When in the history of frames, antique gesso picture frames appeared? That is a tough question to answer. Gesso appeared sporadically on frames at the beginning of the 19th-century. When we speak about gesso picture frames, we have to clarify that we talk about their decorations. There is no frame in history made of gesso. There has always been a wood structure with gesso decorations on top. Antique gesso frames are much faster to realize than wood carved frames and consequently are less expensive. Also, they become a symbol of the 19th-century era, a time when Master gilders got so expert in using the gesso technique to be able to realize real masterworks, sometimes so sophisticated to become even more precious then hand-carved models.
Before the 19th-century, frames were usually carved on softwood and sometimes in hardwoods like walnut. Carvers would use walnut to carve frames that wouldn’t be gilded. These are the kind of frames that have a wonderful dark red patina with the finishing made of dark shellac. The frames of softwood, for example, the one carved on Swiss pine, usually got a gilded surface.
So why in history there was this sudden switch in the way of manufacturing frames? We suggest that the main reason is because of the Industrial Revolution. That happened in the midst of the 19th century in England and then spread out Western Europe quite quickly. The productions of goods had to increase so much that most of the systems of production were transformed. In the case of frames, the carving process was too long and did not allow the goods to boost in the market. Antique wood and gesso frames with gesso decorations on top of moldings solved the problem and, from that time, became the primary technique.
First of all, we realize the wood structure of the frame which will serve as a base. Second, we put on top of it the gesso ornaments. Antique gesso picture frames are easy to make because gilders use molds to prepare decorations. The gesso is made with rabbit glue, flour, and water. Gilders put them together in a pot and heat them on the stove. The result is a paste that will be mixed with gesso to get dry.
When the ornates are dry and glued on top of the wood frame, they are ready to be worked with special tools to became nice and sharp. This process is tremendously faster compared to the carvings procedures, but still too slow compared to our new technique!
To fasten the process of building gesso picture frames even more, obtaining an astonishing result, we use the wooden pulp. Our wooden pulp is an invention of a few years ago: It is a very recent discovery. It’s a soft paste made of wood instead of gesso, and when it is dry, it is much stronger and durable. When the wood pulp decorations are dry, carvers can carve them, and the result is the production of frames with better quality and resistance than antique gesso picture frames.
When you try to remodel the dry gesso, you will still use almost the same tools, like chisels, for example, but as the chalk is brittle, one can get it broken very easily. That doesn’t happen often using wooden pulp because it is elastic and hardly breaks.
We pay attention to the final result much more than to the material one’s find under the gilding surface. As gesso hasn’t to be seen and its use was once justified only to save time during the production, we decided to switch our system and go for wooden pulp to get done better quality work with a save of money at the same time.
It still happens, not very often to be sincere, that certain clients ask for a reproduction with the same characteristics of authentic frames. When this happens, usually they don’t just ask just for gesso decorations, but for genuine gold leaf and red bole as well. So, in this case, we put all the ancient techniques and the old used material together, and we reproduce a replica of an antique gold gesso frame which would be impossible to distinguish from an original one, even if you would cut it in in the middle to see what happens inside.
As we try to make our customers happy, we still use under request, any one of the oldest techniques! If you decide to possess a very expensive frame with the same characteristics of antique wood and gesso frames of the 19th century, send us an email with your request. We will surely be able to make you happy.
We can personalize any element of our products. We realize Antique Gesso Picture Frames in any size and for any painting. You may ask for dramatic changes in the finishings of our standard models. Send us pictures explaining your ideas, and we will interpret them as best as possible. You could even custom the profile size and the width of any one of our models.
Old gesso frames come mostly from the 19th century. As they are very recent compared to Renaissance or Baroque frames, you find in the antique market a massive quantity of models. That is due, of course, to the vast production that was made during their era. For this reason, one’s find a wide range of models and styles available, coming mostly from Italy and France.
France had a significant role in the reproduction of antique gesso frames. They mastered their gesso decorations so much to build astonishing masterworks. See down below a couple of links to our models where you will appreciate the sophisticated ornamentations of two French frames.
The 19th century has been plenty of styles. From the very beginning, French applyied the gesso technique, which later on spread all over Western Europe, overwhelming above all Italy, Spain, and England. See below a couple of fine Victorian gesso frame models.