Framing Christmas

This post is just a little Christmas greeting, featuring this lovely painting, “A Christmas Carol,” by the great Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The piece just this month surfaced from a private collection. I learned about it from the wonderful blog, The Frame Blog by one of the world’s greatest experts on picture frame history, Lynn Roberts.rossetti-christmas-carol-framed-for-blog

The frames of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood are very significant, as they broke from academic convention and challenged our ideas about the place of art, reaching into the vernacular frame vocabulary of the middle ages, and celebrating the native beauty of that peasant wood, oak, which for their frames they oil gilded with no intervening layers of gesso, composition, or clay, instead being true to their materials by allowing the distinctive coarse grain of oak to show through. This deliberately humble presentation was emblematic of their revolt against the pretentious, insular and arrogant place of painting of the age. They sought to correct the false and debased condition of the arts by, among other things, insisting on truth—not only to materials but to the world as seen—as well as restoring the unity of all the arts. This work of Rossetti’s deliberately honors not only the art of music but the decorative arts — the lyre, the model’s jewelry and gown, the painted wall in the background, and, of course, the art of the picture frame.

In his history of the English design reform effort which we now call the Arts and Crafts Movement, Walter Crane (first President of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society) wrote,

“To trace the genesis of our English revival we must go back to the days of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood… The very marked character of their pictures, standing out with almost startling effect from among the works of the older Academic School, demanded at least a special architecture in the frames of their pictures, and this led to the practice of painters designing their own frames, at least those who were concerned for unity and decorative effect.”

Frames, in other words, were literally on the front line of the cause to restore the primal and natural unity of all the arts—but first and foremost the unity of architecture and painting by use of the connecting architecture of the frame. Lynn’s got several very interesting and scholarly blog entries on Pre-Raphaelite frames. Be sure to check them out at The Frame Blog.

So with this lovely picture I offer my wish that your Christmas be framed by simple pleasures of the Christmas carol that is the expression of love and fellowship, and all the blessings of nature, the arts both fine and humble, and all the season’s beauty.

— Tim Holton

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3 thoughts on “Framing Christmas

  1. What a perfect post for Christmas, Tim, and thank you for your extremely kind references & links to my blog… I hope that you have a very happy and peaceful Christmas yourself! 🙂

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