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A Guide to Picture Frames at Knole, Kent

This guide was first produced on the occasion of a lecture by Jacob Simon at Knole on 12 November 1998. Knole is one of the great houses of England. The original 15th-century house was enlarged and embellished by the 1st Earl of Dorset, Queen Elizabeth's Lord High Treasurer in 1599. It has remained largely unaltered ever since - a rare survival. For opening times see the National Trust website, or telephone 01732 462100. This guide was produced on the occasion of a lecture by Jacob Simon at Knole in November 1998 and has been revised December 2013. Over the next few years major work will take place at Knole meaning that not all the pictures will necessarily be accessible as described in this guide.


Knole is incomparably rich in the finest early seventeenth-century English furniture. It is sometimes forgotten that the collection is almost as rich in magnificent early picture frames. Some of these frames are on pictures collected by the Earls of Dorset but a forced sale in 1645 during the Civil War dispersed much of the collection. Many of the pictures now at Knole were collected by Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex, Lord Treasurer to James I and owner of Copt Hall in Essex from about 1623. His daughter, Frances Cranfield, married the future 5th Earl of Dorset in 1637 and it was through this marriage that Copt Hall came into the possession of the Earls of Dorset following the death of the 3rd Earl of Middlesex in 1674. Copt Hall became one of the chief Dorset residences, though the 6th Earl of Dorset was considering selling the house at least as early as 1693 to meet his mounting debts. Finally in June 1701 the estate was sold and the contents moved to Knole. At least six wagon loads, including 157 pictures and maps, made their way to Knole, with the great cartoons now in the Cartoon Gallery specially rolled for the occasion.

In the later history of the house two figures stand out as collectors and patrons: the 6th Earl for his patronage of Sir Godfrey Kneller and his great-grandson, the 3rd Duke, for his purchases of Old Masters and commissions to Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Techniques and materials

The story of the picture frame in England really begins in the 16th century. The earliest frames were made of oak, which remained popular for frame construction until the mid-17th century when supplanted by pine. These early frames were joined at the corners with a lap joint, with the frame sides overlapping at the corners, but by the early 18th century, the mitre joint had become universal, with the corners cut diagonally and joined by a key on the reverse side of the frame.

In the 16th century frames were usually painted or stained, but from the 17th century onwards many frames were gilt, that is covered in gold leaf, or finished in silver and lacquered for protection and to give the appearance of gold. The gold leaf was attached by an oil-based adhesive ('oil gilt') or by one which was water-activated ('water gilt'). Water gilding was a more time-consuming process and required a special preparation of clay (the 'bole') which provided the firm, smooth foundation necessary for the gilding to be burnished, or polished.

Elaborately carved frames were time-consuming to make. It was cheaper to produce ornament by pressing a pliable material, such as papier-mâché or compo, in a mould, and then setting it on a wooden framework. Papier-mâché was first used in this way in the 17th century. It was, however, the introduction of compo, a composition of whiting, glue, resin and linseed oil, which drove out the carved frame. Compo became popular in the 1790s and dominated framemaking in the 19th century. It allowed for larger and more richly ornamented frames but its fragility proved a drawback.

Lord Middlesex's framemakers in the 1630s

It is difficult to document early frames, and even more difficult to link those documents with surviving frames. However in view of the outstanding importance of the 1st Earl of Middlesex's collection, an indication is given here of the framemakers at work for him in the 1630s. At the time Lord Middlesex was actively remodelling Copt Hall, with Edmund Kinsman, a master mason with links with Inigo Jones, in charge at the beginning of the decade, and Nicholas Stone, Kinsman's sometime partner, at the end. Stone was a leading stone carver but for Lord Middlesex his role extended to arranging picture framing so that in August 1639 he is to be found contracting that Zachary Taylor, a wood carver in the King's employ, would produce a picture frame 'of the Right Hon.ble Lady Contes of Middlesex pictor' for £6, and that Taylor's long-time associate, the painter Matthew Goodricke, would colour and gild the frame for a further £6. This carved, coloured and gilt frame, costing the great sum of £12 in all, must have been very rich. Some three years earlier the portrait painter, George Geldorp, a friend of Van Dyck, had charged Lord Middlesex a grand total of £104.10s for various paintings, including copies after Van Dyck, and for seven frames. Geldorp's frames will have been in the most fashionable taste; those that are billed individually cost £6 or £6.10s each and are variously described as 'fort Riche' and 'tout doré' in his rather idiosyncratic French. For Taylor, Goodricke and Geldorp, see British picture framemakers, 1610-1950 on the National Portrait Gallery website.

