ein Mädchen trägt ein Tablett mit Wasserglas und Kaffeetasse
© SKD, Foto: Elke Estel/Hans-Peter Klut

The historic frames of Dresden‘s Gemäldegalerie

The frames in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden are world-famous. Through their exceptional craftsmanship and distinctive rococo form, they give the rooms a harmonious appearance and create a special atmosphere that is unique to Dresden and has been admired for centuries.

[Translate to English:] Rahmung nach Modeneser Ankauf

The paintings in the Dresden gallery have been framed in this characteristic manner since the mid-18th century. The consistent framing of all the paintings was occasioned by the remarkable acquisition of one hundred paintings, mostly by Italian artists, from the collection of Duke Francesco III d’Este, which were brought to Dresden without their frames in October 1746. Work immediately began on producing new frames not only for these one hundred pictures but for the entire collection.

golden gallery frame for Pietro A. Rotari, The Penitent Magdalene
© SKD, Foto: Estel/Klut
Gallery frame for Pietro A. Rotari, The penitent Magdalene

[Translate to English:] Galerierahmen - Königlicher Besitz

This decision laid the basis for a new exhibition concept which aimed to achieve decorative harmony between the rooms and the paintings on display. In addition, the frames served to demonstrate their royal ownership: the lower cartouche featured the initials of the King “AR”– “August Rex”. The upper bar of the frame was decorated with the Saxon-Polish coat of arms, originally topped by a carved crown in full relief. Only a few frames have been preserved in this original form.

[Translate to English:] Geschnitzte Rahmenkrone

carved frame crown
© SKD, Foto: Herbert Boswank
carved frame crown

[Translate to English:] Wertschätzung Galerierahmen

The Dresden frames are still held in high regard down to the present day. Even in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, newly acquired works have had (and still have) frames made for them in the same style, although some are made of cast plaster rather than wood.

[Translate to English:] Rahmen Sixtinische Madonna

Over the centuries, some paintings were also given different frames. The most prominent example is undoubtedly the frame of Raphael‘s “Sistine Madonna” whose Dresden rococo frame was replaced in the mid-19th century by an impressive Neoclassical frame with the intention of emphasising the exceptional character of the painting. Today this work, the most famous painting in the Dresden gallery, is now presented in a newly made architectural tabernacle frame in North Italian Renaissance style.

Madonna and child with saints and two angels
© SKD, Foto: Herbert Boswank
Raphael, The Sistine Madonna, 1512/1513

The making of the gallery frames

Even today, the frames are manufactured using essentially the same techniques as in the past: on the basis of a drawing and with the aid of a template, the sculptor carves the filigree ornaments and architectural features into the soft lime wood of the frame. This requires supreme dexterity and craftsmanship.

[Translate to English:] Die Technologie der Galerierahmen 2

Up to ten layers of a glue and chalk mixture are applied to the wood to form a ground. After the chalk ground has been smoothed down and engraved, a substance called poliment – a fine clay, usually red in colour – is applied. For the subsequent gilding, wafer-thin sheets of leaf gold are used, and this is finally burnished, rubbed and patinated.

four stages of frame maufacturing
© SKD, Foto: Christoph Schölzel
four stages of frame maufacturing

[Translate to English:] Zitat Goethe

... the dazzling frames, which had hardly changed since the day they had been gilded ...

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1768

Judith with the head of Holofernes
© SKD, Foto: Elke Estel/Hans-Peter Klut
Carlo Saraceni, Judith with the head of Holofernes
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