapes. Below the pediment is a rectangular area called the entablature, and the sides of the frame are called columns, or pilasters. The rectangular base of the frame is called the pradella and sometimes there is even a hanging decoration called the antependium, which is the opposite of the pediment. This frame was made during the early 20th century and the pediment has been reduced to a flat crown molding, and it is missing an antependium altogether.
It is best fit for classical or classical themed paintings, but can also be used to make a grand statement.
Auricular frames were popular during the Mannerist period of art right after the high Renaissance, and are characterized by their stylized and free flowing ornamentation of animals, marine life, and floral forms. They are named auricular, because many of their shapes are similar in shape to the human ear.
Casetta, or box frames, were derived from the entablature of a tabernacle frame. If you took the entablature and extended it around all four sides you would get a casetta frame. The back edge of decoration it usually taller than the inner, or sight edge of the frame, with a flat frieze in between, as you can see in the profile drawing in the center. There are some reverse casetta frames where the sight edge is taller than the back. This is a simplified modern version of a casetta frame, but they can be highly decorated with sculptural edges and designs on the frieze.
Modern plein air frames are based on the casetta frame, but usually the inner and back molding are the same height.
The kings of France were responsible for setting furniture and decor styles during their reign with the last four, Louis XII, Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI, being the most influential. The frame profile is usually convex, similar to a half circle, attached to a flat base, and covered in c-scrolls and floral motifs. An easy way to remember which is which, is to think of the decorations becoming more grand and entangled, until Louis XVI when decoration became simpler and more separate.
Another way to remember the differences is they span the art periods from Baroque to Rococo, with Louis XVI being during Neo-Classicism.
Empire frames came about during the reign of Napoleon I after his invasion of Egypt. The profile is similar to a Louis the XVI frame, but the decoration motifs have become more classical with palm leaves, lotus, and hibiscus flowers directly influenced by the discoveries made by archaeologists, and artists that Napoleon invited along during the invasion. Empire frames also lack any added corner decoration. This frame has a repeating pattern of wide palmettes and stylized Egyptian lotuses.
Dutch frames have flat profile often with steps and are dark browns to blacks, and some have tortoise shell inlays, or gilt accents. Due to property taxes based on width their houses were long and narrow with large windows on the front and back. This created a situation where darker frames looked better in the available light. Ebony, an expensive wood at the time, was used instead of gold to show off a person’s wealth, and more affordable wood was “ebonized” so the less well off could follow the fashion. Ebonization, a process of using black paint and varnish, is sometimes called Dutch Black, and once it crossed to the Americas became known as black varnish.
Salvator Rosa (Italian), or Carlo Maratta (British) frames both share a similar profile of a convex top and a hollowed out back. They can be very ornate, or simple. It was a popular style during the Baroque period, and is still available at most frame shops.
Modern frames have no decoration and have simple geometric profiles. Sometimes they will have a gilt edge, or accent. They became popular during the first quarter of the 20th century and are still used today.