A Tale of Two Portraits

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At a recent Christie’s sale preview I saw two portraits that caught my eye due to their frames. It was gratifying to learn that both frames were original to the portraits.

The first, painted in 1844 by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) is a portrait entitled ‘Ferdinand-Philippe-Louis-Charles-Henri of Bourbon Orleans, Duke of Orleans’. The Duke looks out with an imperturbable, regal bearing from a most elaborate surround inspired by earlier Louis XV style frames with prominent corners and centers and a lavishly decorated inner spandrel.

 It’s interesting to note that Louis XV frames would have been completely hand carved, while this frame, as a 19th century object, utilizes molded and applied composition ornament.

That the frame is original to the portrait is affirmed by a charming watercolor depicting the portrait of the Duke of Orleans in situ in the Grand Salon of Eisenach Castle, painted by the sitter’s younger brother Prince de Joinville in 1849.

 Note the portrait in original frame on the wall at right.

Note the portrait in original frame on the wall at right.

The second portrait dates nearly 300 years earlier c.1541 and is by Renaissance painter and tapestry designer Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen (c.1500-c.1559).  The simple arch-top frame is painted black with simple, inner gilded moldings near the sight edge. The bottom of the frame with its canted horizontal rail is referred to as a wasserschlag or rain sill, a popular device in Northern European frames of the period that implies a window inviting the viewer inward.

The identity and position of the sitter is articulated in the script that occupies the central flat of the frame and tells us that it is Joost Aemszoon van der Burch, legal counsel to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V at the Council of Brabant.

The elegantly austere surround on the stoic, commanding presence of van der Burch couldn’t be more different from the florid extravagance of the Duke of Orleans and his dispassionate gaze and I am captivated by them both. Both men meet us in perfect attire, each emblematic of his own place and time.

Credit due to the Christie’s cataloging staff for suppling such excellent background on both artworks.