Another document, a bill dating perhaps to the late 1630s, is damaged and so lacks the supplier's name. It records the prices of pictures supplied to Lord Middlesex, the most expensive item being 'a picture of yourself and having the frame gilded', which came to the considerable sum of £20. This bill was published by C.J. Phillips in 1929 under his entry for Daniel Mytens but a reference contained within it to a double portrait of Lady Leicester and Lady Carlisle, surely a Van Dyck type, indicates a date in the late 1630s or even the early 1640s.

What did these frames look like? During Charles I's reign elaborately carved and gilt frames became the fashion in court circles. By the 1630s there were two distinct tendencies at work, the one classicising in spirit, with frames ornamented with scrolls and volutes and with swags and festoons of flowers, foliage and fruit, placed symmetrically about both the horizontal and vertical central axes of the frame, the other anti-classical, in the auricular style, symmetrical only about the vertical axis, organic, fantastic and irregular in ornamentation, deriving its inspiration ultimately from animal and marine forms. At Knole the frames on nos. 1, 146, 234, 236 and 276-281 fall into the first camp while nos. 73-75, 117, 171, 177, 178, 232, 233 and 274 clearly belong to the second. It was this latter, auricular, style which flowered in the 1640s and 1650s, and subsequently in the form of the Sunderland frame (see nos. 3 and 238), while what one might call the classical or architectural tendency renewed itself in quite different forms during the Commonwealth and at the Restoration.

Key terms used in this guide

  • auricular: literally 'of the ear', a highly stylised free-flowing interpretation of organic forms, usually animal or marine in nature, current from the 1630s to the 1680s for pictures of all sizes. The style is usually found in one of half-a-dozen set patterns, which will be described as they occur.
  • bolection: a distinctively shaped convex or ogee moulding of reverse section, curving up from the picture and back to the wall, popular in the late 17th century.
  • compo, or composition: a pliable mixture, usually of whiting, glue, resin and linseed oil, which can be pressed to make moulded ornament.
  • Kent: a frame type current from the 1720s to the 1760s, named after the architect William Kent, featuring projecting square corners, a flat frieze decorated with sand or architectural pattern, and raised inner and outer mouldings, the outer one carved with egg-and-dart or other architectural motif.
  • Maratta: a frame with prominent curved top edge of distinctive profile, taking its name from the Italian painter, Carlo Maratta, a style current in Britain from the 1750s to the 1790s, usually ornamented with a running pattern of acanthus leaf and tongue carving.
  • reverse pattern: a frame with the most prominent moulding nearest to the picture of which there are two recurring patterns at Knole, here described as type A (fig. 1), with wide sloping sanded sides, leaf back edge and 'cabochon' (akin to egg-and-dart) sight edge and type B (fig. 5), rather narrower, with acanthus leaves on both the sight edge and the back edge
  • Sansovino: a Venetian style named after the 16th-century architect Jacopo Sansovino, characterised by the sculptural use of large-scale scrolls and volutes, often with festoons of fruit, the carving partially gilt.

The Great Hall

Stylistic terms in italics are explained above. Frames are made of pine unless stated.

The medieval GREAT HALL was substantially altered by Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, who came into possession of Knole in 1603. The elaborate Jacobean screen dates to soon after 1605. The picture frames in this room cover a wide range of styles from the early 17th to the early 19th century and provide a key to understanding the collections and, indeed, the changing taste in picture framing in England over two centuries.

The earliest is the portrait hung on the panelling at the far end of the room of Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset (no. 1), attributed to John de Critz and dating to about 1601. The elaborate frame is unique and perhaps belongs to the 1610s or 1620s; it has been altered at the corners to fit the picture. Unusually for such an intricately carved English frame of this date, it is in pine rather than oak. In style the paired scrolls at the centres owe something to the Sansovino style in framing, popular in Venice, but there are other influences at work, still to understand. As originally finished the elaborate carving would have been brightly gilt, standing out against a blue background. Much of the gilding is now obscured by bronze overpaint which also hides all but a few traces of the blue paintwork. We shall see other early frames with rather similar paired scrolls, some with painted backgrounds, in the Ballroom and Cartoon Gallery.

