Vermeer Paintings in their Frames

Woman and Vermeer

All 36 (?) Vermeer paintings in their frames are arranged (to the right) in chronological order and can be accessed by clicking on their titles. The frame of Vermeer's Concert is shown without the picture after was stolen (it has not been recovered)..

Frames are an important part of viewing a work of art. They isolate the image from its environment permitting the viewer to experience its illusionist qualities minimizing distracting elements which immediately surround it. Without a frame many delicate chromatic balances and subtleties of painting technique are less easily perceived. Figurative painters in fact, often keep their paintings in frames while they are working in order to calculate more accurately compositional balance and color harmony. A frame is similar to a window which, instead of allowing us to observe the outside world from within, permits us to observe the artist's inside world from outside.

Only rarely, Old Masters paintings are encountered in their original seventeenth-century frames.The few Dutch paintings which are still in their original frames are for the most part those in which modern art history has shown little interest. Box frames, in lacquered black oak, were favored in the last years of the 16th century and the first quarter of the 17th century. These give way to more complex ebony frames, although only few of them have the intricate ripple moldings familiar from nineteenth-century imitations. The earliest gilt frames are from shortly after 1650.

"Frames have invariably been adapted in the course of the centuries to suit the fashions of the day. In the early nineteenth-century, for example, it was the heavy, golden Neo-Classical model that prevailed. Entire collections were reframed in the style, as the Ioannides Collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum illustrates.

Girl with a red Hat (detail of frame_, Johannes Vemeer

"For years current fashions were considered more important than an appreciation of the historical perspective. It was only in 1984, with the publication of Framing in the Golden Age,1 accompanying a similarly-titled Rijksmuseum exhibition, that a change occurred. This seminal work was the first to explain to a wide audience how seventeenth-century paintings were originally framed. For many it came as a surprise, and for art-lovers it was a revelation, to see the extent to which a frame determines the ambience of a painting." 2

"The predilection for frame finishes during 17th-century Holland steered away from the opulence of the gold leaf gilded frames being produced at the time in France and Italy. Tastes tended more towards simpler, earthier tones as seen on the frames of Vermeer and Rembrandt and as shown below on Rembrandt's early self-portrait which hangs today at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Many of the early, ripple-style frames, however, were actually manufactured in countries such as Germany and Spain and thought of as 'Dutch' because of their extensive use in Holland.

Frames were often painted black in a form of ebonizing, due to the limited availability and cost of ebony. Considering the wide use of this approach the finish has come to be known in certain circles as Dutch Black."3

  1. P.J.J. van Thiel, C.J. de Bruyn Kops, Framing in the Golden Age. Picture and Frame in 17th-century Holland, Amsterdam/Zwolle 1995 (English edition of Prijst de Lijst, Amsterdam, 1984.
  2. John Davies and Hoogstader& Hoogstaterr, "In the Context of the Frame", Hoogsteder & Hoogstader website. <http://www.hoogsteder.com/publications/journals/journal-3/frames>
  3. Charles Douglas, "Dutch Black Frames", in Charles Douglas Gilding Studio website. <http://www.gildingstudio.com/dutch_black_frames.html>
Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder
The complete book on the technique and studio practices of Johannes Vermeer
2nd edition
eBook / PDF
+300 color illus.
Jan., 2016


more information