Frame of the Week

This week’s featured work is a gilt composition tabernacle frame with decorated entablature supported by fluted pilasters, designed by Stanford White for Portrait of a Lady by Abbott H. Thayer.

The frame, circa 1900, features a continuous anthemion design on the frieze that is repeated at the bottom on the predella while a greek key motif surrounds the sight molding.  It is decorated with cast composition ornamentation, gilded with 23k gold leaf and burnished to a bright lustrous finish.


Gilt composition tabernacle frame designed by Stanford White, circa 1900

The design of the tabernacle or aedicular frame was originally derived from classical architecture and is one of the earliest frame designs.

Used for altarpieces or devotional paintings to give the feeling of a shrine, the frame was originally carved out of the same piece of wood as the panel painting that surrounded it.  The first examples of these frames being made as separate entities from paintings date from the 15th century in Italy, and the design continued into the 16th century.

Beginning in the 1860s, Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Frederick Lord Leighton designed tabernacle frames for their paintings and English Pre-Raphaelite artists such as Edward Bynre-Jones began to use this frame style as well on their mythological works, with the idea being that it created the illusion of a window into another world.

Tabernacle frames became popular in America at the end of the 19th century, fitting in well with the Renaissance revival style popular at the time.


Abbott Handerson Thayer, Portrait of a Lady (Mrs. William B. Cabot), Oil on canvas, 39 x 32 3/8 inches, Smithsonian American Art Museum

A label on the verso reads:  Portrait of a Lady/Collection of John Gellatly, 34 West 57th Street.  Painted in red on the verso, S.L. 10214 (reference to the Smithsonian loan), and stencils on verso #24465,4104110 are consistent with framing practices of the Newcomb-Macklin Company.

For more information on our collection of Stanford White designed frames and any of the 5000 frames in Lowy’s inventory, please visit or call 212-861-8585.


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