Over the door by the fireplace, the full-length Edward Sackville, 4th Earl of Dorset (no. 3) from the studio of Van Dyck has a fine Sunderland frame of the 1670s or 1680s and so somewhat later than the picture. The key hanging on the frame is said to be the Earl's key of office as Lord Chamberlain to Charles I. The Sunderland frame, named after one of the aristocratic collectors of the day, is a late and fantastic development of the auricular style. It is distinguished by its irregular sight edge, visually cutting into the field of vision of the painting. It is also characterised by its bewilderingly complex rich flowing carving, with shield at top and mask at bottom. Another example can be found in the Ballroom with carving to the same pattern. The frame is carved out of the flat of four lengths of pine, with a narrow back frame added for strength (just noticeable when standing to the right of the picture).

Much less elaborate is the narrow reverse section found on three other full-lengths: those of the Duc d'Epernon (no. 8), the 1st Earl of Middlesex (no. 10) and the 2nd Marquess of Hamilton (no. 11). The main sloping surface gains its effect from the application of sand which was subsequently gilt.

Detail of a carved and gilt reverse pattern frame

Fig. 1 Nicolò Molino by Daniel Mytens, 1622, detail of a carved and gilt reverse pattern frame in pine of type A , perhaps by Henry Miles, 1698.

This unusual late 17th-century or early 18th-century pattern (fig. 1), designated here as type A, will be found again in the Leicester Gallery and the King's Room. It is possibly to be associated with a bill of the carver and gilder, Henry Miles, dated 12 March 1698 where 'A whole length frame for Lionel(?) Cranfield Earl of Mid'sex' is one of four charged at £3 each. The pattern may have continued in use over a period of years and evidently became something of a house style at Knole.

In all ten early 17th-century portraits on the visitor route have these frames, as do other portraits in the private apartments. Reframing of this kind suggests that at one stage the portraits may have hung together, perhaps in a gallery at Knole or another house. At £3 each these simple frames were relatively inexpensive; the almost contemporary Kneller full-length in the Ballroom cost £10 to frame and the portrait of George IV here in the Great Hall £45.

A Prospect of Dover Castle (no. 2) over the fireplace was painted in 1727 by John Wootton to mark the 1st Duke of Dorset's swearing in as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. The magnificent carved Kent frame is ornamented at top with ducal coronet and the Sackville leopard supporters and along the frieze on all four sides with a distinctively shaped heraldic device (to be found elsewhere in the room in blue and white on the Sackville coat of arms which forms the crest of the Hall Screen). This architectural framing style had only been introduced a few years earlier, notably with William Kent's remodelling of the gallery at Kensington Palace. The quality of the Knole frame suggests that it is the work of a leading carver and gilder such as John Howard, the King's framemaker, James Richards or William Waters.

At the end of the hall in the centre is a studio version of Sir Thomas Lawrence's great full-length of George IV as Prince Regent (no. 6), probably the portrait of the Prince for which Charles Lord Whitworth, second husband of Arabella Cope, Duchess of Dorset, paid Lawrence £420 in 1817, and a further £45 for the massive frame. The frame pattern is one favoured by the artist in the 1810s. The brilliance of the gilding is now obscured by later bronzing, probably applied to hide damage to the compo foliage and leaf ornament.

To either side, the portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte (nos. 5, 7) are also likely to be Lawrence studio products but painted surprisingly enough to a pattern pioneered by Lawrence's predecessor as Painter to the King, Sir Joshua Reynolds. These were probably supplied to Lord Whitworth following his appointment as Ambassador to the French Republic in 1802. Such portraits were standard issue to ambassadors, and came with frames made by William Adair, carver and gilder to the King. For Adair, see British picture framemakers on the National Portrait Gallery website. One of the portraits, that of George III, has Adair's label as framemaker on the back: 'Adair, Carver and Gilder To Their Majesties'. Normally the frames were paid for by the Lord Chamberlain but in this case a bill from Adair to Lord Whitworth dated 9 March 1803 for £108.8s.6d, including a pair of whole length frames, may relate to these portraits. Such portraits served a symbolic function only hinted at by the appearance along the top of the frame of the crown, the Scottish thistle and the English rose. The portraits issued to ambassadors are described in the Lord Chamberlain's Order Book as 'to be set up under the State, as has been usual on such like occasions'. The State, or canopy of state, beneath which the portrait of the King was hung, was part of the apparatus of official occasions at which the ambassador, when enthroned beneath the canopy, was conceptually transmuted from the King's representative into the King himself. The portrait in its gilt frame would have been seen against the crimson silk damask of the backcloth of the canopy; the frame needed to lend magnificence to the occasion.

