Ornate frame

Flanders (Antwerp), c. 1550-70
Oak, later polychromy 156 x 90 cm


in turbulent periodes

Power and Religion

This magnificent object was created at a time of great unrest. As a result of the conflict between the Catholic Habsburgs under the iron hand of Philip II of Spain, in particular, and the Protestant Netherlands that sought independence from the Holy Roman Empire, the Eighty Years’ War broke out in 1568 that only ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia. In the 16th century Antwerp was one of the biggest cities in the world. Thanks to the river Scheldt it had become the wealthiest trading centre in Europe and an important cultural hub. The Spanish stadtholder Alessandro Farnese put a violent end to Antwerp’s shift to Protestantism; however, the upheavals of war ultimately led to the wealthy city’s demise.

spell of antiquity

Supposed caves

Domus Aurea

The large frame with its clear architectural divisions is richly embellished with elements of the so-called grotesque – a decorative style that combines tendrils, garlands of fruit, ribbons and fantasy figures of human and beasts based on works from Antiquity. At the end of the 15th century sumptuous wall frescos had been uncovered in what had been Emperor Hadrian’s thermal baths and in the subterranean vaulted rooms of the Domus Aurea – the ‘Golden House’ – on Esquiline Hill in Rome, originally constructed at the time of Nero. Fascinated by the immense variety of motifs and figures, artists such as Raphael and Giulio Romano copied the decorative ornamentation that had been found in what was referred to as the ‘caves’. The name of the ornamental grotesque style comes from the Italian grotta, a cave. Cornelis Floris picked up on the reception of this style with considerable mastery and created series of ornamental engravings in the ‘Floris style’ that reached a wide public.



Picture frame

On the one hand, a frame served as a surround to a painting, on the other hand it fulfilled a practical function: its architectural superstructure was a form of protection and could also be used to mount the work on a wall. The materials were primarily wood, marble and metal. Over the centuries the design of the frame was conditioned by the style of the respective period. Originally conceived in a sacral context for altarpieces and religious paintings, in the Late Middle Ages frames also came to be used in secular settings and evolved into magnificently decorated, architectural works of art that were of equal value to the painting itself.