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History of the Photograph Frame

"A picture without a frame is like a soul without a body” – Vincent Van Gough

Today when we think of frames we think of an object used to hold pieces of art, photographs or documents, however, they were once considered to be a vital part of the piece they were holding, and sometimes even a work of art themselves. Emphasis was often put on matching a frame to the architecture and style of the space where it would be placed rather than solely considering the artwork it would hold. Often frames were actually built before they had a piece to be put in them, and then the art work would be created to the perfect size. Today, in contrast, people normally do not want the frames to take any focus away from what they are displaying.

Origins of the Photograph Frame

‘Framing’ is not a recent concept and has in fact been practice since the Greeks and the ancient Egyptians. During these periods however, framing took the form of painting a border around a piece of art on a wall in order to separate different scenes.

One of the earliest examples of a solid frame was located in an Egyptian tomb; it is thought to be dated around 50-70 AD and is crafted from wood. Both the frame and the portrait it held were perfectly preserved.


It was during the 12th and 13th centuries that hand carved wooden frames started to make an appearance. These types of small panel frames were commonly used in churches and made to separate various scenes and paintings. They were originally made from a single piece of wood, but this was a very expensive method. Due to this it wasn’t long before mitred stripes were pieced together to construct the frames.

Silver Photograph Frame

It wasn’t until the 14th and 15th century, during the Italian renaissance, that frames started appearing inside the home. By this time, alter frames had begun to be crafted - these were very elaborate an artistic, often incorporating gemstones, gold and mosaic inlays. Not long after this it became common for those who had wealth and status to have religious and portrait paintings commissioned, bringing art and frames into the private home. The value and importance of art was starting to be realised and with this shared enthusiasm came the necessity to create lighter ‘mobile frames’. It was at this point (somewhere between 1515 and 1547) that frames began being made by furniture builders rather than artists and sculptors.

As time progressed, frames became commonplace within the home and, as to be expected, the style of fames tended to adhere to the general design fashions of the periods. Silver photograph frames became highly popular with the middle and upper class as they showcased their wealth. As silver is such a hard wearing and resilient material there are many examples of antique silver photograph frames that we are still able to enjoy today.

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