From the Brown Gallery to the Spangled Dressing Room

Painted and gilded frame

Fig. 2 Jane Seymour after Holbein, 16th century, detail of painted and gilded frame in oak, probably original to the picture.

On the first floor, in the BROWN GALLERY, beginning at the far end, the severe black oak frames of the 16th and early 17th centuries are much in evidence including, for example, the portrait after Holbein of Jane Seymour (no. 18) with a frame relieved with some gilding (fig. 2). This sort of frame was once very common, and was only gradually supplanted by the taste for carved and gilt frames. It retains traces of the original hanging holes at top centre, not visible to the spectator, and would originally have been hung from a ribbon or cord threaded through the holes.

On the other side of the gallery the very rare set of historical portraits (nos. 25-68) of famous personages of the 16th century, though still painted on oak, present a very different aspect with their gilt frames. Dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) of half the set by Ian Tyers provides an earliest possible date for the tested pictures of around 1605. The set has been the subject of recent study by Catherine Daunt, who suggests that the pictures were commissioned by Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, in about 1607, when Paul Isaacson was paid £100 for painting what is now the Cartoon Gallery. Underneath the gilding, traces of blue pigment can just be made out with the help of a glass, suggesting that the portraits once formed part of a decorative scheme. They were apparently hung in the Cartoon Gallery during the seventeenth century, perhaps high up at cornice level, and were probably only removed when the Cartoons arrived from Copt Hall in 1701. The ribbed frames are actually nailed on to the panels, a most unusual approach to framing, and the portraits appear to have been painted in their frames, as study by Catherine Daunt confirms. However, the inscribed ribbons attached to the top of each frame are much later. In May 1793 Francis Parsons, a portrait painter and picture restorer, charged 4 guineas a picture (for 40 portraits, rather than 44 as present): 'For cleaning & Repairing forty old portraits on Pannels . . . and the Frames mended and new Gilt, with Ribbons added to each Frame and label'd with the name and title of each portrait, and the Angle of each painted with ornaments'. For information on Parsons, see British picture restorers on the National Portrait Gallery website.

At least four of the portraits would appear to be later additions to the series. Parsons supplied 'one New Portrait' of the Earl of Cumberland (no. 46) at £5.5s and with it a new frame at £1.15s. He also supplied a new frame for Queen Elizabeth (perhaps no. 43) at 14s and did further unspecified work over the next few years. This may have included the supply of portraits of Henry VIII (no. 27) and Mary I (no. 35) where the panel construction and the heavy corner leaves of the frames single them out from earlier paintings in the series. Other ribbed frames, somewhat thicker and with larger corner leaves, can be found on a group of pictures of 16th-century reformers, including Luther, Melancthon, Pomeranus (no. 82) at the entrance to the gallery.

Oak frame and panel

Fig. 3 Lionel Cranfield, 3rd Earl of Middlesex attributed to Theodore Russel, c. 1640, detail of reverse showing frame and panel both in oak, the frame probably original to the picture.

Nearby opposite the side window, the three small portraits painted in about 1640 of the 1st Earl of Middlesex's sons, James, 2nd Earl (no. 73), Lionel, 3rd Earl (no. 74) and Edward (no. 75), attributed to Theodore Russel, have intriguing auricular frames of oak, probably the originals, carved to a pattern popular from the 1630s to the 1650s with a grimacing mask as the crowning feature. The middle frame is gilded (the other two have later bronze paint finishes), and the grain of the oak (fig. 3) can just be made out through the gilding, as it can be both in the painted panel itself in certain lights and, of course, in the oak panelling of the actual room. Most of the other frames in the Brown Gallery are 18th century in date.

