Spain or Portugal
Wood, crimson silk velvet, silver and gold thread, and silver
Published: The Art of Collecting. Lisbon, Europe and the Early Modern World (1500-1800), Lisboa, AR-PAB, 2019, pp. 166-167 (cat. 12)
This unusually rich picture frame, made from wood covered in crimson silk velvet, and finely embroidered with precious silver and gold thread and decorated with cast and chased silver applique?s (cherubs and nails), was meant to contain a painting of the Virgin, as may be readily understood from the embroidered inscription on the predella, which reads - “AVE. REGINA. C[A]ELORVM” - alluding to one of her titles, that of Queen of Heaven. Of tabernacle form and architectural in style, the frame features a triangular-shaped, two-tiered pediment decorated with volutes, flanked by obelisks, four columns (two attached to the structure) of the Corinthian order, a predella and an antependium decorated with volutes and bearing the date - “1628” -, embroidered in silver and outlined in gold threads. Probably modelled after an engraving from any of the most important late Renaissance treatises on architecture, the present frame is unique in its use of such costly and fragile materials - precious and costly silk velvet dyed in crimson, a dye and colour reserved for royal and princely patrons, painstakingly embroidered in valuable metallic threads - and also for bearing its date of manufacture.
Its embroidered decoration consists of stylised floral motifs such as formalised undulating scrolls with roses, Mannerist cartouches in a style known as “strapwork” (rollwerk), a water fountain or fountain of life on the top tier of the pediment, also alluding to the Virgin, and the emblem of the Jesuits just above, on the lower tier of the pediment. The emblem, a circle with the monogram “IHS” pierced by a cross and with the three nails from the Crucifixion at the base, a motif known as the Christogram of the Holy Name of Jesus, surrounded by a flaming sun, betrays the Jesuit origin of its commission, while its decoration and style point strongly to an Iberian origin, either Portuguese or, more likely, Spanish. Separate wooden picture frames, normally made from gilded and painted wood, were used in Italy from the fifteenth century, deriving from earlier frames in both metal and wood on altarpieces. They were used to protect and enhance both secular and religious paintings. Elaborate frames such as the present enhanced the visual impact of devotional paintings housed in their interiors, helping devout Christians to better focus in their meditative exercises as promoted by the Jesuits.
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