How the Frame got its Fame


Fayum mummy portrait – now housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

As we all know, picture frames have been around for a while. However, you may not know that they have existed long before Prince Philip, or even Henry VIII. Their earliest origins date back to 1st Century BC, where Fayum mummy portraits were created by painting the faces of deceased Egyptians onto wooden boards, then a ‘frame’ was carved into the same piece of wood and positioned within the sarcophagus. At this time ‘framing borders’ we also often used in wall art and pottery among the ancient Egyptians and Greeks.

Saint Cita Oratory altar in Palermo, Sicily
Rococo style frame decorating the Saint Cita Oratory altar in Palermo, Sicily

The Renaissance period in Italy, beginning in the 14th Century, is perhaps the biggest turning point for frames since their creation – when free-standing frames similar to what we use today were born. Before this time, frames were often a simple design carved into wood, but the Italians changed this when they added raised borders, backing, plaster, gold gilding, gems and mosaic inlays. These pieces were almost exclusive to churches and cathedrals, where Altar frames in particular became elaborate works of art in their own right.

The ‘Rainbow Portrait’ of Queen Elizabeth I at Hatfield House (dated 1602) housed in a magnificent frame to emphasize wealth and power

In time, the development of this style by key influencers of the period (such as Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello – the artists, not the turtles!) attracted monarchs and aristocrats from the 16th Century onwards to use costly frames and the portraits they contained to symbolise wealth and status within society. Materials used in these decorative frames include ebony, ivory, tortoiseshell, gold and ivory inlay.

Man and woman looking at empty picture frame
For help choosing the right frame, or any further information about our range, please don’t hesitate to contact us at

Today our variety of framing options is almost unlimited. So what will the future hold for this? A frame is the only difference between a picture and its surroundings; so whether they are created to complement them or create contrast, they will always be an essential part of how we perceive art. The traditional wooden photo frame has grown up a lot in the last 2000 years, but it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon. There is certainly an art to framing; getting the right placement, style and quality of frame is (and always will be) essential to make an image truly shine.


Kelsey Ashpool is a Marketing Assistant for One Vision Imaging. Contact her at



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