Though they might seem like afterthoughts, picture frames can be works of art unto themselves. In fact, the earliest frames were often integral parts of a piece. Carved from the same stone or plank of wood as the large relief sculptures they were designed accentuate, frames divided scenes in an overall image, focusing the eye on one panel and then another.

Portable wooden frames as we recognize them today come from 12th-century Europe. At first they were sculpted from the same piece of wood that backed the paintings they surrounded, but eventually it became clear that building a frame separately would be cheaper and more efficient. Soon, furniture craftsmen were attaching mitered wooden strips to artworks after they were complete.

Ornate picture frames from the Renaissance period were often decorated with gold or silver foil and carved to suggest the elaborate scrollwork and details of architecture. During this era, aristocratic families had their own court frames designed with unique figures and motifs.

During the Baroque and Rococo periods, excessively detailed gold-leaf frames surged in popularity. Some frames were carved entirely into decorative forms so that one could see through their shapes to the wall behind, such as with the scrolls, leaves, and masks of the Italian auricular style.

Certain styles became associated with specific regions or rulers: For example, Louis the XIII style frames often have three bands of molding carved with oak or laurel leaf patterns, while those of Louis the XIV typically feature a single band engraved with C-scroll designs and extended, oval-shaped cartouches at the center and corners.

For portraits of royalty or wealthy individuals, a frame might also include a crest, shield, or a scroll with particular family emblems. Certain expensive materials, like ebony or tortoiseshell, also indicated the status of a frame’s owner.

In the United States, the first picture frames were made from simple pieces of wood made like generic wall moldings, known today as the Early American Empire style. Eventually, A...

During the mid-19th century, many artists recognized the importance of the frame for viewers of their work, and began taking control over the frame’s construction, too. Some were influenced by Asian aesthetics and the Arts and Crafts movement, creating forms that emphasized cleaner geometric lines, such as Edgar Degas’ reeded frames, whose depth gradually recedes inward towards the painting.

The growing number of amateur photographers in the mid-19th century also created a boom in homemade frames. Besides the basic forms made from mitered molding, frames were also produced in the elaborate style of Art Nouveau, with asymmetrical natural imagery, and the stripped-down geometric lines of Art Deco. By the mid-1930s, contemporary artists working in abstract genres simplified their frames to a plain black band, or even did away with frames altogether.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Timeline of Art History

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Timeline of Art History

Travel around the world through art with this museums collection of over 6,000 works of art, from Egypt to North A… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Miniature Oval Gutta Percha Frame Marked Patented Aug 7 1855 & TintypeAntique Arts & Crafts Hand Carved 1907 Wooden Oak Picture Frame 28cm X 22cmAntique Black Forest Miniature Photo Frame Signed And Dated 1913.An Antique Art Nouveau Photo FrameArt Deco Chrome Photo Frame Vintage 1920'sAntique Victorian Amw Gilt Bronze Enamel Frame Photo Antique Chip Carved Picture Frame Oak Black Forest Tramp Art Vintage 9ct Gold Photo Frame Mourning Brooch,bevelled Glass Photo Antique Chip Carved Picture Frame Oak Black Forest Strawberry Butterfly3 Vintage Gold Tone Ornate Wood Picture Frames 6" Tall X 5" WideVintage Oval Arched Sash Wood Window Picture Frame Shabby Chic 14 Pane FarmhouseVintage Tiffany And Co Sterling Silver Picture Frame Embossed RosesAntique Minature Carved Picture Frame19thc Antique Victorian Winged Putti Children Dolphin Old Seascape Oil Painting19thc Antique American Winter Landscape Oil Painting & Original Gold Gilt FrameLot (2) 19thc Antique Victorian Flower Old Still Life Oil Painting Frame RoseAsian Antique Hand Carved Dragons / Noble Material Oriental Picture FrameNaomi Lorne Wpa Era Painting 1937 Original Chestnut FrameVintage Gold Gilt Picture Painting Frame 14" X 10.5"Victorian Italy Floral Micro Mosaic Picture Frame Antique French Victorian Shadow Box Gesso Frame & Victorian Lady Rose Picture Picture Frame Antique Microceramica Bronze Small Free Shipping Worldwide *}Antique 19thc Pre Civil War Gilt Empire Era Wood Victorian Parlor Mirror FrameAntique Hrv Old River Valley Style Boat & Mountains Landscape Oil Painting FrameAntique Victorian Aesthetic Ebonised Gilt Frame Oil Painting Fruit Still Life Antique Primative Solid Tiger / Flame Maple Picture Frames PairVintage Cartier Sterling Silver Picture FrameAntique Large Vicorian Cameo Creations Wall Plaque Vigee Le Brun Self PortraltAntique Gernan Black Forest Hand Carved Folk Art FrameVintage Art Deco Reverse Painted Picture Frame 4"x5" ( 21/2" X 3 1/2" Picture )Vintage Cartier Sterling Silver Picture Frame SmallAntique Small Micro Mosaic Oval Picture Frame W Blue Flowers & Brass Easel BackVintage Art Deco Picture Frame / Reverse Painted / Black And Silver / 10" X 8" Antique Ornate Wood Picture Art FrameGorgeous 19th Century Victorian Aesthetic Eastlake Ebonized Picture FrameCharming Antique French Timeworn Gilt Picture Frame & Silk Brocade Border C1850Beautiful Antique Italian Micro Mosaic Double Picture FramePretty Antique French 1900 Ormolu Ribbon Photo Frame Bevel Glass Easel Stand Antique Vtg 1920s Carved Wood & Painted Art Deco Large Picture Frame 20” X 17"Vtg Ant. Fancy Oval Wood Frame/pictureAntique Wood Frame Shadow-box With Floral Embroidery 15.5" X 13.5" Art Deco Machine Age 1930s Reverse Painted Easel Back Picture Frame Cagney NrVintage Micro Mosaic FramesSmall 6x7" Antique Victorian Gold Gilt Oval Picture Frame Unusual Form C1890sSweet Miniature Antique French Easel Photo Picture Frame Ribbon Garland C1900Huge! Antique 1873 "irish House Of Commons" Sepiograph Af Barraud & Hayter YqzBeautiful Antique 1913 Silver Desk Top Perpetual Calendar Or Photo FrameAntique French Bronze ChamplevÉ Easel Photo Frame, 6.5" H, C1900, Excellent CondFabulous Antique Lemon Gold Leaf? Gilt FrameVintage Rustic Antique Black Forest Carved Triple Frame Figural Eagle CrestVintage Micro Mosaic Brass Picture Frame-italyVintage - Ornate 3 - Level Composite Over Wood FrameGold Gilt Wood & Metal Art Picture FrameLot 4 Antique Wood Picture Frame Arts Crafts Art Nouveau Vintage 7"x9" To 9"x12"Celluloid Picture Frames - Lot Of 8 - Assorted SizesAntique Japanese Figural Raised Coiling Dragons & Pagoda Copper Picture Frame Pair Antique Walnut Oval Picture Frames - 9 1/2 X 11 1/2 - Holds 6 X 8 PicsVintage Wood Oval Picture Frame Repro Print "the Secret" 8x10 Opening ChildrenAntique Carved Pierced Ornate Rococo Wooden Picture Frame 8 X 10" Inner Antique Bigelow & Kennard Sterling Silver Heart Shaped Picture Frame 8.5" X 6.5"