LADY BETTY GERMAIN'S DRESSING ROOM is full of small richly framed pictures, both portraits and old masters. Near the door, Lady Betty Germain (no. 130) by Charles Philips, 1731, has its original frame, a simple running pattern of scrolling foliage with flat acanthus leaves at the corners. It is not easy to study the many 16th, 17th and 18th-century portraits at a distance so mention here is restricted to a few chosen for their frames. On the right, the small full-length, James Hay, 1st Earl of Carlisle (no. 117), a Van Dyck school product, has its original richly carved oak auricular frame, of the sort already seen in the Brown Gallery but with a highly stylised lion mask as its crowning feature. To the left the small head-and-shoulders portrait of the young Charles II (no. 110), after Adriaen Hanneman, is distinguished by its contemporary frame, possibly original, an attractive reverse section pattern fashionable in the mid-17th century, with thistles at the corners and centres and sanded sides; larger frames of this sort can be found in the Leicester Gallery.

Turning now to the Old Masters, several of these have fine frames of Italian inspiration if not of Italian origin, generally carved in poplar. Some were presumably framed by the Roman dealers James Byres and Thomas Jenkins from whom the 3rd Duke of Dorset made many acquisitions while on the Grand Tour in 1770 and on his return to England. On the right Garofalo's Judith with the Head of Holofernes (no. 126), sent by Jenkins to the Duke in 1775, has a very finely carved frame of Maratta section with an intricately gadrooned top edge, while The Madonna and Child with Saints (no. 127), acquired through Jenkins in 1770, has a simpler frame of the same type. Opposite in the window bay the Unknown man called Raphael (no. 99) is framed in a crisply carved neoclassical pattern with leaf-and-berry top edge.

Returning through LADY BETTY'S BEDROOM, the overdoor after Van Dyck, Karel van Mallery (no. 97) has a distinctive late 17th-century reverse pattern (type B) which will be found again on two other Van Dyck copies in the Leicester and Cartoon Galleries (fig. 5).

In the SPANGLED DRESSING ROOM on the right side, the fine Sir Peter Lely full-length of Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland (no. 146) has a sumptuous frame of the 1630s in the classical style of the period with great scrolls, foliage and tied corners, which must be the work of one of the leading framemakers of the time (see above, Lord Middlesex's framemakers in the 1630s). It was enlarged later, perhaps in the 1670s, by the addition of the central shield at top and mask at bottom. Originally the gilt carving would have been seen against a blue background, a most striking effect. Another example of this rare type can be found in the Ballroom. However, not all mid-17th century frames were so elaborate. To the left of the window at the top, Mary Bagot, Countess of Dorset (no. 148) has a narrow cushion moulding carved with overlapping leaves.

By the end of the century taste in framing had shifted to bolder leaf and foliage patterns in the architectural styles of the period. The two Lely studio portraits at either side at the far end of the room, Anne Hyde, Duchess of York (no. 142), wife of the future James II, and Anna Brudenell, Countess of Shrewsbury (no. 144) have matching bolection frames ornamented with large 'raffle' leaves which catch the light and provide a rich and satisfying border; they are contemporary with the portraits but it is difficult to show that they are the originals, knowing how easy it would have been to swap frames made for portraits painted to standard sizes.

From the Leicester Gallery to the Reynolds Room

In the BILLIARD ROOM Heraclitus (no. 161) and Democritus (no. 162), attributed to the Dutch artist Johan Morelse, have very early papier-maché frames of mid-17th century date, probably original to the pictures. Like other frames of this type, the body of the frame is of pine and has no rebate; the canvas protrudes at the back, as can be seen by standing to the left of no. 161. The grotesque masks and foliage scrolls at the centres and corners are made of an early form of papier-maché. As the scientist Robert Boyle wrote in 1671, 'there are very few that imagine [paper] is fit to be employed otherways than about Writing, or Printing, . . . without dreaming that Frames for Pictures and divers fine pieces of Embossed work . . . may . . . be made of it'. The ornament was normally gilt, set on a black ground for effect, here obscured by the later gilt sanded finish. There is some evidence, however, still to evaluate fully, that the background was in part originally blue, like various other early frames at Knole.

Carved and gilt pine frame

Fig. 4 Diana and Actaeon after Titian, detail of carved and gilt frame in pine, possibly supplied by John Kneller in 1696, with the painting removed.

