I have a confession to make: I’ve misled you! In my lastest post I promised you cake, but to your horror (or mine?) you won’t find any pâtisseries here today, I’m afraid. Another opportunity I couldn’t refuse came up. I know I’m such a disgrace, but then again, I never described myself as a reliable narrator, did I? (My blog, my rules. Remember?)
I hope you will be able to excuse this betrayal. (Or has this blog already jumped the shark?) Today I’m very luck to host the incomparable and witty Lynn Roberts, of @TheFrameBlog fame, who will tell us more about the frame used on the Marie-Antoinette painting I’ve seen at the Petit Trianon. I’m handing over the reigns to Lynn after the jump!
The setting on this portrait of the Queen of France by Elisabeth Vigée LeBrun is a very lovely example of a NeoClassical fronton frame – or, in other words, a frame with a crest at the top centre. In this case the crest isn’t a specific trophy of any kind, but just a decorative flourish.
Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Marie-Antoinette’s father-in-law, Louis XV, was important in establishing the NeoClassical style at court, through her brother, the Marquis de Marigny, who had been given control of the Bâtiments du Roi. Marigny was an enlightened patron of art, architecture and the applied arts, and greatly encouraged this new decorative style. NeoClassicism dates from the second half of the 1750s, when the artist and architect Louis-Joseph le Lorrain designed a set of furniture for Ange-Laurent de Lalive de Jully, now in the collection of the Musée Condé.
This was in a heavy and sober classicizing taste, which was christened le goût grec; it was quickly lightened into the prettier NeoClassical style of Marie-Antoinette’s frame, where only the pendants down the sides, and the use of a running chain pattern on the frieze, remain from the earlier incarnation of the style. Neoclassicism had been the fashion at the French court for almost twenty years when Louis XV died, and his son took the throne alongside Marie-Antoinette; however, it is generally referred to as the Louis XVI style.
The frame of the queen’s portrait is almost certainly original, and would have been made by the carvers and gilders of the Bâtiments du Roi – the department responsible for all the art, architectural and ornamental work commissioned by the crown. These carvers were mainly drawn from several dynasties of families who inter-married, and generations of whom continued to work in the royal palaces and hôtels particuliers of Paris.
Many of them were maîtres-sculpteurs – not mere carvers, but extremely talented and refined artists in wood and stone; the frames they produced were miracles of design and elegance. After the initial carving in the wood was completed, the frame would be covered with layers of gesso, and rubbed down between each coat to achieve a hard, smooth finish like ivory. Any lost details would then be recut in the gesso by the répareur, after which the frame would be gilded by the doreur, possibly with several shades of leaf, on a ground prepared with gilder’s clay or bole in different colours. Finally, details of the carving would be picked out and burnished, and then toned with pigment.
This particular example has outset corners at the top, with pendants of roses and other flowers at the sides, and a wreath of ribbon-tied flowers at the crest, trailing branches of bay leaves. The frieze is enriched with a flowered chain, with acanthus leaves at the corners; there are crossed palm branches at the bottom. The flowers at the crest and sides echo the rose in the queen’s hand, and refer to her freshness and innocence, as well as to her femininity.
The bay leaves and palms are a tribute to her position, indicating that she was worthy of honour, and also referring to her presumed sponsorship of the arts. Marie-Antoinette, like La Pompadour, kept the marchand-merciers going, and was an advocate for the NeoClassical style, so this is – as it were – a fashionable garment for a fashionable female.
Although I’ve never met Lynn in real life yet, a favourite anecdote of mine involves her spiritual presence. While admiring a framed fan painted by Gauguin on a group visit to The Fan Museum, @GWinLondon, @LondonSE4 and I suddenly looked at each other, our eyes locked, and, in what can best be described as a lightbulb moment, we all exclaimed aloud: The Frameblog. It felt almost like a chant, an incantation. Unlike Beetlejuice, however, Lynn did not magically materialize in front of us after repeating the name of her blog three times! Darn it … This moment, in which Twitter collided with the real world, was quite surreal, but highlights how special this medium is in connecting people who share similar interests and who, often, have yet to meet.
A big thank you goes out to Lynn Roberts for participating in this blog post. Art historian, poet and more, she is a true star, who has opened up my eyes to the secret life of frames, and you should check out her already (in)famous blog as well as her website.
Anyway, I gotta run now, but I swear – on my blog’s life – there will be cake next time! 😉