15th Century Tabernacle Frame

This is a 15th century tabernacle frame, with hand carved ornamentation and a beautifully aged gilded surface. The tabernacle frame design takes its inspiration from architectural elements, with a capital at the top, a pediment at the bottom, and two pilasters or square columns on two sides. This design was often used to surround devotional paintings that would be hung in a home setting. Prior to the 15th century, paintings were surrounded by engaged frames, meaning that the image and its surrounding frame were envisioned and created as one complete object.

It was in the 15th century that we begin to see the emergence of frames created separately from their artworks, leading eventually to the idea that the specific surround to a painted image could be the choice of the patron. Laurence Kanter, former curator of the Lehman Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wrote that the Venetian painter Gentile da Fabriano introduced a fully independent, self-supporting frame, into which he inserted a painted panel of his altarpiece Adoration of the Magi in 1423.

Once frames became separate entities from paintings, they could then be removed and discarded. Frames could and often were changed to reflect the interior design and decoration of the rooms in which they were hung. Antique frames therefore are rare, especially those from the Renaissance period, and in particular from 15th century. Frame scholarship is also a relatively recent field of study in the artworld, so there was not the knowledge that frames should be preserved once removed from their paintings. We knew in the 19 century that a painting from the 15th century was indeed a work of art and had value, but the art world was slow to recognize the history, craftsmanship and narrative elements inherent in a frame from that period.

This tabernacle frame is delicate, exuding a subtle but timeless and naturalistic feeling, as its slender pilasters echo the slender trunks of trees and the aged gilded surface reveals the wood beneath it. It is one of the earliest examples of independent frames; its place in art history is meaningful. With or without the painting it originally surrounded, it tells its own story and it is lovely to behold.  


Opening: 24 1/8” x 15 ¼”  Outside: 30 ¼” x 21 ¼”

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rebecca vicars