National Gallery goes public for a delicate task


The National Gallery at present is offering visitors an opportunity to see the work of restoration on a large 19th-century frame. Such work is usually carried out in a studio and therefore is not on view to the public. The frame itself is of interest because it was obviously first made for a specific painting. That picture is Titian's Supper at Emmaus, which entered the National Gallery's holdings in 1870 after it was bought at the sale of Prince Demidoff's collection.

The prince had famously acquired a number of leading paintings over the previous three and a half decades, and these were on display in his villa of San Donato near Florence. It is believed that the frame, which is of carved limewood, is Florentine in origin and was made for Demidoff. Frames are often overlooked by admirers of paintings, although in recent years collectors have begun to appreciate them for their own merits. The quality and character of a frame can make an important difference to the appearance of the work with which it has been paired. This was more widely understood in the 19th century than today and helps to explain why patrons would sometimes commission a specific frame for a painting, as was the case in this instance.

Details of the Demidoff frame reflect the theme of Titian's canvas, such as the loaves of bread carved at the top and fish at the bottom. Sadly, the very large frame - it measures 245.5 centimetres by 280 centimetres, was put into the gallery's store many years ago and allowed to deteriorate; parts of it were entirely destroyed and other sections had been broken off.

The current restoration project is being supervised by Kathryn Day-Carrigan, and she, along with other members of the team, are happy to answer questions from visitors and discuss aspects of the work. Since so much of their task is extremely delicate, a video monitor has been installed in the room set aside for the frame restorers, who are based in the gallery's north wing.

Those pieces of the frame which have been entirely lost are being recarved while the rest of the wood is being cleaned and regilded. The project was started in February and should be completed before the end of April. Work takes place during usual gallery hours and admission is free.