Between these two pictures hangs a much more splendid product, the boldly carved centre-and-corner frame (fig. 4) of Diana and Actaeon (no. 163), one of a pair of copies of celebrated works by Titian. It is tempting to identify these frames with the 'carved and burnisht' frames supplied for the two pictures by John Kneller in 1696 at a cost of £3 each but the charge does not seem enough for frames of this elaboration. The sight edge is rather similar to that found on the almost contemporary frames found at Knole on various early 17th-century full-length portraits (see frames described as type A in the Great Hall above and the Leicester Gallery below).

The fine 18th-century Maratta frame on Salvator Rosa's Landscape with Bandits (no. 170) is clearly Italian (rather than English) for it is lap-jointed and carved in poplar; in construction it is like the frames on some of the 3rd Duke's other old master purchases already seen in Lady Betty Germain's Sitting Room. The main leaf-and-tongue ornament sits in the hollow of the frame, in contrast to the adjoining portrait of An Italian Youth (no. 165), a pine frame where the embellishment is on the sight edge.

In the VENETIAN AMBASSADOR'S ROOM the fixed overmantel frame is in the Kent style and like much of the architectural decoration of the room may date to about 1730. To left and right of the windows James Compton, 3rd Earl of Northampton (no. 177) and Thomas Carey (no. 178) are difficult to see, but both these mid-17th century portraits have fine auricular frames, conceivably original, which are variations on the 'grimacing mask' type already seen in the Brown Gallery.

Returning to the LEICESTER GALLERY, further examples of the distinctive late 17th-century sanded reverse pattern of type A (fig. 1), already seen in the Great Hall, can be found on Daniel Mytens's Nicolò Molino (no. 174) and on five other early 17th-century full-lengths (nos. 188-190, 194, 198). Notice the finely sanded flat surface, catching the light, and the 'cabochon' motif on the sight edge, akin to egg-and-dart, echoing that on the Titian copies in the Billiard Room. Two other late 17th-century reverse patterns can be seen nearby.

Carved and gilt reverse pattern frame

Fig. 5 Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel and his Countess after Van Dyck, detail of carved and gilt reverse pattern frame in pine of type B , late 17th or early 18th century.

The large group portrait after Van Dyck of Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel and his Countess (no. 203) has the unusual leaf pattern of type B (fig. 5) already seen in Lady Betty's Bedroom, while the Kneller school Chief Baron Lant (no. 204) has a wide 'raffle' leaf bolection frame notable for its fashionable silvering, and vigorous if crude carving (note that the frame has been reduced in size at the bottom left and top right corners). In the early 18th century these straight-sided reverse patterns went out of fashion. A fine example of the rising taste for frames with projecting centres and corners can be found on Charles Jervas's Joseph Addison (no. 205), dated 1714, a frame which is probably original to the picture.

At the far end of the Leicester Gallery hang some of the most extraordinary frames at Knole, indeed in any house in the country. To start with the seated full-length James I (no. 200), from the studio of Daniel Mytens. Like some of the other frames at Knole, the gilt carving is seen against a blue background, albeit heavily restored. The portrait dates to about 1621 and the frame, carved in oak, is apparently original and as such a very rare survival. The putti, foliage and architectural detail are vigorously if rather crudely carved in exceptionally high relief; they are without close parallel in contemporary decoration and furniture, making it difficult to be categorical about the date of the frame. Turning to Mytens's Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex (no. 196), dated 1620, a fine full-length of the man who owned so many of the lavishly framed early pictures at Knole. The frame is a cruder version of that on the portrait of James I, again in oak, but with a red background, not necessarily original. The third frame of this type is found on another full-length, the somewhat later Van Dyck school portrait of Ann Brett, Countess of Middlesex (no. 201), second wife of the 1st Earl of Middlesex. The frame is evidently a much later copy, mechanical in detailing and carved in pine, perhaps 19th century in date.

Carved and gilt frame

Fig. 6 Mary Curzon, Countess of Dorset attributed to William Larkin, 1612, detail of carved and gilt frame probably dating to the 1630s.

