Sansovino Frames at The National Gallery

Frames in Focus: Sansovino Frames
at The National Gallery

Open now

Titian, Portrait of Girolamo Fracastoro, about 1528
© The National Gallery, London

This is something different. An exhibition at the National Gallery that is not about the contents of a frame but about the frame itself.

Of the thirty frames on show here, only two have paintings in them. Incidentally, both paintings are by Titian (or probably by Titian) and both are taken from the National Gallery’s own collection. Whilst I suppose it is worth showing how the frames look with a painting in them, I almost wish the NG hadn’t included the two paintings. Such is the habit to focus on the contents of a frame it does in this case distract slightly from the stunning frames.

And they are stunning. Associated with Venice and the Veneto in the second half of the 16th century, the frames are incredibly detailed and highly ornamented. Characterised by intricate over-the-top carving, they are full of scrolls and swags, architectural motifs, masks, animals and garlands of fruit and flowers. The thirty Sansovino frames in the exhibition date from 1560 to 1590 and have been borrowed from the Victoria & Albert and from private collections around the world.

These so-called Sansovino frames were nothing to do with High Renaissance master Jacopo Sansovino directly. It is merely a testament to the Venetian sculptor and architect’s lasting reputation that these richly decorated frames were given that name in the 19th century, the term becoming synonymous with Venetian frames in this elaborate early baroque style.

It’s a novel twist to look at the containing border of a work of art and to see it as a work of art in and of itself. Empty frames have never been more interesting.

Open until 13th September

Admission: FREE

Frames in Focus: Sansovino Frames 
is on show in Room 1

Open: Daily 10am – 6pm
Fridays late until 9pm

The National Gallery
Trafalgar Square
London WC2

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