In the BALLROOM the earliest carved and gilt frame (fig. 6) is that found to the right of the fireplace on Mary Curzon, Countess of Dorset (no. 234), a full-length portrait of the wife of the 4th Earl, attributed to William Larkin. The frame perhaps dates to the 1630s and so could be twenty years later than the picture; it is an exceptionally rare type of carved and gilt frame of the reign of Charles I, with paired scrolls like the 1st Earl of Dorset (no. 1) in the Great Hall but otherwise exhibiting its own distinctive language of swags and rosettes.

To the right the Van Dyck full-length, Frances Cranfield, Countess of Dorset (no. 236), has a frame of the 1630s, not original to the picture, which almost exactly matches that already seen in the Spangled Dressing Room. Two slightly later frames in the auricular style may be found on the full-lengths to the left of the chimney-piece, Frances Cranfield, Countess of Dorset (no. 232), wife of the 5th Earl, from the studio of Van Dyck, and Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset (no. 233), attributed to William Larkin, again not original to the pictures (a photograph taken in 1866 shows that the frame now on no. 233 was then on no. 232). The frame on no. 233 is an example of another standard mid-17th century type, albeit cut, with an eagle's head at the top of each side as its most distinctive feature. Intriguingly, there is a fragment cut from an auricularframe, perhaps one of those in this room, hidden behind one of the cushions of the daybed in the room.

From the 1690s are several portraits by Sir Godfrey Kneller, including his lovely full-length of the Sackville children, Lionel, later 1st Duke of Dorset and his sister Mary (no. 237). In 1695 John Norris, the King's framemaker, who worked extensively for Lionel's father, the 6th Earl, charged £10 for this frame, a baroque pattern of repeated bunches of boldly carved leaves, flowers and acorns, reflecting architectural styles of the period. The design starts at top centre, runs down the sides of the frame and meets at bottom centre. It is found also on Kneller's later portrait of the 1st Duke (no. 221) and that of his wife (no. 225). Interestingly it can also be found on the small portrait of Richard Sackville, 5th Earl of Dorset (no. 226) but upside down, a not uncommon misunderstanding; in this case the reversal occurred a long time ago, probably when the Queen Anne style cresting was added. For Norris, see British picture framemakers on the National Portrait Gallery website.

The frames on the smaller portraits of John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset (no. 224) and his wife Arabella, Duchess of Dorset (no. 222, by Vigée Lebrun, 1803) are Lawrence patterns of the early 1800s (see above, nos. 5, 7 in the Great Hall) and were perhaps supplied by William Adair in 1803.

The REYNOLDS ROOM takes its name from Sir Joshua Reynolds who painted most of the portraits in the room including the full-length of the John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset (no. 255), one of the artist's great patrons. Many of Reynolds's pictures retain their original frames, made for the Duke by Thomas Vials, one of the leading London framemakers of the period, whose premises in Leicester Square were close to Reynolds's studio. For Vials, see British picture framemakers on the National Portrait Gallery website. Vials charged 25 guineas (£26.25p) in 1770 for the richly carved frame on the portrait of the 3rd Duke, not much compared with Reynolds's 150 guineas for the picture, but more than two-and-a-half times the £10 that John Norris had charged the 6th Earl, the Duke's great-grandfather, for a frame of the same size in 1695. The cost depended on the quality of the finish and on the number of bands of intricate carving - the gadrooning or diagonal ribbing prominent on the top edge, the adjacent ribbon-and-stick, the leaf-and-tongue on the sight edge and the egg-and-dart on the back edge - but nevertheless the frame was expensive. In the bill Vials describes it as a 'broad bold rich burnish gold whole length frame, carved with knull and hollows, rich foliage, leaf and stick'. In the hollow of the frame the overlap of the sheets of brightly burnished gold leaf can be made out, as can the red bole used as a preparation for the gold.

Wang-y-Tong (no. 249) appears as 'the Chinese picture' in Vials's bill in 1776: 'a half length oyl gold Italian moulding frame, 4 1/2 in. broad, carved with loose foliage and ribbons'at a cost of £3.18s. This is a frame of Maratta profile but with the main leaf-and-tongue ornament on the sight edge in the Italian manner, rather than in the hollow as with many of the other frames in the room. The oval 3rd Duke of Dorset (no. 262), opposite Wang-y-Tong, is in a frame which would appear to match one on a picture formerly in the collection, billed by Vials in 1776 as a 'Carlo Maratt frame, 4 in 1/2 broad, with an oval spandle and large patteree flowers' at a cost of 4 1/2 guineas (£4.72), more expensive because of the extra carving involved.

The Cartoon Gallery and the King's Room

In the CARTOON GALLERY the melancholic full-length portrait of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (no. 285) has a wide flat cushion frame made for the picture and conceivably original though the cresting and other carvings surrounding it appear later in date. The main flat frieze of leaves and berries apparently retains traces of blue pigmentation of the kind found on some other early frames at Knole. The frame is unique and as such it is difficult to place precisely. It is not even possible to be sure about the picture; though dated 1546, the year before Surrey's execution, both picture and frame may belong to the early 17th-century.

The CARTOON GALLERY takes its name from the set of six large copies of Raphael's tapestry cartoons (the originals are in the Victoria and Albert Museum). The cartoons arrived in England between 1623 and 1629. These copies (nos. 276-281), reputedly painted by Francis Cleyn, are said to have been a gift from Charles I to the 1st Earl of Middlesex. They were presumably hung in the gallery at Copt Hall. The original black-and-gold frames have the arms of the Earl of Middlesex at top centre, distinguished by three golden fleur-de-lis arranged vertically; the frames to the right of the fireplace have been somewhat cut about to get them to fit the space, presumably when they were moved here in 1701. The rather Italianate scrolls and volutes, containing pomegranate and flower head decoration, can be closely matched in a few other surviving frames of the period, such as Cornelius Johnson's Lord Coventry of 1638 (National Portrait Gallery, on loan to Montacute House). It is possible that the background of the Knole frames was once white, rather than black, according to traces detected by Tim Newbery. These frames are rare examples of the richly carved, gilt and painted frames made for a few sophisticated collectors in the circle of Charles I.

Other early frames of interest, towards the far end of the gallery, are to be found on the Van Dyck school Henry Liberti (no. 275), a late 17th-century reverse pattern of type B and on Christian IV of Denmark (no. 274), a rather weak example of an auricular frame.

The KING'S ROOM houses a full-length of James I (no. 287), after Paul van Somer, in another late 17th-century reverse pattern of type A, as well as some quite remarkable silver mirror frames, the grandest of which is the pierglass with the monogram FCD, for Frances Cranfield, Countess of Dorset, supplied with the matching table and stands by the cabinet maker Gerrit Jensen in 1680. In cost, some £400, and magnificence this suite of furniture outstrips anything else in the house.

The Knole collection deserves more attention than can be given in the space of a short guide. If the funding can be found the National Trust hopes to carry out a detailed programme of investigation and curatorial research.

For fuller details of Knole's history, complete with a bibliography, see the 96-page guidebook by Robert Sackville-West, Knole, Kent (1998). See also Robert Sackville-West's book, Inheritance: The Story of Knole and the Sackvilles (2010). Further information on picture frames can be found in the book by Jacob Simon, The Art of the Picture Frame, Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, National Portrait Gallery (1996).

Contact address: [email protected]

Acknowledgements: This guide owes much to the pioneering work of the late Gervase Jackson-Stops in the Knole archive at the Kent Record Office. It is informed by discussions at Knole with the late John Chesshyre, Alastair Laing, Christine Sitwell and Peter Thuring. It also benefits from Timothy Newbery's observations on the 17th-century frames. With thanks also to the late Paul Levi for the loan of photographs, to John Coleman, who provided the opportunity for this guide, and to everyone at Knole.

Sources: The Sackville papers are on deposit in the Centre for Kentish Studies in Maidstone. Geldorp's bill of about 1636 is in the National Portrait Gallery Archive. See also John Bridgeman, History and Topographical Sketch of Knole, 1817 (for the history of the Cartoon Gallery); C.J. Phillips, History of the Sackville Family, 2 vols, 1929, especially p.433; K. Garlick, 'A catalogue of the paintings . . . of Sir Thomas Lawrence', Walpole Society, vol. 39, 1964, pp. 85-6; J. Simon, 'Allan Ramsay and picture frames', Burlington Magazine, vol. 136, 1994, p. 452 and fig. 65 (a Knole frame not on public display); Alastair Laing, In Trust for the Nation, 1995, pp. 22-3, 197, 232.



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